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Senior citizens urged to stay active

MARSHALL — Bill Nelson specializes in encouraging others to stay healthy and active well into their golden years.

He spoke Wednesday at Boulder Estates in Marshall, providing an overview of health issues that confront older Americans. He also offered advice on how people can cope with the daily challenges of life in the 21st century.

He said 80 percent of someone’s health is shaped by habits, while only 20 percent is determined by genetics. He listed smoking and obesity is two of the greatest health risks.

“The main thing is to take care of yourself,” Nelson said. “It’s never too late to make healthy decisions. We make them every day with things like exercise and what we eat.”

He discussed the traditional role of smoking in the mid 20th century. He said things like free cigarettes for soldiers and smoking breaks at work served to instill smoking as a habit for many adults of the time period.

In discussing obesity, he said it’s a contributing factor that worsens a wide variety of diseases, everything from COVID to heart disease and high blood pressure.

“Smoking and obesity are two really big risk factors,” Nelson said. “It’s true with almost every disease because they make the body less resistant. Simply avoiding those risks makes a huge difference.”

He listed a group of other factors that can enhance individual health. They include regular exercise, consistent sleep habits and proper stress management.

Another factor, one that’s recently gained greater attention from wellness experts, involves having a sense of purpose as part of the daily routine.

Nelson, who is almost 80, spends a substantial amount of time promoting wellness among senior citizens because he finds it rewarding to share a positive message.

“I have talents and skills,” he said. “I want to use them. Everyone should do that. We all have skills that can help others and provide something worthwhile for younger generations.”

He spent much of his career as a health teacher and coach in Faribault. He later worked as a wellness director for hospitals in Northfield and Kansas City.

He returned to Granite Falls in his retirement as a way to reconnect with people he knew early in life, who knew his father when he operated a car dealership as a young businessman. He’s considering one more move, possibly to the Austin, Texas area where he’d like to work with a university on a project related to vital aging.

He told his audience that wellness developed as a concept during the course of his career, and that it’s come to mean behavior that leads to well-being.

He listed three main parts of well being as feeling positive about life, functionally being able to perform daily tasks and looking ahead to the future with optimism. He said many people currently struggle with the future portion of well-being.

“The pandemic has led to pessimism,” Nelson said. “Historians are saying that 2021 is one of the most negative times in human history. It takes effort on our parts to counteract those circumstances.”

He cited examples of things people can do to think positively, such as journal entries that list at least three good things that happen each day, showing gratitude toward people who make others happy, and performing random acts of kindness for others. He added that another valuable thing is to practice forgiveness for any wrongs past or present.

He said those factors have helped him to cope with some of the greatest challenges in his lifetime. His father was severely injured in a car accident when he was in grade school. He’s been a widower twice as his two wives died of a brain tumor and cancer.

“We can’t change a situation like the pandemic,” he said. “We can only control our frame of mind and the decisions we make that influence our health.”

Boulder Estates Tenant Services Director Monica Amaya said she decided to invite Nelson to speak after he was recommended by a resident. She said he has a valuable message for having a healthy approach to life.

“It’s important for our residents to stay active,” Amaya said. “They have wisdom that they can pass on to younger generations. Hearing about their experiences can be a way for others to prepare for their own aging process.”

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