joankingShould’a, could’a, would’a – too many times these words pass our lips. I should’a said a kind word to that store clerk who was obviously stressed. I could’a called my friend when I heard she won the tournament. I would’a visited my neighbor had I known he was ill and lonely. 

A word or occasion triggers a memory of a kind word not spoken or a helping hand not given. A once-in-a-lifetime moment passes while we stood silent. We wish we could return in time to change an action or, more likely, inaction, but the moment may not return. However, when we get out of our comfort zone and reach out, there are often amazing results.

On her recent 90th birthday, Betty, with some trepidation, accepted her first motorcycle ride, waving to all along the street with one hand while she clutched the driver with the other. Her one comment – “It was great. I’d probably never do it again, but this time it was fun.” 

Another friend, who recently celebrated her 81st birthday, was asked by her daughter to crew at a local sailboat race over Memorial Day when she was unable to find a second person to help hold down the boat. It had been years since Joyce had even been on a sailboat, but she was persuaded and “had a ball,” even hiking out over the side at one point.

As they headed toward the finish line in second place, a sudden gust of wind pushed them across for the victory. What a blast! Of course, Joyce admitted it could have had a different outcome and she’d probably never do it again, but for one summer hour she was reliving those younger days she had so often enjoyed with her family. Her only regret was that there was no one to film the moment.

A California friend told of a women’s club speaker who encouraged her white-haired audience to get off their chairs and participate in seemingly minor activities.

This 78-year old woman spoke from experience. While on safari and a trip to Tanzania to deliver school supplies a couple of years ago, she had successfully climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. At that time, she was the second oldest woman in the world to accomplish this. She found it “extremely grueling and challenging” but advised those in her audience to “never be afraid of failure – it’s no more a permanent thing than success.”

This spring, a Utah woman, at age 65, completed a four-year journey when she reached the top of the tallest mountain on each of the seven continents. You can’t try to beat that record – permits to Mt. Everest in Tibet are no longer issued to those over age 60. She claims that’s unfair; older people have better survival rates because they have better endurance and judgment.

Last fall, an 84-year-old man from Washington broke the age record by “summitting” Mount Kilimanjaro. He stays in peak condition with an active lifestyle, stationary biking, skiing and hiking with his 84-year-old-wife. She had topped the mountain 30 years ago but passed on this latest trip. The couple encourages their children and grandchildren to be active and, in fact, two grandchildren accompanied the man on that record-breaking trip.

This exercise routine is often a two-way street. Some may have children who believe their parents are too inactive and encourage them to get out. Meantime, the grandparents see their children or grandchildren spending too much time on their iPods or texting.  Working together may be the solution.

Early and regular exercise habits will take anyone through their “golden” years and it is never too late to start – or to set goals.

Unless a regular exercise routine is established, it is easy to become inactive. Doctors tell us of the importance of exercise. The daily news invariably contains at least one story of the importance of exercise in keeping fit in body and mind.

We may not be able to climb a mountain or sail a boat, but we can set aside a few minutes a day to take a walk. Begin slowly, designating a time period or distance and then gradually increase the amount of time and distance. Keep in mind, you also have to walk back home. Find a walking partner to make the time go faster.

People with dogs learn the benefit of a good walk. Remember to take along water to keep yourself and the dog hydrated. Medical people point out that one of the biggest challenges as one gets older is to drink enough water.

If you’re walking alone, say a rosary or pick a meditation subject. Just be sure to keep alert for uneven sidewalks and watch traffic. A cane or walking stick and a cell phone are recommended for the journey.

If the weather is threatening, go to a mall or a big box store and walk around at a steady pace. You’ll probably see others doing the same. 

There’s no cost, except time – unless you are in a store and can’t resist. Making time for exercise needs to become a daily priority, along with your prayer time and meals. You’ll also be doing the three most important things to ward off Alzheimer’s – exercising, staying hydrated and being sociable. You may be surprised how much better you’ll feel and possibly increase your energy level.

Dear Lord, give me the courage today to exercise my body and mind, to mingle and reach out to others in my small effort and avoid “should’a, could’a, would’a.”

(King, a member of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish, North Lake, is married to Thomas. They have seven children, 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.)