Originally appeared in Chiang Mai City Life magazine
I have found that staying young has much more to do with your mind than with your body. The body, as Buddhist philosophy, and the laws of physics, tells us is impermanent, constantly undergoing change, and breaking down. Anyone who is past their 40th birthday is well aware of that. But too many retirees enjoying the “Sabai”, or comfortable life in Thailand, grow old faster than they should because their minds have shut down.
Look around and you will see many retired foreigners, Old Asia Hands, whose minds have died long before the body has. It is all too easy to slip into a decadent lifestyle here in Thailand. We can hire someone to cook, clean, do our laundry, even do our shopping. That leaves too much time to sit around all day, hang out at pubs at night, make fools of ourselves with young women, and drink ourselves stupid. Retirement in Thailand can easily become the “Fountain of Old Age”.
But there is a way to retain our youth. Although there isn’t much we can do to defy the laws of physics and prevent our bodies from turning to dust, we can stay young by reinventing ourselves. I have changed careers a number of times throughout my life. Each time I changed careers I had to start again from the very beginning. When we start something new it forces us to approach each new day without preconceptions; as if it were the first day of our lives. By doing something new, something we’ve never done before, our minds must view the world through the eyes of children. It is the real “Fountain of Youth”.
Thailand offers so much that can be new, exciting, and revitalizing. It’s the stuff that will keep us young. Here are a few suggestions.
Volunteer. There are scores of NGOs, schools, hospitals and other organizations that could use your skills or a contribution. Even if your skill is simply the knowledge of English, find an English class that needs a native speaker or find someone to tutor.
On the other end of the spectrum, find something to study; something that you have always wanted to know about but never had the time. I have a friend who recently taught himself Latin. Why Latin? Because he always wanted to learn it. For you it could be learning Thai, or taking up painting, or cooking, or learning photography, or studying Buddhism or reading the classics, or practicing yoga or meditation, or even writing a magazine column on retirement.
Why not travel while the airfares are still fairly cheap? We are close to so many great places to visit. There are all the Southeast Asian countries, and China, India, and Australia. It would take years to visit all the “amazing” destinations right here in Thailand itself. Keep a journal. Write an internet Blog where you can upload your observations and pictures and where all your friends and family back home can keep up with your odysseys.
Above all, keep your life new and meaningful and by doing so stay alive.
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In the column above I discussed keeping our lives meaningful and staying young by revitalizing our minds. But if we really want to live a healthy life we can’t forget to keep our bodies fit. It is too easy to eschew an active healthy lifestyle in a hot, steamy, and enervating place like Thailand.
When it is 37 degrees Celsius and 100% humidity it’s not hard to choose between lying on a cool floor under a blowing air conditioner and going for a workout. But if we are going to stay alive and enjoy our time in Thailand we need to stay fit.
The first thing to do is get a medical checkup. In Thailand checkups are cheap and the hospitals that cater to foreigners do a great job. When you talk to your doctor ask her if there is any problem with you starting a fitness program.
For most of the day running and even walking in Thailand is impractical. It’s just too hot. But at 6am or 9pm it’s not too bad. What is bad about running are the dogs. Running the gauntlet between snapping dogs, weaving motorcycles, and deep pot holes is quite unpleasant. It’s better to run on a school track or in a housing development with its wide dogless streets. If you like company when you run look up the local chapter of the Hash House Harrier .
If you don’t have a swimming pool many hotels and housing developments will, and for a small charge, open the pool to visitors. They will most often also have a fitness room that you can use. You’ll find that most pools in Thailand will be completely empty in the middle of they day. Only mad dogs and Farangs go swimming in the midday sun.
There are plenty of yoga instructors around. If you think a yoga class is just a bunch of weaklings in leotards think again. When I studied martial arts, a hundred years ago it seems, one of my senseis was also a yoga instructor. She would lead us through a half hour warm up of yoga asanas and stretches that left us exhausted. In fact we were more beat up after the yoga warm up than later when we were trying to punch and kick the daylights out of each other. Yoga is a great balanced, mind and body, activity.
You will see Tai chi practitioners in the early morning or evening in most parks, even in the upcountry. This ancient form of Chinese martial arts looks slow and plodding but it requires great balance and concentration. It is particularly good for those of us who are past the time when running around a track or swimming laps sounds inviting. Join a group and they will teach you all the movements.
Other popular sports are tennis, badminton, football, rugby, and squash. There is probably a club nearby. Golf is a favorite pastime in Thailand for Thais and visitors alike. If you can’t play take lessons from a pro at a local course or driving range. Lessons are inexpensive and a good introduction to a great sport.
I know that all this keeping in shape will eventually prove fruitless and that my body will one day just fade away. But when I die I want to die with a healthy body.
Try these Google searches (the word “club” can be substituted for
Fitness centers in Bangkok
Fitness centers in Chiang Mai
Fitness centers in Phuket
Or wherever; you get the picture