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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Health Benefits of being active in retirement - Musically speaking

Mahendra Gonsalkorale's presentation at the Academic Sessions of the 50th Anniversary Reunion, Negombo held on 3, 4 & 5 March, 2017.

Good morning friends, it is so lovely to see so much of you.

As always, it is an honour to contribute to the scientific sessions, even though I understand that people were not exactly queuing up for the honour!

My talk today is a bit personal but I plan to touch on aspects which I hope will make you reflect and also help you to maintain your health as the clock keeps ticking, as indeed it has for millions of people before us, and will surely do so for millions that follow.

The only thing certain about life…is death! The time to reach the second of these seemed a long, long time when we began the journey but as we near the end, it feels like just a short time. How we experience time is a subject by itself. All of us have gone through most of the usual calling posts such as school, university, employment, marriage, children,  grandchildren and on the way experienced a range of emotions including joy, wonderment, sadness, exhilaration, anger, confusion, amazement, just to name a few. We have now reached, or are about to reach in the case of some, that period we call retirement, meant to be a time of Peace, contentment, free of the drudgery of work and filled with time for doing those things for which we did not, or chose not to, have the time.

Some gave a lot of thought to this approaching milestone. After all, it wasn’t something that could not be anticipated, but nevertheless, there are some who belong to that category. Most of you I am sure prepared for it and I do hope that you are leading a life full of fulfilment, at least most of the time!

The Retirement challenge – wish list

·        Be content
·        Remain healthy physically
·        Remain healthy mentally (all about marbles)
·        Be financially stable with a simple life style – not too difficult
·        Be financially stable with a expensive life style – more difficult
·        Maintain good relations with family and friends
·        Stop worrying about things you cannot change of influence

Retirement is a strange concept when you come to think of it. It is based on the belief that work was a stressful drudgery which had to be endured and at last, the time for escape has arrived. This need not be so and I am sure it is always possible to find aspects of your work which you enjoyed and there is no reason at all to stop work completely and retire. If you enjoy your work and can fit it in, ideally on a part time basis, together with other things you would like to do, why not! It is a matter of making choices as to what you really want in life. If you found it necessary to have a large income to lead the sort of life you wanted, retirement may be difficult as the drop in your income will be significant. If on the other hand, you found the right balance and prioritised your needs,wants and desires, you would be in a better position to do so.

As we get older, it is inevitable that some of the more unpleasant aspects of aging will affect us. Age associated illness, decline in physical and mental function, loss and/or separation from loved ones, are factors which will affect all of us to varying degrees. We have absolutely no control over some of these but we can and should attempt to mitigate the effect of some others. It is my view that your Health comes above almost anything else. There are others of importance, but how you feel, move, think, and do, or not do things, will depend largely on your health and we should do our utmost to maintain our health,and of course we can. Not all escape unscathed and the ravages of chronic disease will affect some of us and major adjustments will be needed.
But health alone is not enough. It is an important basis but financial stability is also very important and needs to be taken into consideration.

We also become the subject of many jokes.

Additional years provide the chance to pursue new activities such as further education, a new career or pursuing a long neglected passion. Older people also contribute in many ways to their families and communities.

Although your finances are very important it does not mean that you should “work all the hours that God gave us” till you drop dead! Again it is a question of balance and forward thinking of what you need. The realisation that continuous accumulation of material wealth is not the way to happiness would have dawned on many of you. The transient and superficial satisfaction of experiencing Power and Influence which is all too easily lost when you no longer occupy positions that gave you that power, will make you more modest and content if you accept it, or, miserable and unhappy if you don’t. You will realise the truth of impermanence, and that will lead you to contentment.
My health advice for all of us is as follows-

·        Regular exercise, sufficient in intensity and duration.  (There is good evidence that the incidence of Alzheimer’s is less in those who do regular physical and mental activities).  Take up a sport. I would heartily recommend golf. Swimming. Brisk walk 5 days a week at least 30min duration enough to increase your heart and respiratory rates.
·        A healthy diet with an eye on your weight.
·        Check for and treat Diabetes, Hypertension, lipid abnormalities.
·        Indulge in activity which produces mental stimulation.
·        Stay Inquisitive about the world around you
·        Socialise with friends.
·        Realise your own physical capabilities and live your age rather than indulge in activities which are unsafe at your age.
·        Cultivating a mind-set of being content with what you got, not constantly yearning for material things and, for want of a better word, being more spiritual in your attitude to life in general and to other human beings and animals. Enjoyment is a mental experience and there is a lot you can do to manage it to your advantage.
·        Some of you might advocate a glass of red wine a few days a week
·        Learn to relax and relieve anxiety and stress. Gardening, music.
·        Develop a sense of purpose. The famous philosopher Nietzsche once wrote, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how”. People with a greater sense of purpose live longer, sleep better and have better sex. Purpose cuts the risk of stroke and depression. It helps people recover from addiction or manage their glucose levels if they are diabetic. If a pharmaceutical company could bottle such a treatment, it would make billions. But you can find your own, and it’s free.
·        Stay married if you can! Married people have a higher life expectancy than single of divorced people. But the good news for us singles is that this significance disappears if the singles are have active social lives.

And now to music.

"Where there is life there is music. Where there is music, there is life." - 80-year-old jazz trumpeter, Richard Phelps, recently said at his birthday party

I would like to suggest that music could provide a means to maintain your health (in conjunction with the factors already mentioned) and has certainly helped me to keep mentally active and happy. Just like the Medical profession provides such a range of sub specialties, music is so varied that it will be possible to find something that appeal to you. There is Western, Eastern, Classical, Pop, orchestral, vocal,choral, jazz, rock, gospel, country and western, soul, folk music, Carnatic music, Hindustani music, Ghazal setc etc. I would also recommend that you try to master a musical instrument, especially if you always had a secret wish to do so. My elder bother always wished he could play the piano and over the last 10 years, he bought piano, got lessons, practised assiduously and he can now play the piano reasonably well, although he knows that he cannot be another Ashkenazy!

I was able to play the piano “by ear“since I was about 12 years old as there was a piano (sister was taught as was customary) at home and I had a “good ear”. I always wish I should have learnt to read music and play and I am yet to do that properly. I found the answer to my desire to play the piano in a band by discovering the amazing potential of the electronic keyboard. My Yamaha Tyros 5 gives me such huge pleasure and I not only play known music but compose music.

I love singing on my own or with friends. I alluded to “purpose” in life and we find it in different ways. Some find purpose as Grandparents, others through working in Charities and other Community oriented work, others through Religion. Whatever you choose, finding “purpose” never fails to enrich our lives. A recent study quoted in the New Scientist confirms that people with purpose are healthier and live longer, although it is not clear whether this is a causal phenomenon as people with purpose are more active anyway.

At this stage I play clips of a few songs I sang/composed.
Your image is etched in my heart:
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow:

Some quoted beneficial effects of music for elders

·        A happier outlook on life.
·        Bettered social interaction.
·        Encouraged self-expression and discovery of personal identity.
·        Enhanced moods.
·        Improved interest levels.
·        Increased communication in dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.
·        Increased positive emotions.
·        Increased relaxation.
·        Increased self-esteem.
·        Reduced tension and anxiety.
Studies also show that music promotes positive overall health.  Those that listen to music demonstrate:  [slide]

·        Better nights of sleep.
·        Diminished pain.
·        Improved memory and recall.
·        Improved recovery time.
·        Increased ability to concentrate.
·        Increased awareness.
·        Increased mobility and coordination.
·        Increased overall cognitive abilities.
·        Lessened need for medication.
·        Reduced pain.
·        Reduced recovery time

I conclude by reciting a poem I wrote on Retirement

Wheels turning rapidly
Blurred images passing by,
No time.
All too brief acquaintances
Forever catching up,
No time.
Deadlines, projects, meetings
Rushing about on wheeled things,
No time.
Finishing, only to start again,
Is this living?
Stop before it’s too late!

And now,

Slow down.
Time to pause, to reflect, to notice
Time to absorb, to learn
Time to indulge, to take, to give, to appreciate
Time to be detached,
Slow down.
Time to rediscover Nature,
The sheer peaceful beauty of trees,
The delightful sounds and sights of birds,
The living tapestry of the transforming sky
Time to treasure all things beautiful,
Slow down,
And live again.

  -Thanks very much for giving me this opportunity to speak to you-


  1. Mahen
    I wish I was there to hear it live as the delivery, the body language and the ambience all help to enhance what is said. It is lucid and easy to read and the contents are a useful reminder to us all of life, age and the final exit and how best to use our time. Thank you

  2. Mahen,
    Thank you for posting this- Nihal has said it all!

  3. The linguistically observant among you may have spotted my error in saying "lovely to see so much of you" as it should have been "so many of you" but at the same time, I did see "so much of you" without for one moment thinking it was "too much of you"!

  4. I am not claiming to be linguistically observant. I for one didn't spot it as an error. Knowing Speedy, I thought he was just being humorous. In fact, I looked around to see whether there were males in shorts and females in mini skirts! So you see, there was nothing wrong in Speedy's statement, if the members of the audience wore scanty attire.

  5. Speedy, this was good advice presented with humor, and a perfect topic for the 50th. In many cases, and I am no exception, there was "so much (more) of us" than when we left Med School 50 years ago. So it might have been a Freudian slip!

  6. As you all know we had a quiz run by Suri. The first quiz for some of us however, was a "guess who". Most have transformed their looks and shapes while retaining a great deal of semblance to the original product but not in all cases, especially when parted for many many years.Changes in personal scenery included presence or absence of capital fungus, the colour of the summit, whether the summit was more like a dagoba surrounded by devotees or no devotees at all, the cirumference at the equator, the curvature of the spine, in possesion or not of the complete 36, the position of transformation from shirt to trouser (the satiety line) for males and the size and position of frontal chest appendages in the fairer sex and many more.... But we managed. Not just managed, but did exceptionally well as we caught up and refreshed our memories and at the end we parted even closer than when we met. I cannot recommend highly enough a Reunion such as this, in pleasant surroundings, in a relaxed atomosphere with no externals to divert us with a chance to share memories of a special time in our life. My thanks once again to the Organising committee and all others who played a part in making this what it was.

  7. Yes Speedy, We should not be too concerned with the lack of, or the color of the "capital fungus" or other transformations that occur with advancing age. It was such a wonderful time together, and I was so pleased that some of our batch mates were able to join us just for Saturday's activities. And as you said "At the end we parted even closer than when we met." I hope we do our best to stay connected until we meet again at another Reunion.

  8. Mahendra, I wish to congratulate you whole heartedly for delivering this excellent, helpful, and truthful, glass-half-full, assessment of our state of retirement and ideas for management of this last but most important stage of our lives. I would have loved to see the slides and hear the songs but I could see them in my mind's eye and hear them in a phantom ear. I have no doubt that our batch mates had an excellent audio visual treat and it made the big event even more meaningful, joyful and above all gave everyone some pearls of wisdom. Well Done! And Thank you, Lucky for including it on the Blog for the non attendees also to share in it. From, Zita

    1. Thanks Zita. We all missed you too but understood why you couldn't come. I enjoyed doing the presentation and it was good to get some nice feedback. I hope you will be able to come for the next one, whenever and whereever it is.