(The first paragraph has been edited to assure proper attribution)
When Mary Chapin Carpenter sang these John Lennon lyrics (borrowed from a Robert Browning poem), “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be,” I don’t think anyone had in mind the aching joints that seem to accompany some people as they age.
Take aching knees for example. Knee replacement has become the most common form of joint replacement surgery today. Between 1991 and 2010, the incidents of knee replacements increased by 161%. In 2010, surgeons performed over 721,000 of them. And already this year, The National Center for Health Statistics reports over 51 million health procedures have been performed with almost a million of them being total knee replacement.
If you believe the statistics, sometime after you turn 50, you will become one of the more than 4.5 million people who have painful knees and chooses to undergo at least one total knee replacement. Otherwise, the only solution, according to medical theories, will be to take pain medications for the rest of your life.
But, does that have to be your fate? Are these the only two options for living an active and free of joint pain life after age 50?
My experiences and observations tell me they aren’t. Let me share an experience a friend had a couple of years ago. She was a widow and found herself needing some financial support. She had just been offered a part-time retail job but was quite concerned about being on her feet all day because of knee pain she was experiencing.
Because we share a common Christian faith and have both experienced results from praying about health problems, she asked me to pray with her about this knee pain. In a textbook on Christian healing, Science and Health, this statement was especially meaningful in our prayers: “Mind [God] is the source of all movement, and there is no inertia to retard or check its perpetual and harmonious action.”
By looking to God as the animating source of movement, we questioned how could those knees’ mobility be at the mercy of change brought about by age? We reasoned that it could not since the Bible declares man is made in God’s image and God is eternal and changeless — that unchanging existence included my friend.
Meditating on these ideas, my friend accepted the part-time employment, never fearful that her mobility could be interrupted for any reason. She went on to work well into her 70s, including standing for 8 hours a day, without chronic knee pain or knee replacement.
Increasingly, studies show that prayer, spirituality and participation in a faith community contribute to improved health outcomes for people who are moving through their older years.
Researchers at institutes, such as the Gerontological Society on Aging (GSA), are asking important questions like: what is it that makes older people who are more involved in religious activities or are more personally spiritual feel better emotionally that helps them live longer and more healthily?
It’s a question that will be front and center when gerentology experts meet to discuss religion, spirituality and aging at the GSA annual conference, Nov. 19 in San Francisco. A new report that details research on the religious and spiritual dimensions of health is expected from the National Institute on Aging and the Fetzer Institute, a Michigan foundation interested in mind/body issues. It’s expected the research will confirm that older people appear to have better health when they attend religious services.
I am not suggesting that being healthier is as easy as attending church or ‘finding religion’ later in life. But, clearly, health improves for seniors through simple changes like joining a small prayer group or starting your own personal practice of prayer. I guess you might say that, no matter how you prefer to connect with the Divine, it’s likely that the best wellness program for your knees is to get down on them more often!