With large gatherings off the table, Thanksgiving takes on new meaning for these seniors

The pandemic has been particularly hard on people over 60, as public health authorities urge them to stay home and avoid contact with too many people.

COVID-19 has been particularly hard on older Canadians, who are being warned to limit social contacts

Lisa McClellan, 60, says it's important to keep body and mind healthy and to focus on the joy in life. (Submitted by Lisa McLellan)

For Lisa McLellan, 60, Thanksgiving usually means gathering with her family at her home in the Laurentians.

But this year, with the Laurentians in the orange zone for COVID-19 measures, they've decided to forego the usual celebration.

Like many Quebecers over the age of 60, they are gearing up to face the social isolation that comes with heightened COVID public health rules, but they're relying on healthy lifestyles to keep them feeling positive.

With three-quarters of the province's population under red zone rules and everyone being cautioned to avoid unnecessary travel and social gathering, festive visits with family and friends will be few and far between this long weekend.

The government has even warned people to skip Thanksgiving, if they want any hope of celebrating Christmas together.

Monique Dolbec, 79, and her husband Bill, have cancelled the dinner they were planning with another couple in their 70s at their home in the village of Saint-Irénée, Charlevoix.

"It's hard because there's nothing nearby [to do to celebrate] and it would be fun to get together," Dolbec said, "but we are ready to make the sacrifice for now."

Neither Dolbec nor McLellan plans to languish.

Age is just a number

Both say the key to aging well is doing activities they enjoy and which keep them looking and feeling much younger than their years.

For McLellan, the founder of a company specializing in fitness and health education for the 50+, this will mean working in her garden and doing yoga and meditation.

For Dolbec, an outdoor enthusiast retired from a career with the federal government, it will mean going for walks and volunteering, if she's called, to deliver food for Meals on Wheels.

"How you feel depends on what you do to maintain your vitality," McLellan told CBC's Quebec AM. "So personally, I feel about 40."

"So far, I haven't felt my aging," Dolbec said, " because I still have energy to do the exercising and sports I like. I walk every day, but during the summer, I kayak, I go sailing. In winter I go skiing. I'm lucky I like to exercise."

Monique Dolbec, 79, keeps young by skiing and doing other sports, but she's cancelled her Thanksgiving plans this year. (Submitted by Monique Dolbec)

Science confirms key to healthy aging is lifestyle

For Sylvie Belleville, director of research at the Université de Montréal's geriatric Institute, it's clear that lifestyle factors make a huge difference in how well we age.

Of course, it's important to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep and be a non-smoker. Also key: treating manageable conditions like high blood pressure, and hearing or vision loss.

Sometimes just making one healthy change can affect everything else, Belleville said.

"It's a bit like Scrabble," she explained, "adjusting just one of these factors, such as exercise, can have a triple impact on your health score. It can allow for better sleep, improve your can have a domino effect…."

What is perhaps less well-known is how crucial it is to stay socially connected, something that's been difficult during a pandemic.

Connecting with and inspiring others

Dolbec, 79, stays active all year round and volunteers in her community. She also keeps a journal, reads several hours a day, learns new things and makes a point of maintaining friendships and a cheerful outlook.

"[Being in] your 70s is not old anymore if you have your health," Dolbec said.

McLellan says she loves taking care of herself and says it has an impact on the body and spirit.

"If you take care of your health, your body responds with vitality that is visible," McLellan said. "And if you really embrace the things you've learned and the compassion you've gained...the light you'll express is much greater than superficial beauty."

Aging in a pandemic

McLellan said her family is focusing on the joy in their lives and the love they share, rather than on worries about COVID-19.

"It's so important to remember that we can share love and joy and make people's lives brighter through the simple action of caring and presence."

Dolbec, too, is serene. But she recognizes that the pandemic is coinciding with a stage in her own life when loss may become inevitable, regardless of outside forces.

"Around 80, it comes to our mind that we are losing friends and losing companions. During COVID, it gets more precious to have that special person you can hug and touch."

Despite this knowledge, or perhaps because of it, Dolbec says she is grateful.

"It's a privilege to age and see your children become adults. I hear that word privilege and I think it's a good description of aging well. It's a treasure to be healthy at my age."

Monique Dolbec and Lisa McLellan are living through COVID at a time when health regulations warn seniors to limit their social contacts. They join guest host Alison Brunette to share their keys to aging well during a pandemic. 17:06

With files from Quebec AM

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