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Aging advice from an expert: A healthy, happy 90 year old
Helen Adams | MUSC News Center | January 7, 2016

Jeanne Nelson
Photos by Sarah Pack

Jeanne Nelson encourages people to get up and move if they can, no matter how old they are or what kind of shape they're in. 

At the age of 90, Jeanne Nelson still loves to dance the Carolina shag. “I hope God will take me while I’m still dancing. I love to dance, always did. I’ve never been self-conscious about it.”

Nelson, born in 1925 in the Pee Dee area of South Carolina, is as comfortable talking about her approach to life and good health as she is on the dance floor. Her nine decades have taught her a lot, wisdom she shares in this installment of the MUSC News Center’s Oldie Goldies series. Oldie Goldies features people 60 and up who are embracing aging, serving as role models who maintain good health and vitality.

Nelson’s first bit of advice for aging well: “Being happy by doing the things that make you happy is very important.” 

That lesson is hard-won for Nelson, who said she grew up poor, had a bout with polio when she was 21 that affects the left side of her body to this day, lost a son to cancer in 1977 and more recently had surgery related to ulcers on her colon. 

Jeanne Nelson says doing what makes you happy is one of the keys to aging well. 

But Nelson always kept going, enjoying her work as a government personnel specialist along with family relationships, friendships and of course, dancing. “I give credit to God for blessing me,” she said.

That brought her to a second piece of advice. “Faith is very important. To know God and have a relationship where you can ask God to help you with things - you’d be surprised at how he answers you in his own way. Not your way. You’ve got to have faith. It’s kind of dwindling.”

That faith helps guide her interest in helping others through her church. She drives less able members of her Sunday school class to doctor’s appointments and to stores to fill prescriptions. “It gives you such joy to be able to do for others. I don’t know if it gives everybody joy, but I do love doing for others.” 

Nelson’s third tip for aging well: “Stay active, no matter what you do. If you take walks or even just vacuum and do housework, that's activity. A lot of people hire others to come in to do that for them.” 

She said people should do the housework for themselves if they can. Nelson also mows her own yard and goes to senior fitness classes at the Wellness Center at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Jeanne Nelson 
Jeanne Nelson loves the home she's lived in since 1958. At the age of 90, she does the cleaning and yardwork herself. 

Nelson wishes more people realized that being active may be the key to helping them feel healthier. “A lot of my people in my Sunday school group say, ‘You don’t know how bad I hurt,’ because I say, ‘Why don’t you go to fitness classes?’ ‘You don’t know how bad I hurt’ [they answer]. They sit in a chair. If you sat in a chair for a long time and you got up, you’d have a hitch in your get-along, too.”

Nelson’s fourth suggestion for healthy aging involves nutrition. “I don’t avoid anything,” she said. For breakfast, she likes an egg and bacon with toast and coffee. Lunch and dinner vary. “I eat a vegetable or two usually. I love sliced tomatoes and bell pepper and all that stuff. Lettuce. I don’t necessarily eat the same thing every day.” Other favorites include butter beans and okra. 

When it comes to vitamins and medication, Nelson takes only what she and her doctor think she really needs. “They said my cholesterol is a little elevated. They don’t say high, but elevated. I take a little thing for blood pressure and I take something for GERD.” GERD is gastroesophageal reflux disease, a digestive disorder. Nelson also takes vitamins and calcium for her bones.

“I feel good most of the time,” she said. “I catch little viruses and things people have, but I’m basically a happy person.”

Oldie Goldies: Meet Delores Sanders, choir director and self-described 'diva' 




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