After losing a husband, most of a lung, and all motivation, a lot of women in their 80s would have surrendered to the couch for good. But a life of sitting around just didn’t sit well with Lita Eskew.
Mending from life traumas has put Lita better in touch with her health. Through changes in diet, exercise, and attitude, the 84-year-old Fayetteville native has strengthened her body and regained a sense of well being in the process.
And she says anyone can do the same.
“We’re not young forever, but we can stay healthy and keep going as long as we can, and I think that’s a blessing,” she said.
“Sometimes you have to put yourself first. As far as health goes, God wants us to put ourselves first. Our bodies are his temples and he wants us to take care of them.”
When Lita’s husband, Kenny, passed away three years ago, she lost some of her life energy too. Married for over six decades, the couple had done everything together, including taking walks for exercise.
“After Kenny died, I kind of lost interest in things. I gave up,” says Lita. “But after a while, I thought, ‘You’ve got to get your life together and move on. He would want you to.’ And that’s when I really made the change.”
But not before a battle with lung cancer. She got her diagnosis around the same time that her husband passed away. Eventually, she underwent surgery to remove a lung. Needless to say, it was a lot for her body to manage.
Lita found herself almost 30 pounds overweight and heading for a diabetes diagnosis. She had always tried to take care of herself, but two major traumas had taken their toll.
Six months ago, she arrived at a fork in the road and made a choice.
“I woke up one day and thought, ‘I don’t feel good. I’ve got to do something,’” she said.
Since that day, she’s lost over 20 pounds and 18 inches off her waistline. Her hemoglobin A1C (blood sugar measure) has plummeted to 6.7, “which is almost perfect,” she says. And most importantly, she feels better about herself.
Here is how she did it.
Lita is the oldest woman, and something of a hero, at the Curves fitness center in Oak Hill.
She goes there 3 days a week for 30-minute workout sessions. As energetic music plays, she moves from station to station, gaining momentum and motivation as she goes. There’s plenty of talk and laughter to keep things upbeat.
“When I leave there I feel uplifted, with a good attitude, and the rest of the day seems to go a lot better for me,” she says.
But it’s not always easy to motivate herself to get there in the first place. Sharing a ride to classes with a buddy from Fayetteville helped get her into the exercise chair. On the way to class, they’d talk about what they were eating and had a lot of fun in the process.
Seniors can also take advantage of an exercise program at Plateau Medical Center in Oak Hill. Their “Senior Circle” program offers a number of benefits, including exercise classes, for $15 per year.
Lita also keeps active at church and with volunteer work at the Fayetteville Convention and Visitors Bureau. She also volunteers one day a week at Raleigh General Hospital in Beckley, pushing patients in and out of the building in wheelchairs.
“It keeps me running. I’ve gained my strength back,” she said.
Lita made changes in her diet, too, but doesn’t follow any fancy, trendy diet plan. The improvements in her health have been radical, but how she got there is basically common sense, she says.
Lita watches her carbohydrates, reducing her intake of refined sugars and starches.
“My doctor said don’t eat anything white for a while because white foods have a lot of carbohydrates.”
She eats only whole wheat breads and says she doesn’t miss the junk because there’s plenty of other stuff to eat.
That includes as many vegetables as she wants. She chooses fish, chicken, and salads for most meals.
Fried foods, which used to make up a lot of her diet, have gone out the window, along with most salty foods. She reads the labels of foods at the grocery store before she buys.
When she eats is also important. Starting with a healthy breakfast, she makes sure to get three good meals per day, along with midmorning and midafternoon snacks to keep her metabolism running steady.
She might eat a rice cake with peanut butter around 10 o’clock and a piece of cheese and a cracker in the afternoon. She tries to avoid eating anything after 8 p.m.
Diet and exercise count for a lot, but social support cemented Lita’s healthy choices.
One source came from her doctor, Dr. Millie Petersen, who encouraged Lita to take better care of herself. If she didn’t lose weight, Peterson told Lita, she’d have to go on insulin.
The gals at Curves also keep her in check. Coaches there weigh her, check up on what she’s eating, and take her measurements once a month.
“They tease me at Curves and say, ‘Even when you’re 90, you’ll still be coming,’” says Lita.
And finally, her family has given her lots of positive feedback.
Lita’s daughter, Denise Scalph, runs a gift shop in Fayetteville where Lita sometimes helps out. Denise will ask shoppers to guess how old her mother is. They’re surprised when their guesses turn out to be so far off the mark.
“People say, ‘Oh my goodness, you don’t look like you’re 84.’ I don’t want to boast, but that really makes me feel good, and I thank God for giving me the energy, strength, and enthusiasm to do what I’m doing,” Lita said.
When it comes down to it, she says, attitude is the biggest adjustment she made.
“I decided that the most significant thing I could do on a day-to-day basis was to make a choice about my attitude,” she said. “Every morning, I wake up and ask God to give me wisdom and an attitude to improve my health and lifestyle.”
She tells others her age not to give up. It’s possible to live a long, healthy life, but you have to be willing to put forth the effort.
“I want to live as long as I can, but I want to live healthy, and I’m praying God will give me that choice,” she said.
“But it’s a choice I need to make myself.”