Photo courtesy of Patricia VanGalen

Resilience and strength

Patricia VanGalen redefines aging

Recent full-time Big Sky resident Patricia VanGalen is vibrant and strong. She strolled into Roxy’s thoroughly energized before she took a sip of the coffee. The 65 year old mother of two had been exercising at Moving Mountains. A staunch believer in proactive health and the need for a “mindset makeover,” she speaks to concepts of resilience and durability. VanGalen is now offering a “Masters in Motion” class at Moving Mountains to help “active agers” in the Big Sky community.  

“We can’t prevent everything, but we don’t have to age old. We are trying to lengthen the health span and trying to get that health span as long as the life span,” she said.   Set to be a presenter at the International Conference of Active Aging this year, she said there is a difference in theories of training for aging.   “There is training to not die early versus training to live, labor, play, work, compete, and care-give. If you do not take care of yourself, you cannot be a caregiver. If you eat well, train well, sleep well and do your spiritual component, you are going to be more resilient,” she said. With a master’s degree in exercise science, she worked in cardiac rehabilitation, corporate  health  promotion and injury risk reduction. Her husband was in foreign service for 30 years: Singapore, Beijing, Hong Kong, Virginia, Paris, Germany. Everywhere they went she was able to find employment: trainer, teacher coach, writer, lecturer. She also worked on a PhD for functional training for post menopausal women. In her experience overseas she saw how different cultures approach health. The way the Chinese perceive the necessity of movement, for example: Tai Chi in the mornings and ballroom dancing at night. “It was very different, but it was great,” she said. “Even though I got sick of moving, it forces you to adapt to the changes you are thrown into – a different culture, different living conditions.” After all those years of assigned cities and movement, she and her husband found Big Sky six years ago to pursue the thrills of the mountain without the “foo foo” influence found in some ski communities. They loved it. They stumbled upon a lot, built a house and she was able to unpack moving boxes without having to pack them again. That feeling of being settled is something that has largely eluded them in life and it is a welcomed gift, she said. Lives can be lived with minimal movement now – and that has to be countered by all age groups, she explained. 

“Sixty is the time to ramp up and not ramp down. Number one: take care of yourself. Number two, you have to find purpose. There’s no more retirement, there’s just rewiring,” she said. She spoke to the importance of real friendship in this social media driven society, movement as an antidepressant, seeking meaning and creating resilience as the keys to a healthy and long life. 

“Eat real food, drink more water and move around more. Sometimes people make it too complicated. Health is patterns and practices,” she said. While Big Sky might be better positioned to dodge the national trend toward obesity because residents like to move and embrace the mountain, she did explain that preventative steps should be taken. “People are doing things, but they are getting hurt. How can we better prepare you to do these things you want to do, and allow for you to do them for decades to come?,” she asked. “Aging is an opportunity. If you’re going to live here – you’d better be training.” 

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