Life Lessons From a 91-Year Old


[avatar user=”doller” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” link=””]By: Denisse Oller[/avatar]For the last month, I have been looking for inspiration to write an article to coincide with National Women’s Health Week, which begins on May 8 and ends on Mother’s Day, May 14. The goal is to empower women to make their health a priority and to help women understand steps they can take to improve their health.

I looked for statistics on Latinas. There were facts: At 54 million, Hispanics are the largest ethnic minority in the country. One of every five women in the U.S. is Latina. By 2060, Latinas will constitute almost one third of the nation’s female population. Latina women are making significant strides in education, governance, participation, and other important sectors of our society.

And more facts: Latinas, on average, are most likely to lack health coverage than any group in the United States, with almost 40% being uninsured. We are more likely than other ethnic groups to suffer from chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes. More shocking? Only 1 in 11 Latinos ever seeks treatment for mental health issues. In fact, compared to other ethnic groups, Latinas have had the highest rates of depression and suicide for more than 40 years. 

When it comes to health and health care, the reality for Latinas in the United States is disheartening. I needed a voice of hope.

It occurred to me to give Olga a call.

Olga Colon is a 91-year-old with a teen’s zest for life and a contagiously hearty laugh. She swims and walks, albeit with the help of a walker, for at least 30 minutes at least five days a week. Her mind is sharp as razor wire. She recently got a clean bill of health from her Primary Care Physician. And except for a slight limp, she could pass for a woman 10 years younger.

I asked Olga for the secrets to her health, which she revealed with a chuckle and a sense of satisfaction. She told me that a good sense of humor was essential and dancing was key. Moving to music, she said, made her come alive. And no matter what, she always took care of her health. “Si yo no me cuido, quien lo va ha hacer por mi?” (“If I don’t take care of myself, who is going to do it for me?”)

Olga worked until she was 80 as a social worker and interpreter in a local senior center. When she “retired,” she found a part-time job to keep her busy. Nowadays, she volunteers at the center. She loves Puerto Rican food, which she learned growing up in the island, but watches what she eats. “Not too much, just enough.”

She still lives in the Lower East Side neighborhood where her parents moved when she was a teen. She told me losing her husband was heartbreaking, but her four children, grandchildren, and friends were there for support. She added that being active has been her blessing.

When I asked how she wished to celebrate her 92nd birthday, she did not miss a beat. “My birthday is on December 30, so we are celebrating the Holidays with the family, and there’s a lot of fiesta going on. Hopefully I will dance. I will send you pictures.”

I hope Olga actually invites me to celebrate a life well lived. Thanks for the health lessons that I will make my own and pass on to every Latina in my path.

The National Women’s Health Week is an observance led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health

Their suggested steps to improve your physical and mental health are as follows:

Find out what additional steps you can take based on your age at