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Introduction to Tips
The sampling of tips that follow, from eighteen world triathlon champions 75 and over are different from familiar medical advice. These tips complement sound medical counsel, particularly dealing with prevention of illness, accidents or disease, but the difference is dramatic and will be noticed immediately.
Not Dead Yet tips represent an upbeat message; the commentaries do not focus on the dark side of aging. We don’t deny any of it, but our elder world champions don’t belabor it, either. While much valuable information about the difficult facts and dynamics of aging is common knowledge, this awareness tends to discourage older populations, not encourage positive actions that improve health status. We also emphasize action – behaviors that implement forward-moving advice. Not Dead Yet is wholly designed to foster proactive health enhancing actions that add well being and enjoyment beyond the absence of discomfort, limitations and suffering. The challenges of aging are well known, especially those dealing with negative changes physical and mental. The tips that follow embrace the bright side of senior life, practical ways to bring a bit of Spring and Summer to the Fall of existence.
So enjoy the following steps from senior champions and pondering the many recommended steps, and sample as many as you can, little by little and bit by bit. Make the most of opportunities associated with being mature, wiser than ever and perhaps retired with more time to do what you want to do, with whom and when and how you prefer to go about it. Elder life situations are rich with under-appreciated possibilities to do more while complaining and suffering less.
Our ideas on aging comport with something the great American 19th century orator Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) said of happiness, namely, that the time to be happy is now, the place to be happy is here and the way to be happy is to make others so.
While we can not directly make others happy, we can and are seeking, with Not Dead Yet to provide sparkling tips and commentaries that will brighten the time remaining for all readers. We believe we can do this to some extent by inciting action on the part of readers to do more to enjoy good health and happiness, love and joyful living in the time remaining.
Categories for Successful Aging
R-E-A-L wellness is a conscious lifestyle conducive to successful aging – at any age. The attitudes and behaviors associated with this approach are based on reason, exuberance, athleticism and liberty. The acronym “REAL” stands for the four dimensions of successful aging advanced in NOT DEAD YET:
R – For reason – decision-making based on facts, evidence and science.
E – For exuberance – focus on happiness and joy, meanings and purposes, etc.
A – For athleticism – sound nutrition and vigorous daily exercise for fitness.
L – For liberty – free to pursue your desires, interests and preferences.
Small Sample of Tips
A focus on decision-making based upon facts, evidence and science
DISCIPLINE IS AN ESSENTIAL INGREDIENT IF YOU WISH TO BE FREE, LIVE WELL, ENJOY LIFE AND AGE SUCCESSFULLY
There are variables too numerous to list that account for success in this life, and none is more consequential than the one over which we have little or no control, namely, random fortune. The place and time of our birth is one example, not being on the wrong end of a lightening strike is another and so on – there are billions of chance encounters that, for better or worse, affect how long we live, the roads we take, the jobs and professions we adopt, who we marry and so on and on. These are just basic examples of consequential occurrences that shape our fates. As noted, these are all random – there is nothing logical, predictable or manageable about any of it. Crudely put, we are vastly affected by dumb luck, for better or worse.
Fortunately, there is much else in the course of our lives over which we do have influence, and these are the factors that should concern us and to which we must attend if we wish to do well and make the most of our relatively short existence on this good Earth. At the top of any list should be discipline, control of thoughts and actions that give directions to our pursuits. It is discipline that keeps us on track, enables us to control our impulses and feelings in order that we make informed, rational decisions that keep us on track toward desired states of being. The achievement of goals and the best possible performance on a consistent basis, day in and day out, over time is dependent on self-discipline.
In an speech entitled Improved Man, Robert Green Ingersoll described nine major qualities of goodness, virtues and not-so common common decencies that would mark the improved version of men and women, hopefully at some time in the not too distant future. Each quality had multiple sub-qualities. Consider the ninth such quality, which in multiple ways touches on self-discipline as a key feature of being free, living well, enjoying life and yes, aging successfully:
The Improved Man will be self-poised, independent, candid and free. He will be a scientist. He will observe, investigate, experiment and demonstrate. He will use his sense and his senses. He will keep his mind open as the day to the hints and suggestions of nature. He will always be a student, a learner and a listener — a believer in intellectual hospitality. In the world of his brain there will be continuous summer, perpetual seed-time and harvest. Facts will be the foundation of his faith. In one hand he will carry the torch of truth, and with the other raise the fallen.
Recently, the point was also made by a young man, 33 years of age, who said the following about this essential ingredient of success:
Only the disciplined ones in life are free. If you are undisciplined, you are a slave to your moods and your passions…It’s not about the legs; it’s about the heart and the mind…The best time to plant a tree was 25 years ago. The second-best time to plant a tree is today.
The author of that remark, Eliud Kipchoge, 33 of Kenya, would probably be relatively anonymous if not for the fact that his own discipline in life enabled him to accomplish an extraordinary, hard even for the experts to believe feat. What he did rocketed him to fame on the morning of September 16, 2018 in Berlin when he shattered the world record for the marathon by running slightly over 26 consecutive miles at a four minute, 38 second per mile pace, winning the fabled event in 2:01:39.
Evidently, Mr. Kipchoge is disciplined and free from his moods and passions, master of his heart and mind and well aware of the value of being self-poised and all the rest. Mr. Kipchoge’s comments about the best times to plant a tree, a wonderful metaphor for aging successfully, echo Robert Ingersoll’s words from 1890. In the world of his brain, it seems that there is continuous summer, perpetual seed-time and harvest in much abundance.
LOAD UP ON BRAIN NUTRIENTS: MENTAL ACUITY IS AT LEAST 50 PERCENT OF SUCCESSFUL AGING
Varied mind games provide mental challenges that nourish the brain, the central processing unit of all that you are. Mental challenges are activities you can choose that entail strategizing and effective communications that also engage your social skills. Staying sharp in this manner will amuse and delight others while enhancing your own satisfactions as you move through life as joyfully as possible.
There are many examples, bridge and chess among the list, that will help you keep your wits about you and your mental state in top working order. Sports also may involve multiple challenges that absolutely require a clear head. An example well known to all the champion participants in this book is the sport of triathlon. In this multiple activity endeavor, the athlete has to juggle disparate requirements. These include bringing and placing a variety of equipment to the race site, getting in and out of the playing field (i.e., the transition areas) as expeditiously as possible and knowing when to hold and when to fold them. By that we mean when to make strategic moves to advance under dramatically different circumstances. Specifically, in triathlons this means moving forward in deep, sometimes rough water with others surrounded by competitors splashing, bumping and otherwise jockeying for position. Survive that scrum in good humor and you have to negotiate, often at dangerously high speeds, an unfamiliar bike course and, after that’s completed, apportion what energy you have left while running at a pace that is endurable but not ruinous. To do that, your awareness level must be high, your emotions must be under control and, most important, that organ in your head consisting predominantly of gray and white matter of complex cellular structure must be functioning effectively. After all, by the time you get to the final run segment, your energy resources are in serious decline, and diminishing with each stride you take. Mental acuity is essential if you are to reach the finish line relatively exhausted, which is a good thing. Hold back too much and you could lose a place or two; spend too much before you reach the Promised Land (i.e., the finish line) and you might drop dead, or at least have to abandon ship (i.e., quit the race).
In other words, while bodily fitness matters, so too does mental acuity.
Writing is a nutrient-rich way to nourish the brain as well as a practice that is known to be effective for self-understanding and creating a record for others to appreciate who you are – and later, who you were. Otherwise, special times, events and experiences known only to and felt only by you will go unrecorded, forevermore and who wants that?
Certain common errors and a few very, very uncommon mistakes should be avoided, a recommendation more easily managed if one is fully aware of which initiatives of a perilous nature have risks that are just totally unacceptable. Would you like an example? Here’s one to think about – climbing the near-vertical 3,000ft El Capitan wall in Yosemite National Park without a harness or other safety equipment.
Choosing not to consider such a thing does not, however, inhibit us to the point where we can’t be dazzled by and appreciative of the skills and fortitude of American climber Alex Honnold who, in 2017, ascended this exact El Capitan wall – without ropes or a parachute! National Geographic magazine described Mr. Honnold’s free solo climb on June 3 as perhaps the greatest feat of pure rock climbing in the history of the sport.
We old guys think it’s more like the greatest feat of anything, ever, in the whole wide world. But, who knows? Maybe we’re just easily impressed!
TREAT MEDICATIONS AS YOU WOULD STICKS OF DYNAMITE – USE THEM ONLY UNDER CONTROLLED CIRCUMSTANCES AND GET RID OF THEM AS SOON AS POSSIBLE
We might add a little more to this tip – keep meds away from children, always let doctors know what meds, if any, you are taking and never watch a drug commercial – these deceptive fake dramas would not be allowed on TV or other media if one of us were the U.S. Surgeon General – or benevolent ruler of the universe. (Yes, we know the U.S. Surgeon General does not have such power – we’re just being a little dramatic to get our point across.)
Until the mid-80’s, pharmaceutical companies were not permitted to pitch drugs directly to consumers, as they do today. Drug ads were designed for doctors through private channels, not for general consumers via mass media. Advertising of meds up until that time was created by technically-minded, medically-focused ad agencies – and targeted only to small, mostly doctor audiences. Now ads are designed for consumers who have no clue what meds can actually do or about the risks; the purpose of such ads is to motivate consumers to pressure their doctors to prescribe drug products they watch on TV.
Any idea how much was spent by drugmakers on direct-to-consumer advertising last year? $6.4 billion. Resistance is not futile. To age successfully, be wary, skeptical and on guard! A medication here and there can be marvelously beneficial, now and then, but only under certain conditions. Never assume meds will offer more good than harm and always do due diligence before taking such substances.
To be a bit specific (a couple of our champions are physicians), some meds adversely affect the brain in the near-term while risking Alzheimer’s over a longer haul. Other drugs have equally dramatic risk factors – just think of the current crisis with synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and pain relievers such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine and morphine. Drugs classified as benzodiazepines (e.g., brand names Ativan, Valium, Restoril and Xanax) may be quite effective, if used properly). This is true as well for non-benzodiazepine prescription sedatives (e.g., Ambien, Sonata, and Lunesta). However, caution is always prudent.
Bottom line with meds – limit their use to the extent you can – and get off those not clearly essential as soon as possible.
A focus on happiness and joy, meanings, purposes and more
GO OUT OF YOUR WAY, EVERYDAY, IN SEARCH OF HUMOR, FUN, LAUGHTER AND HAPPINESS
Fun entails amusement, enjoyment, pleasure and more. It often comes unexpectedly, but from the beginning of our days, having fun has great appeal, is purposeful and, no surprise, is as important to life quality in the latter years and probably more nourishing than ever. Fun is often unexpected, informal or purposeless but always welcome. Try to find some of it in nearly everything you do, though funerals and solemn religious devotions may be among the few times when others might not be too happy if you’re having too much fun.
Not having enough fun could be a wildly overlooked health hazard – it has been associated with being cranky, moody, grumpy, crabby, crotchety, testy, prickly, irascible, cantankerous, surly, peevish and not exactly the life of any party, among other symptoms.
Laughter is a first cousin of fun. Social scientists can’t seem to say enough in favor of the health benefits of laughter as good medicine and a common feature of wellbeing. Almost all studies of long-lived people highlight ample laughter as a characteristic of successful aging. Laughter is beneficial even if the source of merriment is not objectively or understandably amusing. Someone who laughs incessantly, including at times when nothing seems funny to anyone else, will soon prove unnerving. However, if nobody’s listening, go ahead and yuck it up at every opportunity. It will do no harm and, if the scientists and best-selling humor book authors are not having us on, will probably do you some good. Around others, it’s best if at least a few get the joke.
Happiness is closely related to but different from laughter. The latter is a sensation; happiness is a feeling, somewhat longer lasting than a hearty chuckle. Aristotle posited two forms of happiness: hedonia, based on pleasure, and eudaimonia, based on virtue and clean living. Likewise, there are two distinct kind of laughter – good natured and victimless (basically eudaimonia) and all the rest, as favored by stand up comedians (basically hedonic). Both are heartily recommended.
FAVOR ATTITUDES OF OPTIMISM AND GRATITUDE
Resolve to develop a habit of waking up with an attitude of optimism and gratitude. As soon as you open your eyes and sort things out (e.g., where you are and how you got there), smile and exclaim a few words suitable to the occasion. An example might be, Holy cow! I’m still alive. I’m going to have some fun today! Everything’s going to be alright! I am so grateful to the universe for my good fortune. You can surely come up with many more personal, satisfying exclamations, no doubt.
The reasons for optimism and possibilities for gratitude are endless, beyond being alive. Chances are, you have a roof over your head, you don’t struggle to get enough to eat and your basic needs are comfortably met. No cause for pessimism in any of that. Be creative in your thoughts about gratitude upon regaining consciousness. For instance, you might decide to be thankful that it’s the 21st century, not some grim time and place in history, such as during the 700 years when the Holy Office of the Inquisition might have found you guilty of riding a bicycle on a Sunday and chained you upside down, nekked, in a dungeon, attended by holier-than-thou maniacal sadists. Now that’s something to be grateful about.
Bottom line – Don’t take your good fortune and bright future for granted. Billions of people do not have luxuries or much of a life. Few in the long arc of human history could imagine the good fortune you enjoy. Yes, be optimistic and grateful. Optimistic, grateful people are happier and healthier people!
HAVE SOMETHING SPECIAL LINED UP, THAT IS, ON YOUR HORIZON
Plan an event or adventure few months to a year ahead. Such a plan is not the same as an absolute, unmodifiable commitment. The purpose of a special future event, such as a cruise, an organized bike tour in an unfamiliar city, a night at the opera or a concert featuring a favorite artist – adds luster to the future. It’s good to have something worthy of eager anticipation; a highlight to come of value.
Such a future activity is an attractive way to enhance interest in moving ahead, avoiding excessive focus on the here and now that may, at times, seem difficult. Perhaps something as simple as a new or otherwise welcome morning workout, or a commitment to be somewhere that requires planning. Such thinking arouses positive anticipation and adds jest to living.
Something special on the horizon also means you have a positive, attractive reason to be around in a few months or next year. Therefore, you will be more likely to look after yourself. Include in the menu of possibilities consideration of a trip to see family members, a long lost friend or an intriguing new place. For our NDY set, being a triathlete usually entails travel to interesting places, in addition to the excitement of racing. For the NDY set involved in writing these tips, having something new and different coming up adds quality to later life.
(EXERCISE & NUTRITION)
A focus on sound nutrition and vigorous daily exercise for fitness
ALL FOUR DIMENSIONS FOR SUCCESSFUL AGING ARE EQUAL BUT ONE MIGHT BE A TEENEY WEENIE BIT MORE EQUAL, NAMELY, ATHLETICISM (EXERCISE AND SOUND NUTRITION)
Exercise and a sound diet are so interrelated that they should be treated as a single topic, which is how we address this dimension of successful aging.
Aging is inexorable but the menu of its effects are varied, so choose wisely. Nearly everyone knows that exercise and food choices are important factors in how we age, but making sound choices day after day for years and years is difficult for most. Few people know how to sustain regular exercise and nutritious food choices over time to the point that doing so becomes second nature, effortless. Yet, now that you are getting up in years, it’s more important than ever to succeed at doing so, that is working out daily and eating wisely, in order to age successfully. The principal options are starkly different now – you can either take (or remain on) the path that leads to successful aging or succumb sooner to the frailties associated with old age.
Bodies respond to the passage of time, and the effects of gravity and devolution vary, depending in good measure on lifestyle and environmental conditions. The key lifestyle component is endurance exercise, consistent and vigorous, but not over the top. It doesn’t hurt to be a triathlete or other competitive senior, providing you enjoy it. Be sure to include strength training – muscle loss comes with aging, so time devoted to strength, balance and agility pay handsome dividends. Not only that, such exertions are stress relievers.
Any guess what percentage of middle-aged and older adults in the Western world exercise at even a minimal level? For those over 65, the answer is ten percent! One recent study of the older men and women in the latter group showed they enjoyed better reflexes, memories, balance and metabolic profiles. How much better? Hold your hat – their well being levels were closer to 30-year-olds than their sedentary peers. (Ross D. Pollock, et. al., An investigation Into the Relationship Between Age and Physiological Function In Highly Active Older Adults, The Journal of Physiology, January, 2015.)
A follow-up study focused on muscles and T cells, which are key infection-fighting components of the immune system. This curiosity led to further support for the potent value of nature’s greatest drug – regular exercise. The 75+ exercisers were healthier and biologically much younger. Biological age is vastly more consequential than chronological age and, unlike the latter, is modifiable with human initiative.
The tip in this case is self-evident – get moving. Be athletic, even if you never compete. Recognize that some exercise is better than none.
A DINING TIP: SLOW DOWN, CHEW THOROUGHLY AND BE CALM WHEN EATING
An Austrian study conducted between 1984 and 2001 urged thorough chewing to prevent the incidence of food/foreign body asphyxia. Semisolid foods lodged in the windpipe are the cause of many asphyxiations. You can’t always count on someone ready and able to execute the Heimlich maneuver. This first-aid procedure for dislodging an obstruction from a windpipe by exerting a sudden, strong pressure applied on the abdomen between the navel and the rib cage has saved lives, but as noted, a skilled bystander is not always on the scene. In addition to being conscious about chewing thoroughly, there is one other element of this tip – learn to do the Heimlich maneuver so you can be the savior of someone who did not read or heed this tip.
GOOD POSTURE IS NO LONGER AUTOMATIC OR EFFORTLESS – MAINTAIN AWARENESS
Think about your posture when you sit, stand and walk. What used to come naturally now requires a bit of discipline. An erect posture is a positive communication. It conveys vitality and a sense that you are willing and able to take care of business, that you are alert to possibilities and that you are fully engaged. A presence of mind is key to good posture. Even small adjustments in position of the back while sitting, the neck while standing and stride while walking make a difference. With good posture, you’ll feel better and look younger.
Pace when walking is a cousin of posture. An unnecessary plodding gait conveys an unintentional sense of frailty, aimlessness and vulnerability. It might unconsciously affect your self-image. It suggests you’re ready for a nap, which you might be, but no need to telegraph that fact, especially if traveling through a dicey part of town.
A focus on creating the freedom that enables you
to pursue your desires, interests and preferences
CONTENTMENT IS THE MENTAL EQUIVALENT OF PHYSICAL FITNESS
A fit body takes a lot of work; it requires determination to achieve and becomes increasingly difficult to maintain in the latter stages of life. Our aging champions and millions of others
manage to realize and sustain physical fitness beyond the norms, despite the difficulties. They are aided in good part by the certain knowledge that bodily fitness keeps aging at bay for longer periods of time, thus enabling an extended period of vitality. Physical fitness acts somewhat like sandbags in the context of rising floodwaters – it’s not a permanent fix (there is none) but it delays and often prevents the predictable damages (frailties) of a rising tide of aging troubles.
Mental fitness is at least as important as physical fitness. Both are needed if one is to approach his or her potentials for total wellbeing for as long in life as possible. There is a common understanding of what constitutes physical fitness, but less consensus is found about the nature of mental fitness, though the topic has been extensively explored. What is widely recognized are qualities of mental fitness, one of which is contentment. Yet, this is also under-appreciated by
the general public.
Consider assigning a high value to contentment, a state of being happy and satisfied, being relatively free from worry and restlessness and enjoying peaceful satisfactions. Contentment is not a gift from the gods, a consequence of an ideal combination of medications or a capacity to stand on one’s head while chanting a mantra. It is a state of high level mental conditioning, comparable to the physical skillset one acquires from months of training in a pool, on a bike and running in preparation for a triathlon. While most people will never do a triathlon or a comparable physical feat, everyone can benefit from the mental fitness associated with developing a capability to experience contentment in the face of growing old.
Of course, a mental fitness skill like contentment in the face of a sea of troubles large and small is invaluable at all stages of life. If you have not practiced becoming aware of the innumerable temptations that interrupt the stability that contentment provides , consider the advance of seniority as a fine time to get started.
Get ready for likely disappointments that will increase with age – the aches and ailments, changes in society, noisy children, doctors who dispense bad news and so on and on. Exercise your contentment muscles so that week by week, month after month, you find yourself better able to bear greater loads of potential disturbances with less expenditure of worry, alarm, fear or dismay.
Resolve to increase your mental REAL wellness skill of contentment. This will safeguard your ability to reason, to enjoy, to move and to feel as free as conditions allow.
Try to interpret the beginning stage of all troubles , whether simple disappointments, pains or limitations , as challenges or alerts to refocus. All such troubles signal the need to protect your serenity and calm, acceptance and resolve to live, laugh and love as much as possible.
Of course, contentment in this sense of mental fitness is not easy, nor is physical fitness now or during your earlier life – it this were so, nearly everyone would be in a state of optimal wellbeing – and we all know that’s not the case.
Think of mental fitness, with contentment being the foundation of this splendid state of being at all ages, as a heroic act – and a gift to others with the good fortune to observe and learn from your modeling of successful aging.
Robert W. Goldfarb captured these sentiments in a recent essay in the New York Times:
If there is one characteristic common to friends who are aging with a graceful acceptance of life’s assaults, it is contentment. Some with life-altering disabilities — my blind friend, another with two prosthetic legs — are more serene and complain less than those with minor ailments. They accept the uncertainties of old age without surrendering to them. A few have told me that the wisdom they’ve acquired over the years has made aging easier to navigate than the chaos of adolescence.
(Source: Robert W. Goldfarb, The Secret to Aging Well? Contentment. The New York Times, Oct. 2, 2018.)
EMPLOY ARTFUL DEFIANCE AND GRACEFUL DODGING IN ORDER TO AGE SUCCESSFULLY
Some things are easy: successful aging is not among them. Growing old is filled with losses, large and small. Aging successfully requires many acts of resistance, often against well-meaning pressures from family and friends to conform to old-person stereotypes and customs that may not fit with the way you want to live out your retirement years.
We recommend defiance! That is, safeguard your freedoms with resistance and graceful dodging whenever society or customs hold out lower expectations or fewer hopes. Resist advice to take it easy, don’t overdo it. Maintain a high standard of living strong, as long as you can manage to do so.
As children, we were told to act your age! That meant stop acting like an immature child. Well, that was silly – we were immature. We were children. We had no choice. But, as seniors, we think the opposite advice makes sense – don’t act your age! That is, resist stereotypical elder behavior, as long as possible. Our 75 plus champions often mentioned the fact that they, too, are off put by peers who act old when doing so is optional, that is, while they have the capacity to think, behave and otherwise function with more dynamic vitality. The tips that follow are rich with ideas for staying young in action if not appearance. Vigor and attitude far outweigh chronological age in conveying an image of a dynamic presence. Do your part to eliminate outdated images – perk up and be your best bright-side of life self.
This is not to suggest denial of altered realities, but rather to offer support for giving ground grudgingly – while remaining in good spirits about giving ground. Do what you can to keep the last act played out on your terms. Graceful and strategic retreats are little works of living art.
DRESS LIKE A STYLISH PERSON HALF YOUR AGE
Just as you have changed over the years so, too, have styles or fashion trends. To feel at least middle age if not young, be alert to these changes and dress so as to avoid being stereotyped as a fuddy duddy geezer or battle-ax. If your children or grandchildren are not impressed and supportive, do it anyway. It’s probably too late to get new children and grandchildren, so let them know this is your way of feeling contemporary, so please don’t even think about trying to discourage your dapper instincts. And consider second and third opinions – you are a free agent and prefer to make your own choices in these matters, so thank you very much, boys and girls, and now back off, if you please.
Pay attention to and seek out a few opinions about fashion trends, not necessarily age-appropriate, but somewhat in line with your own sense of style. You’ve developed plenty of ideas about what looks good on you over the years. Keep this fashion sense in mind and be proud of it – it’s part of who you are. But, don’t be shy about getting regular fashion upgrades – there are dances and concerts and such to attend and you always want to catch the eye of folks who might be out there looking for a hot dude or a stunning gal with advanced life experience.
Be alert to cultural forces that stereotype, overlook and under-expect from older people. Adopt a personal dress code – and check for compliance daily with a full length mirror. To some extent, you feel how you look. Favor articles of clothing that make you sharp, fit, zestful and truly fine. Consider fashion tips from others, especially your mate, best friends and children – but you be the final arbiter.
Basically, you feel most confident when you look your best. Enforce an anti-old person dress code consistent with your budget. And don’t forget that regular exercise is a vital part of fitting into a wardrobe that helps you look good.