Recommendations for Successful Aging
- Don’t give up.
- Focus on nutrition – you are more than what you eat but what you eat does have an outsize effect on how successfully you age.
- Make a big effort to have fun and to find way to do what you enjoy.
- Manage your stress, as this is key to staying healthy.
- Have a healthy sex life, regardless of obstacles. (Admittedly, this tip is easier suggested than done, but explore the possibilities without guilt, inhibition or expense!)
- Strive for peace of mind.
- Follow your passion.
- Explore things beyond your comfort zone (see # 5).
- Keep your life simple.
- Share your gifts with others.
- Explore the why, not just the what. I believe most people focus on just the what (e.g., devoting vast time, resources and energy to preparing for and competing in a prestigious ironman triathlon, such as the premier event in Kona), and not enough on the why. Is it for health, for joy in life and/or to be an exemplar for others? Or, is it primarily to impress training partners, boost self-worth, confound one’s critics or something else? Whatever the why, self-awareness is a valuable skill that takes practice and discipline.
- Give back to the community, to your fellow athletes, friends and others some of the wisdom or at least effective approaches of one kind or another that you have discovered and applied successfully.
Athletically, I have found the best way to cope with aging is to understand what’s going on in the body. Here’s a simplified explanation.
Throughout life, our cells multiply and divide. Attached to the extreme ends of our chromosomes are telomeres. Telomeres play a key role in the process of cellular aging. During the multiply and divide process, a little bit of the telomeres are clipped off, making us slightly weaker. We produce little if any new muscle over time, which is a key feature of the aging process. However, we can slow the aging process in varied ways, such as by taking antioxidants, eating properly, getting adequate exercise/rest and avoiding carcinogens. But, we also have to alter our workouts, for more is not always better, especially late in life. We have to find that fine line in staying strong for our next race without burning ourselves out.
KEEP FIT AND HEALTHY
Yes, there is a difference. Many Olympic athletes are fit but not healthy, some have diabetes, asthma, bad teeth and social diseases, to name a few qualities of ill health while fit. To enjoy the fruits of old age, first we must maintain good health, mentally and physically. This requires regular physical/dental exams, daily exercise, good eating habits, adequate sleep/rest, meditation and social interaction.
HAVE A REASON TO GET UP IN THE MORNING & MAKE YOUR BED
Develop interests that make you look forward to the next day. I personally look forward to my early morning workouts. I do a half hour of core exercises before my feet hit the floor. (I have a firm mattress.) After that I make the bed, have breakfast, check the stock market futures and morning news. I am now ready for more exercise and the rest of the day!
HAVE AN ADVENTURE OR TRIP LINED UP FOR THE NEXT YEAR
This means you have reason to believe you’ll be around next year! This may include a trip to see family members, friends or a cruise. Being a triathlete/duathlete, this includes travel to interesting places highlighted by races. Once you pay an entry fee, you’re committed!
I wake up every morning being grateful. The possibilities are endless. I’m grateful to be in the country I’m in, for being healthy in a temperature-controlled home with sewage disposal, clean water, immediate access to healthy food, medical care/medicines, trash pick-up, transportation to anywhere, fire/police protection and freedom from the strife of war. Don’t take any of these or other benefits for granted. Billions of people do not have such luxuries. Few in the long arc of human history could even imagine such good fortune. Yes, be grateful. Grateful people are happy people!
REGULAR AND CONTINUOUS EXERCISE
Such exertions should include cardio and be sufficient to cause a sweat.
Most of my not dead yet friends have long since retired. They say they are busier now than they have ever been, They don’t see how they got everything done and still worked. They dwell on their health, mainly their bowels and bladders. They’re busy with tasks that working people do in their spare time, or on weekends, such as errands, shopping, laundry, etc.
I believe this is an unfortunate lifestyle.
I heard and read that older people sometimes have trouble finding the car keys, or remembering names. Well, maybe that’s not so much a matter of aging as it is a characteristic of humans who don’t pay enough attention. I haven’t been able to remember names and faces since I was twenty – and sometimes couldn’t find my car keys, either. I don’t think I’m totally around the bend yet, but maybe close. An Alzheimer expert once told me that losing your keys is o.k., but finding them in the freezer is a bad sign.
Solving your real problems will be gratifying to you and helpful to others.
LEVEL OF STRESS
It’s not enough to volunteer at an art museum or your favorite charity. You need actual, real problems to solve on a daily basis. Solving them will be gratifying to you and helpful to others. Doing so may cause some stress. Everyone knows that a high level of stress over time is injurious to health but some stress is essential. The things we do that are exciting and even fun contain some level of positive stress, and that is considered beneficial by experts in this area. No stress would be awfully boring.The key is a balance. A good dose of humor helps, as well.
The key is a balance of stress, that is, not too much or not too little, but just the right amount.
THREE SIMPLE BASICS WORTH KEEPING IN MIND
While not original or surprising, it’s easy to forget these three invaluable basics for successful aging, namely, attitude is everything, regrets are nothing and Satchel Paige’s immortal don’t look back – something might be gaining on you.
When all is said and done, successful aging comes down to what you do with what you got (Uncle Remus).
CHOOSE AND FINE-TUNE A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE – AVOID HIGH RISK, LOW RETURN INITIATIVES
Avoid unnecessary risks, unless they meet your risk-taking cost/benefit criteria. Chances are you don’t have such criteria, so consider this single criterion: To chance grave bodily harm or worse, the benefits of an activity should offer substantial pleasure lasting longer than the thrill of an amusement ride.
We’re all in favor of adventures, trying new things, world travel and actions that topple stereotypes about aging. But, resist taking on something new and unfamiliar primarily to impress others, like grandchildren, or to demonstrate your youthful vitality.
What kinds of risks might I have in mind? It doesn’t matter – what matters are the things you’re tempted to do that involve significant dangers. But, for illustrative purposes I’ll mention a few risks that I would enjoy indulging but not so much to be worthy of risking ghastly consequences of poor execution or ill fortune:
- Flying on third-world airlines or touring countries under authoritarian rule (e.g., the Philippines, Russia, Iran).
- Ordering Sannakji in Korean restaurants (Sannakji is a serving of live baby octopus that fights back when you swallow it by suctioning itself to your throat) or eating wild mushrooms or African bullfrogs.
- Bungee-jumping, skydiving, heli-skiing (backcountry style via helicopter drop offs), motorcycle racing or just being on a motorcycle and a lot of events featured in the Winter Olympics, though we have nothing against curling.
RECOGNIZE THAT YOU ARE A MIGHTY FINE SPECIMEN OF HUMANITY
Decide that, all things considered, you have reason to be proud – and by golly, you are. Make like Stuart Smalley and proclaim, I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough and Doggone It, People Like Me!
Treat yourself in a first class manner, whenever affordable. Go forth with shoulders back. Look on the bright side of life, groom carefully and be your natural dynamic self. Being well-maintained physically and looking good will make you feel better. Old age is no time for self-doubt. Celebrate your wonderfulness before it’s too late – there’s no assurance others will do so when you’re gone and, besides, even if they do, you won’t know about it.
DON’T BE A TOPTALE
Perhaps you are not familiar with this neologism.
A toptale is one who turns conversations into competitions by one-upping the speaker. For instance, if you manage to complete your first triathlon without drowning, crashing on the bike or walking the run, he’ll mention winning the First Timers division in his initial outing. Or, if you did a sprint triathlon, he tells you about his Ironman. Margaret Stein of Omaha, NE, writing in the always delightful Anu Garg’s Word of the Day (AWADmail Issue 820, March 18, 2018), offered my favorite toptale:
If you ruined your suit in the thunderstorm, his basement was flooded. If you saw Lin-Manuel Miranda on Broadway, he won VIP tickets and met him backstage. If your aunt just peacefully passed away, his died last week by spontaneous combustion. In short, he’s a relentless and insufferable toptale.
While you’re at it, try not to be a megalochondriac, either. Megalochondria is not uncommon in elders, though it has been known to afflict persons of all ages – and those who have to endure their presence. Megalochondria is a belief that your illness is far worse than it actually is.
Don’t go on about in such a way that your spouse or relatives or friends might say that you have delusions of grandeur about your illnesses. (Credit for this neologism that combines magalomania and hypochondria to Shannon O’Hara of Chicago, Illinois, as seen in AWADmail Issue 829.)
LIVE LARGE – TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE
Enjoy a generous amount of the money you conserved over a lifetime. Do not forgo joys, adventures, the satisfactions of supporting favorite causes or other pleasures you desired but denied yourself in earlier times being frugal and responsible. You have sacrificed long enough. You’ve earned your modest fortune. Live it up. Beware televangelists, insurance and other salespeople who want your support for their good times.
Give risky new investments a pass, even or particularly if they are presented as fool-proof sure things. This is your time to live fully, to enjoy what you have long sought. Go ahead and bask in a bit of peace and quiet or, if you prefer, indulge in a few wild and crazy delights. Perhaps a combination of these options will appeal.
Consider but not be overly constrained about the financial situation of your children and grandchildren – or their future children and grandchildren. Eschew guilt about spending your money on yourself. You’ve taken care of loved ones for many years and, in doing so, have provided them with a fine head start. At last, your turn has arrived. You have nurtured, educated, fed and sheltered and offered emotional support. It’s time to enjoy your savings – you sacrificed enough already.
Wouldn’t it be odd and a bit mental if each generation scrimped and saved, went for their children even when adults, who then kept the cycle going ad infinitum, generation after generation? Nobody, ever, would live it up or spend freely, since all would be driven to save for their brood, who would with no end to it. Quite irrational.
DON’T DWELL ON SMALL STUFF – AND REALIZE MOST OF IT IS SMALL STUFF
Your goal should transcend being a survivor – that’s nice and rather essential but strive for a higher standard – set your sights on being a flourisher. You have already overcome so much. Your brain is filled with good memories – and others best not to dwell upon. The important thing is the present. Don’t let any chapter from the past be a weight on your mind or a drag on your optimism.
Adopt that philosophy and the small stuff will soon diminish into the proverbial ash heap of your history. Again citing Ingersoll, consider this: 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.
KEEP LOVE ALIVE AS LONG AS YOU ARE
When you outline many of those you love – parents, a spouse, best friends and dear companions, it’s more important than ever to keep love alive. You do not fail to honor the deceased by pursuing new relationships and allowing affections to grow with others.
Companionships of varied kinds complement the fond memories of those who’ve passed. There are good people out there you haven’t met yet. It’s helpful to complement your love of life with others who share that feeling. No one, at any age, is finished with living well as long as he or she has valued connections and a conscious desire to make the most of time remaining.
WITHOUT OVERDOING IT, DRESS FOR SUCCESS – AT LIVING WELL
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.
DON’T HANG OUT EXCLUSIVELY WITH OLD PEOPLE
This is not as outrageously ageist as it might first appear. I favor generation-mixing, that is, ample contact socially and otherwise between young and old, and in-betweens. All parties benefit from the different perspectives modern life impresses upon people who have or are just now having common experiences (e.g., high school and college, entry into the job market, marriage) but in markedly different eras. Consider how very different life was for the eighteen participants featured in this book in the 1940’s, 50s and 60s from the cultural and other norms extant today. Countless forces, some easily recognized but most not even consciously assessed, shape the lives of generations at least twice removed from each other. It’s only natural that all parties will have formed varied impressions about almost everything, given the evolution of society from the mid-20th century to the present time. With open minds, curiosity and good listening skills, old and young will have much to share and talk about and, hopefully, entertain each other.
Inspired perhaps by free-spirited Maude (Ruth Gordon) in the classic movie Harold and Maude, I think elder women ought to consider taking a male youth under their wings in a mentor (femtor) capacity. It won’t work as well in reverse, due to unfortunate suspicions likely to arise. Besides, young men are in greater need of sensible guidance than their female counterparts.
STAY INFORMED AND INVOLVED
No matter your age – you are still part of society, your community in particular and a leader of your clan. You have a lifetime of accumulated experience and the wisdom that comes with making decisions not driven by testosterone or immaturity. Enrich your stored insights and decision skills with continuing education – stay current on events, world affairs, local and social controversies and other matters that affect your quality of life, the subjects you care about, your freedoms and your passions. If you have the heart for it, make a scene – show up at town council meetings, write or call your politicians, vote and engage in discussions about public policies, the arts and the dynamics of contemporary life. Don’t be shy about telling stories, creatively embellished, if necessary, to hold audience attention, Most young people have few clues about life half a dozen or more decades ago – dazzle these youngins with tales tall and otherwise about the dramas of your heyday.
WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE
Be alert to old people stereotypes – try not to appear cranky, closed-minded, set in your ways, dismissive, cantankerous or forgetful. Well, maybe being forgetful can’t he helped. In any case, be wary of expectations some harbor about senior citizens. While it must be admitted that a few seniors are annoying so, too, are many young and middle age folks. Boorish and off-putting behaviors are observed in all age groups. A good way to win friends and influence people during your senior years is to do the unexpected, such as listening to the opinions of others – and showing respect for all voices.
This strategy can be effective under trying circumstances, such as described in the first stanza of the Monty Python Galaxy song: Whenever things get you down … and things seem hard or tough, and people are stupid, obnoxious or daft and you feel that you’ve had quite enough…think about the bigger picture. You know – how the planet, galaxy and universe are evolving, revolving, orbiting, moving, going round and expanding at speeds over distances that seem hard to imagine. This will help you lighten up – your birth was amazing and unlikely in the first place, so make the best of being along for the ride around our sun at 19 miles a second, so it’s reckoned.
You don’t have to agree with someone to have a dialogue, or to show that you appreciate him or her and are tolerant of views at odds with your own. Of course there are exceptions, but my co-author has forbidden me to go off on a tangent about our presidential situation.
DON’T USE OLD FOGGIE PHRASES OR TELL STORIES ABOUT THE GOOD OLD DAYS
It’s one thing to tell and embellish stories about your youth and how things were long ago when you were in your prime, but be conscious of overusing phrases such as, when I was your age, in my day or, well, let me tell you something about how great/awful things were when I was a kid.
One really good reason not to use the phrase, In my time is because this IS your time. It’s now. As long as you’re alive, you are part of the present, not the past. You were indeed much younger back then, but you are a new and improved version of that earlier model, except perhaps physically.
Today you are the culmination of all that you were, a living, breathing repository of experience, making an impact, having fun and enjoying life.
SEEK OUT CHEERFUL, KIND PEOPLE; AVOID THE OTHER KIND
As you well know, some people are cheerful, positive and fun; others are a great pain in the derrière. Seek out the former and eschew the latter. There is not enough time left to squander any of it with those who are vexatious, tiresome, boring or mean. And let’s face it – there are plenty of older people who, often for pretty good reasons, have slid into a bitter and surly fix. If that’s you, liberate yourself from grumptitude; resolve to be a charmer, like my co-author Jack Welber.
Life is too short to waste even a day on bitterness or regret. A sure-fire way to shift to charming is to associate with positive, interesting people. With no special effort, their charms will provoke positively in all around them, even you. Henceforth your days will seem much better. Associating with vexatious people, on the other hand, will accelerate your aging and make you constipated and harder to be around.
ENJOY THE GRANDCHILDREN BUT DON’T LIVE WITH OR SUPERVISE THEM
If finances, family stability and other factors do not require a rescue intervention by caring and able grandparents like you, back off and give your children ample space to parent their clan. Provide grown children with the opportunity to raise their little darlins with the loving skill and nurturing you afforded them when they were in your care during their formative years. Treat your occasional visits as guest appearances and depart with the tots wanting more – they should be overjoyed when you show up because you’re fun, non-bossy, interesting and a change of pace – so long as they act sensibly and appropriately, even for little people.
It’s true that being surrounded by family on occasions can be delightful, but the adults need privacy, as do your children and grandchildren. If you find yourself alone late in life, explore options other than moving in with family. Favor housing situations that bring potential new friends – that’s the way to go, if possible.
INDULGE YOUR HOBBY AND, IF YOU DON’T HAVE ONE, SHOP AROUND AND EXPERIMENT WITH POSSIBILITIES
The word hobby may be the wrong term for what’s being recommended. You wouldn’t call your profession a hobby. If you’re a champion athlete, you don’t call your sport a hobby. The same applies to other skills and forms of artistic endeavor or activities that define your vital commitments. But whatever you call activities that enable expression of your talents, passions and heartfelt desired ways to spend time should be enjoyed guiltlessly, frequently and thoroughly. Not everyone has such go to delights, particularly in the later years; if you are among those missing out, sniff around for possibilities. In time, you’ll find one of more endeavors, sports, or activities which bring pleasures and satisfactions.
No need to be in a hurry – just look around with an open mind. Popular hobbies include cooking, building something, dancing, studying an esoteric or other subject, writing a book, making a movie, cultivating a garden, becoming a card shark or magician, saving animals and so on ad infinitum. With a passion of some kind, you’ll seldom be bored. When things seem dull or unpleasant, you can turn to your acquired skill and become unbored!
BE OPEN TO BRAZEN OVERTURES
When you no longer have a full head of drop-dead gorgeous hair and your back hurts and you feel tired and grumpy and you just want to be left alone to watch reruns of I Love Lucy or Gunsmoke, give a little gregariousness a try. Crash a party and become the life of it, or better yet, get yourself invited to a few. Accept opportunities to go places, even if the destinations are not of interest at first, like museums, concerts, plays, dances, bingo parties – any function that will get you out, mingling with others, enjoying a little company at varied events that might prove entertaining. Favor celebratory occasions, like graduations, award ceremonies, birthdays, weddings and conferences. Funerals are ok, now and then, but don’t attend too many. You might find yourself obsessing about death or quoting Woody Allen: It’s not that I’m afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.
BE MORE OF A SKILLED INTERVIEWER THAN A GASBAG JABBERER
Tune up your conversational skills or, if you haven’t any, familiarize yourself with the fundamentals. Basically, all you need to know is a five-word guide to effective conversations. Talk less and listen more.
You probably know people who barely give others a chance to get a word in and, when they do, interrupt before the other can finish. Can you think of talk show hosts who are like that? Here’s a hint: Chris Matthews. I enjoy his guests, but the moderator is insufferable. He often asks a question, then answers it. Sometimes, Matthews will give panel members a few moments to comment, but they rarely get to finish before he interrupts.
So, another way to suggest that you become a skilled conversationalist is watch Hardball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC – and resolve not to be like Chris Matthews.
BE AS MUCH OF A STOIC AS YOU CAN MANAGE
A stoic is a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing feelings, complaining or, in a more modern context, at least not moaning and groaning, incessantly. Zeno of Citium founded this Hellenistic philosophy in Athens during the early 3rd century BC. It flourished throughout the Roman and Greek world until the 3rd century AD. To last that long, there had to be something to it, a functional advantage.
Of course, as with other worthy disciplines, stoicism about pain and discomfort does not come naturally or without earnest efforts. All manner of dysfunctions are part and parcel of getting older.This tip is not meant to recommend denial of pain and suffering, but rather is offered as a suggestion to minimize attention to such tribulations. This is best for the sufferer, as well as those suffering the sufferer.
Alas, diminution of vitality is part of the cycle of life. To the extent possible, don’t allow discomfort to be the focus of your being – seek out distractions. Admittedly, such advice is easy to give, but grief and suffering are next to impossible to endure, as witness our current opioid crisis. Nonetheless, as stoically as possible, try to view pain as something nearly all mortals experience and, despite it all, remain as you have have been throughout life – tough, resilient, capable and positive.
PERFORM A GOOD-HUMORED SECULAR EXORCISM ON ALL MISCREANTS AND EVIL-DOERS, DRIVING THEM FROM YOUR MIND FOR PURPOSES OF SERENITY AND PEACE
You really can’t live a long life without encountering vexatious, dishonest, mean-spirited and otherwise villainous and even nefarious individuals. A few people over the years have no doubt wronged you – and they deserve retribution, condemnation, a tongue-lashing or, in some cases, long prison sentences. But, such sweet comeuppances Hollywood-style are unlikely, expensive, time-consuming and, more often than not, unsuccessful.
So why carry around the anger, resentment, stress or feelings of hostility? Holding a grudge is like taking poison and expecting someone else to die.
Let it all go – time is of the essence and life is always too short to be mad most or all of the time. Create a ceremony of some kind and have fun with the cleansing of your soul, mind or heart. Maybe in an environmentally-friendly way, put the names of all malefactors in a tiny pile and set it ablaze. Or, if you have enough enemies, make a giant bonfire and set it ablaze. Play some music and do a dance, make a toast and give a speech. While irreverent about the ritual, know that the act has a meaningful purpose – it’s to rid your awareness of those you would have preferred, in hindsight, had never made it there.
If all that seems like too much trouble, then go with Oscar Wilde’s advice: Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.
FAITH OR REASON, SUPERSTITION OR SCIENCE – CHOOSE YOUR PREFERENCE AND GIVE EVERYONE ELSE THE SAME OPPORTUNITY
Be an evangelist for liberty, for choice and for freedom, while granting others rights, beliefs and preferences you favor yourself. If you believe strongly in X, consider leaving true believers in Y in peace. Perhaps in earlier times, you found meaning in advancing viewpoints about life’s persistent questions, but you might want to move on if doing so at this stage in life proves vexatious or otherwise unsatisfying, not to mention futile, as before. (This I consider good advice for many, though I don’t have much use for it personally as a devout freethinker.)
Of course if you’re asked what you think, don’t hesitate to lavish interested parties with the details of your amazing insights on any topic, particularly religion, politics and sex, not necessarily in that order. But only if asked or otherwise invited.
This matters as much as ever, probably more so, in the later years, when every opportunity should be seized to make room for little other than unfettered positive thinking and good vibrations.
CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM FOR MEDICAL MIRACLES
Resist the medicalization of your senior years. Excessive prescriptions, over-testing, unnecessary and dangerous treatments are the norm for seniors, whether athletic or not. The pressure to medicate and look to doctors comes not only from physicians and other medical personnel but also from family, friends and associates. It’s not a plot, but rather a culture out of sync and in denial about the realities of decline at the end of the life cycle. There is no cure, no fix or treatment for the wear and tear, and ultimate obsolescence of body parts and eventual death.
ASSUME MEDICAL TREATMENT CENTER ADS ARE UNRELIABLE, MISLEADING AND/OR DECEPTIVE
As noted in several exposés in major newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal (Steve Salerno, In the War on Cancer, Truth Becomes a Casualty, WSJ April 21, 2018, p. A13), the multibillion treatment industry appeals to emotion in advertising for customers. Hyperbole is said to come without asterisks or even cleverly parsed disclaimers. An MD Anderson Cancer Center ad proclaims: Come to us and you will beat cancer. Such ads are part of a high stakes competition for billings projected to reach $207 billion by 2020. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2014 noted that cancer advertising direct to potential customers, often with celebrity pitchmen, rely on emotional appeals. Such ads evoke hope or fear while promoting expensive treatments, not screenings. The risks of treatments are mentioned in less than two percent of such ads. The cancer industry, in short, is widely accused of exploiting false hope.
Be aware that there is no condition that medical personnel, if encouraged to find a cure at all costs, can’t introduce for one additional Hail Mary fix, however improbable. Even the most seemingly hopeless situation can usually be viewed as possibly responsive to some untested remedy, an experimental treatment, an alternative/complementary/or unconventional approach, that someone, somewhere has been developing with promising results.
Be skeptical. Don’t be easily fooled or lured to irrational choices inspired more by false hopes than reason or evidence.
LAUGHTER, HUMOR, JOY AND HAPPINESS
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.
ALL TIPS ARE EQUAL BUT ONE IS MORE EQUAL – EXERCISE IS THE BEST ANTI-AGING REMEDY THERE IS AND IT’S FREE FOR THE TAKING
Aging is inexorable and everyone knows that, but few appreciate fully what to do about it. Now more than ever, it’s critical to look after yourself so aging does not overwhelm you sooner than later.
Bodies respond to the passage of time and the effects of gravity and devolution very differently, depending in good measure on lifestyle and environmental conditions.
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, and more is better than less.
Summing up, be a lifestyle artist, a model of wise living. You can do this without great physical effort but at least moderate exercise, such as daily walks, is a prerequisite. Eat well and get plenty of sleep. Nearly everyone knows what’s entailed in practicing these elementary good health habits – the trick is doing it.
At the latter stages of one’s journey through life, our physical and mental condition likely reflects our genetics and what we have done to our bodies through the years. We can’t change genetics and there is no turning the clock back to relive and improve on those experiences. But there are several key guidelines we can follow to improve the experiences of the remaining journey. I’ll offer a few; a rich trove of tips for aging well are elsewhere in this book.
One must have interesting things to do. There’s nothing like waking up in the morning and saying to yourself, What fun thing shall I do next?
It might be as simple as reading a book, or as complicated as building a new bike. But it should be something that you are eager to do, want to do and will do.
Keeping friendships will take more effort as one ages, as people retire and move away. But it is important to have friends one can exchange thoughts with and engage in mutually appealing activities. It’s so much fun that way!
Workout regularly. Who wants to have a schedule anyway? After decades of pursuing a career with demanding time constraints, most of us aren’t anxious to have a strict schedule. But it’s not too much to ask oneself to at least have some weekly workout goals to maintain fitness. To fight the muscle loss that comes with aging, regular workouts are essential. Not only that, such exertions are a great stress reliever.
DIET AND WEIGHT MANAGEMENT
Maintain a good diet and watch your weight. This one should probably be at the top of the list. You’re likely training less now than you did in previous years. You may go from making sure you get enough calories to train, to making sure your caloric intake isn’t excessive. Keeping your weight within recommended guidelines will eliminate a lot of problems.
You can’t eliminate stress entirely, and wouldn’t want to if you could, since positive experiences that are exciting and welcome are a form of stress. The latter is the good kind of stress (eustress), but a lot of the not-so-good variety – worry, fear and anger, are definitely to be minimized and avoided, as much as possible.
The events and circumstances that can cause stress are inestimable – from family situations to trying to learn how to run all the apps on a new cell phone. But we all need to just relax and take things one step at a time. Fix the things you can and forget about the rest.
DO WHAT’S FUN!
Try to find some fun in everything you do. OK, maybe there are a few exceptions, like slopping the hogs or something. (Actually, but inviting a city dweller friend to help, a bundle of laughs are almost guaranteed – be sure to video the experience so others can have fun viewing the action.) But if it isn’t fun, maybe you shouldn’t do it or, if necessary, delegate it to someone else.
IF YOU DON’T LIKE YOUR LIFE, CHANGE IT – IF YOU CAN’T CHANGE IT, CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE
I picked this mantra up from a terrific spin class instructor in Steamboat Springs, CO. To me, it’s a key to leading a successful life. If there is something in your life you don’t like – your job, your spouse, your neighborhood, your daily routine, then get to work and change it. Change is never easy. You may need professional help from a therapist to make it happen, but don’t stay in situations or relationships that are making you miserable.
If the situation is impossible to change, then change your attitude about the situation. This is especially true when dealing with the aging process. We can’t change reality – and the fact is we are getting older, and our bodies and our minds don’t always work the way they once did. We can become angry or depressed about it or we can accept it – and develop a new attitude about what’s possible that will be enjoyable. For instance, when an Ironman triathlon is no longer possible or an Olympic distance triathlon becomes too difficult, switch to a sprint distance triathlon – or just walk around the block.
I must admit I haven’t faced serious health difficulties yet and I am nervous about taking my own advice. I’m not quite sure how I will handle it when I can no longer move my body in the way I love to do. But, I hope I can maintain a positive attitude and continue to find joy and satisfaction in my daily life.
IF YOU WANT TO KEEP ON DOING IT – KEEP ON DOING IT
I am able to stay as active as I am in my 70’s because I have always been active. As the body begins the inevitable decline, the worst thing you can do is decrease your activity. You may be slower and it may hurt a little more but, if you stop, you won’t start again. Regular physical activity also helps you recover from injuries much more quickly. I broke my shoulder skiing moguls at age 74. After intense physical therapy over a nine month period, I was able to compete in the World Triathlon Championships in Chicago and place second. I continue to ski. A friend broke her shoulder skiing at the same time I did She did physical therapy but was far less active. She gave up skiing and has limited movement in her shoulder.
Another triathlete friend who was competing in her 80’s gave this answer to a question constantly asked: How long are you going to keep doing this? Her reply: I’m doing this until a major body part falls off!
That’s my answer too! I’m going to keep doing it – until I can’t!
I certainly do not have many formulas, guidelines or tips for successful aging, in good part because I don’t have much experience trying it as yet. But, I plan to do so in the near future.
I do have an opinion or two about aging, however. For starters, I think stereotypes about it are just wrong. Aging is not in reality about being stooped, halting or prattling. There is, in fact, opportunity associated with aging, as little changes at first often prompt considerations for progressing and improving, rendering one a better person with greater age.
New perspectives in response to evolving circumstances both personal and social encourage a wider range of views; attitudes that no longer serve or seem appropriate are reassessed and modified. The onset of consciousness about aging seems a good time to try out new ideas, to meet new people, to engage in new activities. All this newness is experienced as a real treat.
Free of child care and other responsibilities for others, I am freer than ever to flit from one group to another, to work as desired to support organizations of my choice. I’m a board member of our local Friends of the Library and of the North State Symphony; I also participate in the League of Women Voters, Rotary and Soroptimist service organizations. I often work Saturday afternoon shelving books in our library. When I fully retire, maybe five years or so from now, I anticipate becoming involved in other activities, such as acting as a CASA child advocate, bird watching or becoming quite active in major issues, such as water conservation. There is so much to anticipate, and little pleasures are an important part of successful aging, as well. It is always fun to participate in varied activities and discussions with friends, but it’s also perfectly fine to just go to a restaurant or a movie by myself.
It has been my observation that many individuals in their 70s and 80s appear sour. I think this manifestation must result from too much sitting in comfortable chair, doing nothing and allowing boredom to set in. If I lived that way, I’m sure I could give new meaning to sour.
Even though I may fret about my legal cases and swear (somewhat privately) a blue streak regarding some action an “unscrupulous” attorney has taken, these moments pass rather swiftly and a new idea emerges.
To age successfully, I think it is important to be content.
KEEP MENTALLY ACTIVE
This can involve a hobby, continued professional work, crossword puzzles, or most anything that makes one think a little.
KEEP PHYSICALLY ACTIVE
Do some traditional workouts as long as you are able. Try a new one if you get bored.
DON’T GET IN A RUT
Don’t do the same old thing each day or each week. Try something different, mentally or physically.
Whatever it is you’re doing, set some goals. Do it quicker? Do it better? Don’t slow down this year any more than you did last year?
Life is more interesting if you share it with others. Keep a network of friends and encourage others to do the same.
This is the most important admonition of all. We should find fun in everything we do or else find another activity.
Never let I can’t do that be a part of your vocabulary. Try it and if you don’t succeed then you can say, at least I tried.
Be friends with and enjoy young people – be open to their ideas and experiences.
Keep moving and always be open to new challenges.
Make new friends and support those in need.
Since we are blessed with the moment, as difficult as it seems at times, we may as well enjoy it and them, for that is all there is.
As the Fleetwood Mac lyrics go:
Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow
Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here
It’ll be here better than before
Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone.
Body movement is critical. Not only for the body, but also for the mind. They are interconnected. Running, biking, walking, dancing, gardening, whatever… just keep moving.
Fuel your body with nutritious food. It sounds trite, but you are shaped and otherwise influenced by what your diet over time.
Finally, don’t allow yourself to withdraw from the world. Stay informed about local and world issues and share your opinions.
- Pamper yourself – you’ll feel better (Examples: manicures, pedicures, hair styling and so on.
- Tune in to the sounds of the natural world – to animals, winds, waves, etc.
- Listen to the others
- Practice self-discipline in all you do.
- Set goals and have a plan for making come to pass.
- Get out of your comfort zone – you’ll be surprised at how much you learn and grow.
- Don’t stress about the things you can’t control or change
- Make the most of the great American privileges we enjoy, including voting.
- Volunteer – give back, in varied ways, to the community, the institutions and the individuals who supported you.
- Challenge your mind and body – regularly.
- Don’t spend much time think of the past – focus straight ahead.
Prepare for the future by keeping things in order
Be positive and grateful
Tell veterans and all around you how much you appreciate them often
If lucky enough to have been born into favorable circumstances in life, able to think and plan future attractive possibilities and adventures in life and free of worry about how you were going to make it thru the day, consider possibilities for being of help to others. Examples might include:
- Promoting chances that others might be born with a relatively healthy bodies by some modest intervention on your part.
- Recognize the contributions of science and particularly modern medicine in the fact that your mind and body have remained healthy, never blindsided set to ruin by a mutated virus or similar pathogen.
- Recognize your good fortune in having escaped random tragedies, such as a head-on with a drunk driver.
- Think of ways you might promote a mindset of personal responsibility and service to others so they do not waste what good fortune they might have experienced to date.
- Maximize your potential at every opportunity.
I suppose that I am aging successfully. I live at home in Boston in the summer and St. Petersburg in the winter. So far I have no need for an assisted living facility. My life is just fine with a good wife, plenty of exercise and not a whole lot of work stress. I’m also as busy as I want to be and not desirous of anything, such as more like traveling. (I’ve been around the world at least three times – enough already!)
The World Health Organization (WHO) labels chronic disease as non-communicable diseases, meaning not caused by infectious agents and thus not transmittable from one person to another. These diseases account for 70% of deaths worldwide. The most prominent chronic diseases are cardiovascular, obstructive pulmonary, cancer and diabetes. These account for 31 million deaths annually, more than half the deaths occurring in folks between the ages of 30 and 69. These are premature deaths. While no strategy for avoidance is certain, you can vastly improve your chances of avoiding premature death from chronic diseases by varied prevention as well as several wellness (i.e., lifestyle enrichment) strategies. Start by fully understanding the nature and dynamics of inflammation, glycation and oxidation (IGO)
Daily, vigorous exercise is a foundation safeguard in mitigating the bodily mechanisms whereby tissues and organs are damaged. Inflammation is the response to injury. While critical to our survival, if not resolved, inflammation causes damage. Glycation is the irreversible attachment of a sugar molecule to protein or fat molecules. This changes the structure and function of that fat or protein. Oxidation is the loss of electrons during a reaction by a molecule, atom or ion – the opposite process is called reduction, which occurs when there is a gain of electrons or the oxidation state of an atom, molecule, or ion decreases.
Why does this matter and what can we do about it, if anything?
Be wary of overuse and injuries that follow from the interactions described. Vigorous exercise is anti-inflammatory and even though it may increase oxygen free radicals, it ramps up our defense systems to neutralize them.
The chemical dynamics of IGO factor in the production of oxygen free radicals in the mitochondrion. Your immune system will protect you, but it needs a little consideration to stay in best working order.
The most common source of injury is excess consumption of carbohydrates. This results in elevated blood sugars and elevated insulin levels, which can result in cardiovascular disease, cancer, arthritis and/or diabetes.
Being physically active, and I mean more than just a walk, makes room for the sugars that we eat to be taken into our cells rapidly so that we avoid hyperglycemia and its unfortunate consequences.
USE YOUR CRITICAL FACULTIES
Beware the idea pushed by the makers of Gatorade, among others, that we have to have constant input of carbohydrates to exercise or that carbo loading is beneficial. Timothy Nokes, author of The Lore of Running, discovered he had type II diabetes despite being a lifelong marathon runner. He had touted the benefits of carbohydrate consumption during athletic events. His own diagnosis led him to reevaluate his ideas, and he retracted his earlier advice. He now strongly recommends a low carbohydrate, high-fat moderate protein diet for both casual exercisers and competitive athletes.
So, in summary, for successful aging:
* Ignore the current dietary advice of low-fat, high carbohydrate diets.
* Eat lots of healthy fats, including plenty of eggs and red meat.
* Healthy whole grains is deceptive if not an oxymoron.
* Never take a statin drug.
* Maintain a normal blood sugar. Consider buying a glucometer – it is an inexpensive and easy way to self-monitor.
* Keep training.
Good luck. We all need it, along with perspective and a cheerful countenance.
Endure the Travail in Order to Prevail – Continue exercising for as long as your body allows, even if it means going slower and doing less – which it will, but who cares? If you are still competing, train with others, if possible. A commitment to show up does wonders for getting up and out the door.
Stay the Course – No one can continue to compete at the level she/he did when younger. The days of setting PR’s is past. Locally, I am usually the oldest person in the race. Very often I’m the last one to finish. This doesn’t bother me – someone has to be last. I beat the people that didn’t finish or didn’t start.
Behave Sensibly – Lifestyle choices matter. You’ve heard this before but that’s because it bears repeating. Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life, and do the aerobic kind at least on three of them. The other days? Devote them to strength training. In addition, fuel your body properly with tasty essential nutrients and pass on the junk.
Attend to the Basics – Take care of your teeth, stay groomed and if you need a hearing aid, get one. A loss of hearing function will inhibit your social life and increase the risks of dementia. Read, stay informed and learn something new as often as possible and it’s almost always possible.
Volunteer – Service to others is a longevity-enhancing health habit and a powerful source of added meaning and purpose.
All You Need Is Love – Find love. Love others and it will be returned.
SUCCESSFUL AGING ISN’T EASY
It’s largely about crafting and enjoying small, meaningful victories as much as possible, preferably on a daily basis, if not more often!
I recommend defiance! That is, resistance and graceful dodging of both physical and well-meaning human forces hinting that you should slow down. Be suspicious of helpful advice such as take it easy, don’t overdo it. Listen instead to your own voice – it expresses ideas coming from a mental giant of a brain on the topic of what’s best for you. Keep to your high standards for living strong, as long as humanly possible.
Of course you should also avoid foolish denial of changing realities, but always first try to move forward while giving up ground grudgingly.
Of course, the battle will ultimately be settled, but on your terms, finally. You will know when to retire gracefully.
I used to think that that time will come when I start to swim, bike and run like an old man, but as an octogenarian, it’s entirely possible that Olympian types in the 20’s might already think I qualify by that standard.
YOUR FERRARI BODY PARTS WILL, IN TIME, RUN LIKE AN EAST GERMAN TRABANT
To what parts am I referring? Nearly all of them, though not at once. I’m reminded all the time that my hearing, eyesight, balance, hours of sleep, hamstrings and other valuable muscles, organs and little noticed parts until recently are starting to rattle, cause pain and often refuse to do what they once did, automatically. I seem to be losing speed, endurance, recovery time, flexibility but not, fortunately, my panache, though that could go, as well, I suppose. Injuries are more frequent, breakdowns more common and heal takes longer. For every loss however, there are actions that can be devised to delay the inevitable. This helps me stay in the game.
An example would be the matter of balance. By going to the gym at least twice per week and strengthening my core and leg muscles, I have held off a loss of balance. Little things matter to a surprising degree. I practice putting socks on and removing them while standing up. If you think that’s easy, give it a try. I shave in the shower on one leg. I enter bed at night with a flying leap. (That’s not true, but I have thought about it.)
To deal with athletic injuries, I get a deep tissue massage weekly. This not only comforts and speeds healing of current issues but also adds resistance to potential, looming problem areas.
GUARD AGAINST THOSE WHO MEAN WELL
Be alert to cultural forces that stereotype, overlook and under expect much from older people. Adopt a 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 look your best. Consider fashion tips from others, especially your mate, best friends and children – but you be the final arbiter. you look your best in. 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 maintaining a wardrobe that makes you look great. .
Be conscious of maintaining an erect posture when you sit, stand and walk. What used to come automatically now might require a bit of discipline. An erect posture communicates vitality and a sense that you are willing and able to take care of business, alert to possibilities and fully engaged. A presence of mind is key to posture and posture is key to a sense of being fully present and engaged in what you’re doing. Even small adjustments in position of the back while sitting, the neck while standing and stride while walking make a big difference. With good posture, you’ll feel better about yourself and you will look younger to others.
TECHNOLOGY – YOUR FRIEND
Be patient when engaging with technology. It’s too easy to surrender, to fall back on the notion that you are too old for this or that newfangled device, like a computer or an iphone, that you managed quite nicely to do without for an entire lifetime. Such quick dismissal of an unfamiliarity opportunity is certainly easier and quicker than putting in the time to learn, little by little and bit by bit, how to do something that is new and unfamiliar. However, such modern functions can have consequential payoffs once mastered which, after you’ve done so, seem pretty simple, after all. Put in the time – you can and should do it for many reasons, including self-esteem and the opening of possibilities for one thing or another that you will probably find quite valuable. And, not least of all, you will help someone else feel good for having been a party in assisting you to do things that make your life even better.
Think of all the times you did something that enabled a child or another adult to feel proud of gaining a new skill. Learning a new technology or a small part of a technology, such as how to attach a file to an e-mail or to use Facetime with an iphone or other simple but technical skill that must be learned benefits both the learner and the teacher. So, if you know everything there is to know about something technical but a grandchild asks if you can do xyz, consider feigning innocence and requesting assistance. Watch the kid’s joy when grandma exclaims how wonderful that is after the explanation and demonstration is complete – just another way that discovery real or pretend is a winner for everybody. So, next time you’re around a grandchild or eager child, ask him or her to show you how to Skype, add graphics or something technical, even if you already know how – but especially if you don’t.
FEEDING THE BRAIN
Despite the fact that I (Jack) am but an average bridge player, I fully engage in games against superior opponents. Bridge, like chess and other mind games, offers mental challenges that entail psychology, strategy, communications, social skills and much more. Consider giving bridge, chess or some other other challenging game that you haven’t played a try, or dust off your skill set in one in which you once excelled. Doing might revisit familiar pleasures while maintaining your wits in top working order.
Yet, another way to nourish your operating system (i.e., brain) is by writing. Writing is also useful for self-understanding and for creating a record for others who know and care about you. Otherwise, special times, events and experiences known only to and felt only by you will go unrecorded, gone forever.
AGING IS NOT A COMMON EXPERIENCE
We all know stories from fiction and personal experience with grandparents and other older friends about what it is like to deal with the issues associated with the later years of life. We have watched countless others deal with physical and mental changes. We are much more aware of the disquieting aspects of aging (i.e., diminished functioning in particular, frequent illness and the all too common hardships of dying) that the attractive features that can enrich the later years. For these reasons, it is worth considering that aging in not the same for everyone. More specifically and less obviously, we can and should recognize that aging is not the same for anyone – we grow old and eventually die in unique ways. We can exert a great deal of control in the way we experience growing old and older, and the way we come to an end.
Not Dead Yet demonstrates eighteen different paths taken by older Americans who shared a fondness for exercise, for triathon, for competitions and much else, and yet it is obvious that their lives are dramatically different, one from another. So, consider how different elder lives are for most others who share fewer common experiences than those featured herein.
Your journey into and throughout seniorhood will be a solo one. It’s a trip you’ll be making at your own pace, without signposts – only clues here and there as to best routes to places to see, things to do and experiences to enjoy along the way.
Embrace your individuality, your gifts, talents and insights and make the most of the times remaining.
For me, love is the ultimate nourishment for successful aging. It is our character seen rather clearly by others, if invisible to us. Efforts made to love others, even those who are generally contrary, is beneficial to all concerned. We do well to recognize that each of us can be perceived as unlikable, if others are predisposed to view us as such. It can be immensely satisfying to successfully disabuse someone, now and then, of such a mistaken notion, and to help him or her to appreciate what a splendid character you are.
Love is characterized more by what we give than for what we receive.
Socializing with like-minded folks, listening to their stories, and dialoguing, with a humble heart in seeking truth is another vital quality for successful aging and happiness.
Aim at respecting others, even if their viewpoints are factually incorrect or otherwise seen are inappropriate. It’s worth considering that, in a debate, we must choose either to be right or loved. We can only have one, not both.
You know what comes before the fall, don’t you? Boasting depletes your genetic reserve.
WINNING IS OFTEN IF NOT NEARLY ALWAYS OVERRATED
Vince Lombardi said, Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. Actually, winning is most certainly not everything, nor is it the only thing. People are far more likely to hold us in high regard for our enduring character than for evanescent wins.
Furthermore, there are many more winners in the middle and back of the pack than can be found breaking the tape – everyone still in the game and enjoying being a part of the celebration is a winner.
Your loved ones will respect you most when your sportsmanship is evident, a reality more consequential than your placement at the finish line.
THE BODY AS TEMPLE
Treasure and safeguard your body – it is an irreplaceable gift. Wisdom eludes us when we are driven to push ourselves when injured.