November 14, 2020

Aging Well, or, Well, Just Aging?


Yes, the title is a play on words, but one that makes sense. Getting older is something we cannot control. Yet, we have a lot of sway over how we age. 

There are examples all around us, in public and private life, in our present and our past. The obvious examples are the two 70+ year-old men who ran for president this time around. The Speaker of the House is 80, the Majority Leader of the Senate is 78. Nearly a dozen members of Congress are in their mid-to-late 80's.

Mick Jaggar is 77, Paul McCartney is 78, Ringo is 80. Bob Dylan is 79. Bruce Springsteen is my age, 71, and rocking harder than I did at any age. Cher is 74, and Tina Turner still has excellent legs at 80.

My dad made it to 91, without a walker or wheelchair, living independently. My son-in-law's dad is fighting Parkinson's Disease, but at 74, attends every weekly family dinner and plays cards well enough to often win.

The point is age no longer defines us like it did a generation or two ago. I was sent an excellent article from the Atlantic magazine by long-time blog reader, David Davidson. I will give the direct link at the end of this post, but I suggest you spend a few minutes reading it yourself. 

The author cites an example that resonates with me: Lyndon Johnson. He was 55 during the first year of his presidency. Look at a picture of him from 1963 or '64. He didn't look like many 55-year-olds I see today. He was more wrinkled and worn out than most of us appear at 70 today. He left the presidency just 5 years later, looking very beaten down, the same age the actor Colin Firth is today. He looks, well, younger.

Most of David Brooks's piece is about Bruce Springsteen, his new album and film. The author is a fan; that much is clear. His point about how we choose to age and continue to grow is important, even if you are not a big follower of 'The Boss." 

He says, "the urge to give something to future generations rises up in people over 65."  I would suggest that empathy and compassion start earlier than Medicare age, but his point is well taken. As we age, we have the chance to turn inward, focusing on our own problems and possibilities. Or, we can look outward toward the larger community for inspiration and satisfaction.

If you have grandkids, you probably know the innate urge to give them unconditional love and support. If you are happily married or in a committed relationship at our age, you are aware of the importance of that other person to help complete you and allow you to support and nurture him or her.

Volunteerism is highest among seniors. The urge to mentor, to teach, to pass along a life's wisdom is a powerful force that helps allow us to age well if we encourage it to thrive.

Just being mindful of the blessings of being alive: touching, tasting, smelling, and seeing all our world has to offer, is a powerful induction to age well.


Here is the article if you are so inclined:

 https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/10/bruce-springsteen-and-art-aging-well/616826/


23 comments:

  1. I’m 73 and I don’t feel a whole lot different than I did at 50. Maybe slightly less energy and some aches after working in the yard. But I look in the mirror and I can see it though. Ha.

    I think people use to dress like they were older, hairstyles, mannerisms and such. They were expected to be old, so they looked and acted old. Today we are expected to stay young...and we do for the most part, but those with health issues or disabilities don’t fare as well, unfortunately.

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    1. If I avoid the mirror I am fine. I don't think of myself as a 71 year old man, just someone in advanced middle age who does what he has always done.

      The shoulders and leg pains act up while sleeping. Otherwise, I have few limitations to my physical activities.

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  2. I have disabilities, but I was talking to a man last year and we shared our ages. He was ten years younger than I am. He said to me after hearing my age of 73, "you must have led a very easy life." He looked all over my face as he said this. I am not so sure because I think I look my age. My disabilities show when I walk!!! Not well.

    I think people are busy with life when younger and have income to relax or try to do something for others. I don't think it is because they were less altruistic when younger.

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    1. That was a nice compliment from your gentleman friend. I agree that people are not less altruistic when younger; the demands of building a life gets in the way. As retirees, we have more time to give back.

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  3. It would be a shame if a lifetime's worth of experience and talent was put out to pasture just because we reach a certain age. We all marinate and are at our best at different points in our lives and living well in senior years means using our internal resources to do something meaningful with our time. However, we'd be remiss if we didn't acknowledge that some people get bitter as they age because---I'm guessing---they can't make peace with their life choices knowing they can't undo the bad ones.

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    1. I am quite happy the idea that older folks just belonged on a shelf somewhere is no longer acceptable. When else during life do we have the time, probably enough income, and a deeper understanding of what living is to explore, give back, and indulge in what excites us, whether that is reading until our eyes cross, hiking, painting, caring for foster dogs, playing with the grandkids, or simply enjoying the overwhelming beauty of nature.

      Few things are sadder than encountering an older person who is bitter and mentally shrunken. To me that is such a waste of our human potential.

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  4. As we all know, there are many factors to successful aging, including enjoying the luck of good genes -- i.e. having a dad who lived to age 91 (my dad lived to 91 as well). It also helps to be wealthy, and to have something meaningful to do. I'm not sure if it helps to be famous.

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    1. If I can reach 91 I will be happy to match dad's (your dad's) long life. Famous? It seems that shortens many lives due to all the external pressures and stress. I will stay pleasantly anonymous, thank you!

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  5. It's interesting to hear people say they feel pretty much the same as when they were much younger. At my best I feel the same way though on a recent 18km hike I was talking with fellow hiker who is in VERY good shape in her late 60s (and in better than me) about aging and how it seems different from what I had imagined and she said: "I feel the same as when I was 35 until I am hiking or playing tennis with people who are actually 35, then I see the difference".

    Being in my late 60s does seem different than what I remember seeing as a young adult but I am never sure if it is really different or if it was just the way I perceived it. Perhaps it's a bit of both.

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    1. Physically, I know there are major differences from my 30's. But, with my working life mainly spent on airplanes and away from home, I know I am in better internal shape than I was 35 years ago, in terms of things like cholesterol and blood pressure.

      Also, I get more exercise than all those years ago. Now, I actually have time for the gym and getting into nature. My muscle mass and flexibility has declined (along with the hair on my head!), but some of the important measures that give me hope for a long life are improved.

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  6. I know that I’m incredibly blessed with good health and resources. Convicted by my pastor's sermon, "What is Living the Good Life?", I’m keeping my eyes open for opportunities to pay back!

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    1. I read an interesting article this morning about volunteering. So many agencies have seen very large drops in volunteering because of Covid. When we feel safe to re engage those agencies will welcome us back with open arms.

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  7. Bob, good topic. I've pondered this one many times. At 67 and in great health (I think), I find myself looking out from the "inside" and seeing others my age as looking older than me. But that's probably common as our brains tend to "see" ourselves the way we used to look. (Until we walk past that reflection in a window and are startled and surprised!) I just Googled Lyndon Johnson 1964 and saw that photo of him and Lady Bird sitting on their front porch. Actually, if his hair was "fluffy" (not slicked back) and he had on a polo shirt and jeans, I think he WOULD look like most 50-something men today. Yep, there's no denying that adults did seem to look older a generation or two ago. However, I'm convinced that a large part of that is style. Adults (20 years old and up) back then took pride in looking like adults. They didn't want to look like perpetual teens. I for one respect that--and also think we could do with a little more of that now. I was picturing those celebrities you mentioned; Cher, Bob Dylan, Mick J., etc. Truthfully, if any one of them walked past me on the street I'd think they looked "odd" and "strange".

    I honestly didn't mean to go on a "rant" here. Just voicing some thoughts. But while I'm on a roll, I agree that no one wants to be put on a shelf and ignored. However, I think WAY too many of our 60, 70, and 80 somethings are hanging on to roles and positions that should be passed on to the 40 and 50 somethings. There are many ways to mentor, inspire, and coach the next generations without keeping the "driver's seat". Staying active doesn't have to mean staying in charge. Yes, I was eager to cast my vote for Joe Biden. But truthfully, I hope I live long enough to see this whole infatuation with old politicians go away. Maybe I'm atypical, but at 67, I really don't want a doctor, pastor, or president older than me.

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    1. I tend to agree with much of what you say. But, I must admit that too many airline pilots and doctors seem too young to have my life in their hands! That aside, passing the baton to others and using our experience to mentor and guide is so important.

      At this moment, Joe Biden, at 78, seems to have more than enough energy to handle the country's challenges. But, four years of the pressures of the presidency can age even a much younger man (Obama). And, absolutely, it is time for old white men to leave the political stage. We need those in the Kamala Harris generation to be given a chance to fix the mess we have made.

      I was encouraged to see a recent photo of Paul McCartney. His hair length is appropriate to his age. Mick Jagger, on the other hand, needs to see a barber!

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  8. It’s strange, I was looking through family photos yesterday and came across one of a great aunt who used to terrify me when I was very young because she was so wrinkled, always wore black and, I assumed, very, very old. Turns out she died when she was only my age. Life is less harsh these days

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  9. One day at the cemetery, my dad said- I thought my dad was an "old man" when he died; he was you kids'age." We were mid-40's at the time. It's all relative just as the definition of "aging well" is subjective. At this stage of my life, I see aging well as being productive, managing health, leading a purposeful life and being realistic about aging, however that may look to an individual.

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    1. Your definition of aging well is as good as any I have read.

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    2. Similar to Mona's story my mother, that is now 90 with a few memory problems, was saying to me about her family "I guess it's just us kids left now". She couldn't quite remember what happened to her parent's generation and the kids she referred to are the cousins she grew up with. The youngest among them is now 89 but they are still "the kids" to her. We had a laugh that yes "the kids" are, except for one, in their 90s now.

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  10. Two years ago, my last remaining paternal aunt passed away at age 95. It was a sobering moment to realize that we, the children of my father and his siblings, are now the elders within our family. In my career, working with Indigenous peoples (various Canadian First Nations), I came to deeply admire the respect their communities had for their elders. They treasured their elders, a great contrast with how white mainstream media often seems to portray elders. Your point about this year’s two 70-something presidential candidates, and the Atlantic article’s point about our revered musical icons in their 70s and 80s helps me to recognize that, in fact, many older people still are in highly respected leadership positions. I hope to learn to grow into a “wise elder” role, rather than becoming superfluous, invisible, rigid, querulous, self-indulgent, or a burden.

    Jude

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    1. Putting elders on the shelf is an historical relic, I hope. I completely understand younger generations and their desire to move up in business and politics. But, to discount the experience and collective wisdom we "oldsters" have is a waste of a tremendous resource that benefits everyone.

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    2. I am just 59 and only 1 of my parents siblings-totaling 12, is still alive. My Dad's youngest brother who was 17y younger than Dad. I am 1 of 6 kids and my oldest brother is gone having died of suicide at just 45 and a BIL died at age 61 of a massive 40h long stroke of tiny blood clots.

      I take nothing for granted and appreciate and value each day. Mom's wise words in her final weeks that I most value: Never be angry about what you can't do. Be grateful for what you CAN do :-) Wise words indeed.

      This is a great conversation to follow.

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  11. I'm 72 and still experiencing each year as better than the year before (well, maybe not this year!). It's not that I don't have any age-related health issues; I have given up cross-country skiing because of the fall risks, and I donated all my back-packing equipment to Goodwill about ten years ago when I realized that my days of walking up and down mountains with 50 pounds strapped on my back were over. My walks for exercise these days are more likely to be 2 miles than 4 miles, and garden projects that would have taken me two months twenty years ago now take two years. But I prefer to focus on what I have gained than on what I have lost: wisdom and greater depth to my thinking, greater creativity, new friendships and new depth to old friendships because I have the time to nurture them, the more relaxed pace and greater freedom of retirement, and so much more.

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