Sunday, May 22, 2016

Worth Investigating

"Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80."
~ Henry Ford

There is a commercial for a local active retirement community that never fails to annoy me. It shows a young couple stumbling upon the development and asking an older couple of residents where they have landed.  The older couple, lean and sun tanned, he with a full head of gray hair and she looking like she could model for Chico's, shows them around... to the golf course, the restaurant, and the pool.  It ends with the younger man saying, "We have to figure out how to turn 55."

I realize that some would say I have no sense of humor, or that this is just creative license, par for the course in advertising.  But I think it is another example of promoting the "forever young" movement, a term coined by Daniel Klein in Travels with Epicurus, a movement whose favorite term seems to be anti-aging.  It is the polar opposite perception of old age promoted by those who also see this stage of life one dimensionally - but chiefly negatively. A stage marked by frailty, loss, and isolation.  Neither perception captures the full range of possibilites, as well as the challenges of aging available to us today.

Also, this commercial belies the vast array of activities available in that particular community, activities that are educational, creative, charitable  and social in nature.  Activities that address the complex needs and interests of an "active" retirement community or simply any older individual who wants to continue to learn and create, who has skills and expertise to share and the desire to do so.

The portrait of aging I prefer is painted more satisfyingly in three books I have read these past months.  Klein's Travels with Epicurus is the recounting of his journey to a Greek island to contemplate what the old men there can teach him about growing old.  Spurred on by the decision to forego the dental implants recommended by his dentist so that he would not have "the smile of an old man", Klein, an acknowledged old man, travels to the island equipped with his journal and his favorite philosophers to contemplate aging in a culture where aging is not only not feared, but enjoyed. Imagine that!  Well-written, insightful, humorous, a great gift for a favorite older man.

The Wonder of Aging, by Michael Gurian, bears the subtitle A New Approach to Embracing Life After Fifty.  It's filled with practical tips, solid science and inspirational and motivational stories.   I particularly appreciate the terms Gurian uses to define the stages of aging.  No old, old old and oldest old but rather The Age of Transformation, The Age of Distinction, and The Age of Completion, terms that describe the work to be done during that stage of one's life.  The research and the stories flesh out what Gurian means by his term "realistic optimism", the attitude he advocates for embracing life after fifty.

Finally, The Blue Zones:  Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest, by Dan Buettner.  Buettner shares the secrets of living longer (and well) from four of the world's Blue Zones - Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; and the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.  These areas have a higher density of centenarians due to common elements of lifestyle, diet, and outlook.  Buettner's science is easily accessible and the stories of the vibrant individuals he interviewed are fascinating.  He concludes the book by distilling his research (funded by National Geographic) into nine lessons with suggested strategies for incorporation into our Western lives.  I was relieved to see Lesson Four: Drink red wine (in moderation). Guess which zone taught him that!

I trust it's obvious that I enjoy learning and sharing what I'm learning.  If you are reading about aging and have found other valuable resources, I'd love to  know.  If the above books intrigue you, let me know.  If you have found some good websites ( and are two I like), well....

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