A few years ago, I had lunch with Dr. Elizabeth Welty, then in her mid-90s.
“What’s your secret?” I asked the retired physician, who was in good shape, physically and mentally.
She sighed, a bit wearily, at the question she gets asked to this day, because – now in her late 90s – Welty remains in good shape.
She then told me her secret: “Keep moving.”
In this, my last Boomer U column, I will highlight some of the other secrets to “good aging” – at least the part of good aging under your control.
For the past four years at The Spokesman-Review, my features beat has been boomers and seniors, culminating last February in the creation of the Boomer U section. Thanks for all who shared their wisdom with me.
Secret 1: Exercise
Exercise is an essential component of good aging. It reminds your body you still need it. It pumps blood into the brain. It’s a great worry-buster.
The men and women I interviewed who looked good for their ages exercised regularly. You’ll get advice which exercise you should do, but it doesn’t really matter. Just start moving.
Secret 2: Socialize
When babies are born prematurely, and their lungs underdeveloped, they are sometimes given a synthetic “surfactant” which irritates their little lungs, forcing them to open. (Sorry, neonatal docs, for this simplistic explanation.)
Socialization is a touchy-feely word, but socialization often is not. The long-winded ranter in your golf group drives you crazy. The cheapskate who never takes her turn buying coffee fills you with rage.
Socializing acts like a surfactant on the psyche. It opens things up, when it’s fun and also when it’s irritating. Find one club, one group, one activity and force yourself out of the house.
Secret 3: Create something every day
Last week, Tim Christie, of Coeur d’Alene, sent this email: “In 2007 I retired from teaching at North Idaho College after 35 years in the classroom. I felt empowered to pursue with even more vigor my freelance career, but something was missing. What I missed was sharing, giving of myself to others.
“Somewhat by accident, but more by the need to share with good friends what I was doing, I hatched the idea I call Photo Pix. During the week, I send out a photo of mine with a quote that I’ve found that somehow relates to the image. It started going out to a dozen friends and former colleagues, now it goes out to about 1,200 people.
“It’s free. I don’t try to get anything from it other than the satisfaction of perhaps bringing a smile, a moment of joy, or the chance that the recipient might pause to appreciate the image, the quote, perhaps both.”
It doesn’t matter what you create. Knit a scarf. Write a poem. Cook a great meal. The act of creating taps into a deep source of energy.
Secret 4: Practice mercy
Mercy is synonymous with compassion, but mercy also means forgiving someone you have the power to punish or harm.
As people age, the grudges can pile up.
Mostly, these grudges – and accompanying revenge fantasies – harm the person harboring them. Mercy – toward others and toward self – can release these damaging emotions.
Secret 5: Don’t dwell on your body
“After 45,” my sister Lucia likes to say “you go to bed and wake up every day with the enemy – your body.”
The healthiest older people I met didn’t hide the fact they were in chronic pain, or fighting cancer, or in need of surgery, and they talked about their health concerns, but they didn’t let those concerns stop them from living their lives.
They kept moving, as well as they could, and they found their activities a distraction from their body worries.
About 25 years ago, I interviewed an older couple who played the accordion at senior gatherings. The wife was in a wheelchair, struggling with diabetes and other chronic conditions.
The husband told me that every morning, they made a list of all the things that were hurting. By the next day, something new was on the list and something crossed off.
Instead of dwelling on the lists, they played music for others.
Secret 6: Find your own secrets to good aging
My friend Faith Spotted Eagle successfully fought breast cancer more than a decade ago. Everyone gave her advice on treatments – conventional and alternative.
One night, she dreamed of a Lakota elder. The woman had been healed of an illness, and she showed Spotted Eagle the medicine that helped her heal. Spotted Eagle asked for some of the medicine, but the Lakota elder told her that each healing is unique to the person. She would discover her own healing, and Spotted Eagle did.
So I end this column with the hope that all aging boomers and seniors find their unique secrets to good aging.
Meanwhile, keep moving.