Live with ‘vim, vigour’ as you age

Just six months before his assassination in 1963, former U.S. president John F. Kennedy had the insight to designate May as “Senior Citizens Month,” a name that was changed to “Older Americans Month” by Jimmy Carter in 1980.
Celebrating “Older Americans Month” was important in 1963, but it is more important now. The 17 million Americans aged 65 and older in 1963 have more than doubled to 35 million.
In addition, a growing number are living to 85 and even to 100.
This year’s “Older Americans Month” theme is “Celebrate Long-term Living.”
We have lots to celebrate in 2005. Not only are people living longer, they are staying healthier and remaining active much later in life. And fewer and fewer are requiring long-term institutional care.
As evidence of their “vim and vigour,” 470,000 seniors are enrolled in college and 4.6 million (13 percent) are still employed. In addition, many seniors serve their communities by volunteering.
And we also have made major inroads against poverty. In 1963, 5.5 million (33 percent) over 65 lived in poverty. But even with the doubling of the population, only 3.5 million (10.2 percent) live in poverty now.
All this progress in 40 years!
Recently, I re-read a book I had ordered from Rodale Press in 1983—“Aging Slowly” by Myron Brenton and the Editors of Prevention Magazine.
Prevention was on the forefront of the empowerment in aging movement and this book gave me hope about my own aging. More than 20 years later, it still gives me hope.
The first sentence in this helpful book is “We all have to GROW old but we don’t have to BE old.” It’s up to us how we age.
To show you how to age slowly, the book’s chapters include “Plans to Keep You Young,” “Tips for Beauty and Fitness,” “Retirement: A Golden Chance,” and my two favourites—“Exercises for Vim and Vigor” and “The Mastermind.”
Every page in this over-sized book has practical advice, illustrated with photos, diagrams, and informational sidebars.
“Exercises for Vim and Vigor,” for instance, suggests a multitude of ways to get exercise—stretching, walking, water exercise, square dancing, stationary biking, Ping-Pong, washing windows, mowing the lawn, and even baking bread.
Take your pick! Just be sure that you keep active.
And don’t forget to exercise your brain if you want to age slowly. The chapter entitled “The Mastermind” asserts that “The mind stays bright and clear all life long. As we age, we grow smarter, learning from experience.
“Many people believe that as we grow old, our minds become dull . . . our natural curiosity is gone . . . the sharp eye is replaced by a vacant stare.”
But, according to neuroanatomist Marian Diamond, the brain’s decline may be the result of the boring lives some older people lead.
“Aging Slowly” suggests exploring activities that create the same sense of expectation and vitality we knew when we were kids—go to see a good film, visit a museum, or play a sharp Bridge game.
Creating an enriched environment not only will make your life more fun, it will help your brain stay young.
And this month, as you “Celebrate Long-term Living,” remember that the goal of your life is not only living longer but having more active and productive years.

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