Growing old doesn't have to be boring

A few months ago, my 93- year-old mother, 94-yearold stepfather, my wife and I were having a burger at a fast food place.

While waiting for our burgers, we began to make some observations about the place. It was being operated by some really young people. A male employee with his head in the drive-thru window, had his pony tail in one hand and was twisting it. No hair net for him.

The front door opened and closed frequently and we noted that an outside garbage can was right by the front door and attracting droves of flies. Naturally, flies also heavily populated the dining area via the oft-opened door. Those developments tended to have a dramatic effect on Julie's and my appetite. We remarked about the conditions and the flies and were swatting at them with our hands and napkins. Apparently our dinner guests were more accustomed to the place and my stepfather wryly observed, "I was in here last week and a woman in the next booth brought her own fly swatter."

Perhaps that is not the best example of "living to be old and rolling with the punches," but it is telling about attitudes and their relation to growing old comfortably, gracefully and happily if these two nonagenarians are any example.

And, we are, thankfully, living longer. In the 20th century, the life expectancy of Americans, British, Japanese and Canadians increased by three decades to 78, according to a report by the Census Bureau and the National Institute on Aging. People in their 90s and even over 100 are not uncommon today.

Obviously, better public health care and better medical research are major factors in that threedecade gain in life expectancy. Great strides have been made in research in two major causes of death, heart disease and cancer. Much is made of current trends to obesity in children and young people, with some justification.

In a land of plenty, Americans tend to eat and drink as much as they like. Often, old age slips up on someone before they realize that diet and exercise are keys to good health and a longer life, as any physician will tell you.

As an example, in the last 25 years of my work life, I ballooned from 175 pounds to 272. My average blood pressure reading for those years was 155/95, with medication. I ate two fast food meals a day, usually at my desk. Just prior to retiring, reality struck: if I wanted to live long enough to enjoy retirement I'd better do something about my physical condition.

Watching what you eat and getting proper exercise were keys to my losing 60 pounds, getting my cholesterol under control and my blood pressure down to 108/62. You can do this and enjoy life as well. A lot of it is attitude.

It's inspiring to read in periodicals about other people, those who've reached the 90s and even over 100. Doing so has helped me.

A 101-year-old in one stor y wouldn't give her secret to long life but admitted she never resisted temptation and enjoys red wine.

In some quarters, there are theories that economic downturns can improve your odds of living longer. Life longevity increased during the 1930s Depression because, it is said, people don't eat or drink as much during hard times. It has been suggested that not working as much also helps extend your life.

That theory can be disputed. My parents, maternal grandmother and a couple of sets of greatgrandparents lived through the Depression, and all but my father (who died of cancer in 1974) lived into their 80s or 90s. Every one of them worked hard every day of their lives and, of course, they didn't eat or drink as much as we do today. But, then they never did.

This country leads the world in 100-year-old citizens. That Census/Aging report says we have more than 60,000 centenarians. The number of "super-old" (80s, 90s and 100s) is likely to increase over the next several years what with the Baby Boomer generation now nearing retirement.

I'm counting on that although I have vowed to carry my own fly swatter to any fast food establishments.

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2009-11-26 digital edition

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