aging and mental fitness


Growing Older Isn’t For Sissies

As my friend Herb often says, “Growing older isn’t for sissies.” Everyday, we 50+ folks know he’s right. Along with all the other issues we face, as a man, I long ago had that experience of looking in the mirror and seeing my father. For women, aging in a society that celebrates glamour and youth, the mirror can become a dreaded enemy.

Each year, we seniors spend millions of dollars trying to look better (younger) and that probably isn’t a bad thing. When I compare our generation to previous ones, I do believe we are in pretty good shape physically and have aged quite well. I think it’s great that the majority of us continue to groom ourselves nicely and dress somewhat fashionably. I smile while writing that last line because I’ve never been known as a “clothes horse.” If you don’t understand that reference, you’re too young to be reading this blog.

So, what’s the point? The point is, as seniors, we will not win the battle against physical aging. We should stay in good condition, eat well and all the rest, but we are not going to overcome the changes aging will bring about. The wrinkles will come ever faster, the hair we love will thin, and the hair we don’t want will flourish. We need to develop an attitude of acceptance toward physical aging. Of course, my wife Trisha does not accept my view on this subject and has vowed to “go down swinging.”

I raise this issue to preface what I consider to be a more important aspect of the aging process, our minds. To me, the biggest difference I observe among people as they get older is not physical, but mental. I’m not talking about loss of mental acuity, but simply how people use or don’t use their minds. Some seem very engaged concerning current events, new ideas, and even strive to be creative and contribute to society. As Trisha and I wrote in our book, it seems as though retired life for many simply means not having a job any longer. We discovered so many folks in our age group who did not have a plan or set goals for their future. This isn’t a criticism per se because we firmly believe everyone should spend every phase of their lives as they choose. We simply find it curious that so many find themselves in such deep routines, often seem bored, and quite frankly, unhappy. The fact is, planning or not, life does happen.

In our case, my wife and I can’t think of anything more interesting or rewarding than meeting new people, having new experiences, creating something new, or seeing new places around the corner or around the world. I often think about the question I used to get during my teaching career. It was, “Why do you like teaching?” My response was always, “Because I learn so much.” I had to continually read new books, review the latest research, meet new students, learn and evaluate new ideas, and create ways to put them forth. It was always new and exhilarating. I guess that helped shape my views on how I wanted to spend my retired life. I can only say it works for me and my wife, but others must choose the path that works best for them. Choose wisely. As someone once said, “This is your life; it’s not the dress rehearsal.” We’ll drink to that.

Trisha and John Parker

Trisha and John Parker

 

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Slowing the Aging Process

As we reach retirement age and beyond, all we need to do is look in the mirror to be reminded of the many years we have lived. What I’ve always found interesting is that some people seem to look much older or younger than their actual age. Curious, I began to investigate the actual factors that  cause us to physically age. Based upon scientific research, these are the main factors I discovered:

1. Eating foods that cause chronic inflammation. Among these are foods that contain large amounts of vegetable oils, margarine, red meat, white bread, sugar, and other processed foods. The inflammation caused by these foods accelerates wrinkle formation in our skin.

To prevent this acceleration, eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and alpha-linolenic acid. Such foods would include those with flaxseed or flaxseed oil, avocados, salmon, and olive oil. Fresh fruits and veggies are also beneficial because they contain lots of zinc, selenium, vitamin C, and beta carotene. Red peppers and carrots are especially good. All of these help maintain healthy skin and retard the aging process. In addition, studies have shown that we need to have at least one helping of protein with each meal in order to maintain healthy skin. Insufficient protein causes tears, wrinkles, and cracks in our skin. This obviously ages us much more quickly.

2. Drinking too much alcohol. Alcohol is a natural diuretic and the more you drink, the more dehydrated you become. This dries up the natural moisture from your skin and exacerbates the fine lines and wrinkles that make us look older. Not drinking alcohol or drinking less also allows the liver to more easily flush toxins from our bodies that also benefits our skin. I’m sure we have all had the occasion of seeing a total stranger and can almost instantly determine that the person is a heavy drinker on the basis of their heavily wrinkled face.

3. Constant worry, anxiety, or stress.  Recent studies have shown that stress has a harmful effect on the DNA in our cells. This part of the DNA is called telomeres and when measured, those suffering stress had shorter telomeres in their cells causing the cells to become damaged or die. Stress also ages our brains, increases our blood pressure, and disrupts our sleep, all of which can make us look and feel older.

4. Lack of exercise. Exercising at 40 to 60 percent of your maximum heart rate is not only healthy for your weight, heart, and lungs, it provides a rejuvenating effect on the skin.

5. Smoking. If knowing that smoking causes heart disease, infertility, bladder cancer, high blood pressure, and lung cancer isn’t enough, it also is terrible for the skin and the aging process. Smoking deprives skin cells of oxygen and cause pale and uneven coloring. It also breaks down collagen and causes skin to sag. Puffing on cigarettes also creates deep wrinkles around a smoker’s mouth.

6. Too much sun. While being out in the sun can provide certain health benefits, too much sun certainly has a down side. In addition to the increased risk of skin cancer, UV rays weaken skin cells and blood vessels. This is what causes that tanned, leathery look. It can also make us more susceptible to bruising.

A recent four-year study in Australia determined that daily applications of sunscreen reduces the risk of skin cancer, fights wrinkles, and keeps skin smooth and resilient.

Highly Recommended

Since retiring, my wife Trisha and I have had the opportunity to travel throughout the United States and many countries around the world. In this new section of my blog called “Highly Recommended,” I will be sharing travel locations, hotels, cruises, and restaurants that we have found so compelling we want to share them with readers.

In this case, because my wife’s passion is cooking and my passion is eating, we want to share one of our favorite local places to eat in the bay area city of Brentwood. It’s a little hide-a-way place called Oodles of Noodles and More. They serve Asian-style cuisine in a very casual setting. The price is very modest and they use no MSG, no frozen meats, and all fresh vegetables. They have a variety of spicy sauces from mild to hot and spicy. Each customer gets a bowl and goes through a salad-bar style area to fill their bowl with their favorite veggies and other goodies. You then pick out your meat and sauce. My wife and I like to combine Pineapple Teriyaki and Spicy Mongolian. The chef then grills your food right in front of you, along with your choice of noodles or rice.

Family_eats

We have never been able to eat all of our serving and take the remainder home for a delicious lunch or dinner the next day.

Oodles of Noodles and More

6670 Lone Tree Way, Ste. 5, Brentwood, CA

Trisha Parker Oodles of Noodles

Trisha Parker
Oodles of Noodles

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I Get It. I’m Getting Older

          This is a tricky one. I value all my family and friends dearly and don’t want to offend anyone. But enough is enough. For some reason, a number of folks in my age group seem to be obsessed with getting older. That’s fine and it’s really none of my business nor should I be evaluating their fixations or state of mind. But some lines are being crossed. 

If you have reached your golden years, perhaps you will identify with my dilemma. In a nutshell, it seems I can’t go a day without someone telling me how worthless they’ve become because they couldn’t think of a name or some other fact. This is always accompanied with the obligatory complaint about growing old. Also, every day my email contains more than one “funny” cartoon and/or forward about the perils of growing older. 

In a lesser vein, I also receive numerous emails taking strolls down memory lane. Did you know everything was better back in the good old days? Performers, automobiles, and virtually every other thing you can think of. Really? You may actually have some memory issues. 

Now before someone actually gets angry, let me say I understand. Fact is we do slow down in almost every way as we age. And yes, I would love to be riding around in my red ’56 Chevy. But here’s the deal. We are living in this world today. Key word here is living. Sure, we have some years on us, but there are questions we could be asking and answering each day. What would be productive and interesting for me? What can I accomplish? Who can I help? What would be fun? 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not up in some ivory tower scolding and passing judgment. I’m an observer of the aging process. In my humble opinion, we don’t really miss those old cars; we miss ourselves at that age driving those cars. Were drive-in movies really better than watching our big screen plasma with surround sound in the comfort of our home? No, but we remember being at the drive-in with that hot date on a Saturday night and miss all the fun of being young and having our lives in front of us. It’s perfectly understandable.  

But this is life. I’m always inspired by those who accept life and live it fully to its completion. You pick the cliché, but while we still have the ability to think and love, I would hope we would embrace life with every bit of energy and passion we can summon.         

Rather than my typical blog, I’m going to refer you to this month’s issue of OneTen Magazine.  It has an article (beginning on page 39) that explains how my wife Trisha and I got into researching, writing, and speaking about about retired life and successful aging.

  

Our path certainly wasn’t planned but simply evolved from our own interest in making our retired life as good as we could make it. Currently, we are having a rewarding time as speakers on the topics of successful aging and retired life. Hope you enjoy the article.

OneTen Magazine

www.TheBestofOurLives.com

Well, it’s finally happened. I’m getting old. Physically, I’m doing well, and mentally I still think like an eighteen-year-old. It’s my reaction to the younger world around me that causes my concern. 

The first thing I’ve noticed lately is rather than losing my hearing in my old age, most of the younger folks I encounter must have gone completely deaf. It seems every car driven by anyone thirty or younger has a stereo blasting music so loud it can be heard for blocks away. Even young parents with their little children in car seats are rolling down the street with a volume that makes their windows rattle and my teeth ache. 

We live in a boating community and in many cases the stereo speakers in these vessels cost more than the boat itself. I know one individual who has seven extra batteries just to power the speakers. These are concert arena type speakers that can literally be heard a mile away. A couple of years ago, my late mother was sitting on our back deck when one of these folks fired up their boat and blasted the stereo. The concussion actually knocked her off her chair. I’m not quite sure what the point is, although I’m guessing it’s one of those “my dog’s bigger than your dog” deals. Every once in a while at a red light I’ll notice a young person in an old car next to me. They’ll have the volume turned up as loud as possible, but even I know it’s not getting the job done. I’ve almost felt like giving them money to get some decent equipment.   

I should add to this rant that even though I consider myself a minor musician, I’m not too thrilled with current musical choices. Given the over-the-top bass involved in hip hop, I really can’t make out the words and I’m pretty sure the word “melody” no longer exists in our language.   

Speaking of language, what is going on with profanity? I was watching a fairly funny comedy with my wife recently and began to feel sorry for the actors. How many times can they use the same swear word in one movie? You could actually see the strain on their faces trying to make it seem convincing. I can’t imagine what it must have been like in the read-through of the script. 

Hollywood producers would say they are just portraying real life, but it truly is a chicken or egg thing. I read an interview with one of the current top comedic actors and producers  recently and he related how as a teenager he and his friends would create stories with as much profanity as possible because they considered it “edgy” and funny. I get that. I’m not a prude. A well placed expression here and there can be just right for the moment. But when the dialogue becomes almost exclusively swear words, the art is lost. 

Walk through any mall, stroll through any store, and if you want a real education, place yourself outside a high school at the end of the day. The art of conversation has completely died. Sexually-laced profanity is the coin of the realm. I’m especially bothered by the young parents who use vile language, sometimes directed at their children. 

When talking about swearing, I’m reminded of my military experience. After going through basic training and technical school, I got a brief leave to go home. I was pretty quiet during that visit. By that time my vocabulary was down to about twenty words and ten of them were profane. 

I should add for full disclosure, my parents always set a good example and profanity was not part of their every day vocabulary. Did they ever swear? I’m sure. But my father was an old school gentleman. Swearing around women was especially out of bounds. Sounds pretty old fashioned in this day and age. Also seems a bit refreshing. 

When I was younger, I read a quote by George Washington. For some reason I’ve remembered it to this day. Thought I would close by sharing it with you. And yes, I know. I’m getting old.

“The foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing is a vice so mean and low that every person of sense and character detests and despises it.”

 

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I recently heard a man complain about some of his friends who had taken up jogging. They were constantly bugging him to jog with them. He finally gave in and said he would jog with them, but only for 1/4 mile. He would later exclaim, “It was the worst three hours of my life.”

I thought it was a funny line. On the serious side of getting in shape, perhaps you have heard about the Frenchman Robert Marchand. Mr. Marchand recently set a record riding a bike for 15 miles on an indoor track in one hour. Robert is 100 years old.

A new report estimates that more than one-third of babies born this year will live to be over 100 years old. Good for them, but what about us old timers? Well, the current average life expectancy in the U. S. for both men and women is between 78 and 79 years. Overall, women usually live two to four years longer, but men are catching up quickly. 

So what are the factors that allow someone to live to be 100 or more? A recent study, The New England Longevity Study, concludes there are four major factors that would allow a person to live to 100. Not surprisingly they are: genetics, environment, lifestyle, and luck. Most of us would probably guess genetics would be the most significant factor. That’s correct. But the study also found genetics is only a 25-30% factor, much less than previously thought. The good news is, if we are somewhat lucky (i.e., don’t get clobbered by a bus or suffer some other accidental disaster) can control our environment and live an appropriate lifestyle, our chances of living to be 100 aren’t that bad.

In their recently published book, The Longevity Project, authors Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin, determined six personality traits of people who live to be 100. They are:

Conscientiousness

A conscientious person is someone who tends to all matters including their own personal health.

Healthy Habits

Simply put, the research tells us there are very few smokers who live to be 100, and no obese people.

Working Long and Hard

Mental stimulation is the key. Even stressful work provides the mental stimulation found in those who live to be 100. Remember our Frenchman friend Robert Marchand? He worked until he was 89.

Active Life

As my wife Trisha and I pointed out in our book, The Best of Our Lives: Sharing the Secrets of a Healthy and Happy Retired Life, it’s not as much aging as it is inactivity that causes a person to lose strength and stamina. In addition, there are now numerous studies that indicate maintaining muscle strength plays a role in staving off cognitive decline and possibly Alzheimer’s.

Stong Social Network

In their book, Friedman and Martin conclude a strong social network is the “strongest predictor of long life,” and the New England study describes this predictor as “extraversion,” calling it the key trait.

Good Health

While this is an obvious predictor of a long life, the New England study found a high percentage of people who have already lived to be 100 had encountered a serious health problem at some point in their lives. These “survivors” were able to overcome their health problem and live on to their ripe old age.

My reading and research on this subject concures with all of the above. I would, however, make a couple of additions or distinctions. A positive attitude, probably an aspect of every one of the previously stated factors cannot be denied as having a strong influence on longevity. The other longevity factor that more and more research has discovered is adequate sleep. Both stroke and heart disease have recently been correlated to inadequate sleep.

As I look over all of these factors and traits, I can’t help but think of my wife Trisha. She personifies almost everyone of them. She doesn’t drink, smoke, is incredibly concientious, hard-working, has healthy habits, and is so active one would get dizzy following her on a daily basis. She is also extraordinarily extraverted and sleeps very soundly. She is 63, but I’m not sure anyone would ever guess her that old. I’d better start working out more because she is probably going to be around for a very long time. I hope so.

 

Until next time . . . . . . .

TheBestofOurLives.com

 

Bodies In Motion

One of the things my wife Trisha and I have tried to do since we retired is to stay active. If you’ve seen the commercial for one of the health care companies that talks about senior health, they use a physics metaphor by saying: “A body at rest stays at rest, a body in motion stays in motion.”

Obviously, this is not a new revelation. But as Trisha and I caution in our book and public presentations, as a senior it’s very easy to get into a rut. That may feel comfortable for a while, but in the long run it’s detrimental for both the mind and the body. Besides, as has often been said, “this is not the dress rehearsal, this is your life.” There are things to do, people to see, knowledge and skills to learn, causes to champion – well, you get the idea. One of our favorite activities since we retired is visiting and reconnecting with old friends and family, and meeting as many new people as we can. I must say Trisha is much better at connecting with new people, but it’s something we both enjoy.

If we weren’t sold before on the idea of getting up and going, connecting with old and new friends and family, this last week was all we needed to remind us how it can benefit our lives. Let me share some highlights of our week:

On the first day of a road trip, we stopped in and took lunch to my aunt, the last living relative of my late father’s family in that generation. She is home-bound due to poor health and we had a very heart warming visit. We showed her pictures of new grandchildren and reminisced about favorite memories. It was a wonderful visit.

Next, we were off to Arizona. While driving through Phoenix, we decided to take in some of the local sites. As sports nuts, we wanted an upclose look at their beautiful sports stadiums. After that, we had heard there was a memorial for those who had died on the U.S.S. Arizona in Pearl Harbor, so we went looking for that site. Well, there was much more. We found the memorial in a park that honored veterans of several wars. It was very beautiful and dignified. The Arizona memorial actually had one of the ship’s anchors and the ship’s mast which is pictured below. In the other picture, Trisha is standing in front of their Korean War Memorial.

Probably because it was quite warm (O. K., downright hot), there was only one other couple at the memorial. He was wearing an Air Force hat, and being an Air Force veteran myself, we began to chat. It turns out this man makes memory bears for the families of fallen veterans. Trisha and I had only recently become acquainted with memory bears when hospice presented us with bears made from the clothing of my late mother and father. What a wonderful and lasting treasure. If anyone reading this would like to contact MSGT Charles R. Leon and his Fallen Warrior Bears/AZ Hearts for Heroes, his email is:

azheartsforheroes@yahoo.org  

I know how much our family memory bears mean to us, and I also know the families of these fallen heroes must truly appreciate the work Charles does on their behalf. I also know he operates solely on donations and hopefully some readers might be able to help his efforts.

As we continued our trip into Tucson, I had arranged to meet with my cousin Mary and her husband Rick. It had been several years since we had gotten together and our lunch turned into a couple of hours. Great memories of family were shared and we were able to give Mary a box of photos my mother had collected for her before she passed away in March. Wonderful people and we promised not to go so long without another visit.

Next, we made our way to visit friends Susan and Lee. Because they live in a scenic and crafts-filled area of Arizona, we definitely made the rounds. Spice shops, fabric shops, copper mine, historic missions, restaurants, dining on Susan’s great meals (this woman knows how to cook), swimming (actually, more cooling off and talking) in the pool, and pleasant conversations under the Arizona night sky. A relaxing and fun few days with good friends. 

On one of our excursions, we were about to visit the historic Mission Tumacacori, a National State Park, when Susan and Lee asked if we had our “Geezer Passes.” They then informed us that for $10, anyone 62 or over can obtain a senior lifetime pass that allows that senior and their party entrance into any National Park. What a deal. We signed up and got our passes. Here is a link for anyone interested:

 U.S. National Park ServiceAmerica the Beautiful – The National Parks and Feder

Below are Susan and Trisha enjoying the scenic and serene beauty of Mission Tumacacori.

 

 

As a former radio talk show host and recipient of the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame, Lee now keeps very busy writing a very interesting and provocative political blog. For all you political types, don’t miss his daily commentary on:

www.radiorodgers.com 

Back on the road, we headed north again to Phoenix. We were in for another treat. My late mother had a life-long friend with whom she stayed in constant contact. This wonderful lady, who happened to be celebrating a birthday in another state on the day we arrived, has a daughter I had not seen since she was six years old. She and her  husband met us for lunch and it was a sensational afternoon. While Kathy and husband Bronson are much younger, we had many things in common. He is currently active Air Force, the same branch in which I served. They told us later they were looking at us thinking that would be them in the future, and Trisha and I admitted we could see ourselves in them when we were younger. Great couple and we hope to get together again soon. 

 

For those still reading (bless you), our next stop was Palm Desert. My cousin Bob and his wife Nancy are two of our favorite people in the world. We spent the night out at a great Italian restaurant, laughing and having a wonderful time. Back at their place, as always, they allowed us their guest room for the night. In the morning Nancy, one of the world’s best chefs, fixed a delicious breakfast and we were off again.

Once in Southern California, we connected with oldest son Michael and our three grandchildren there. After an afternoon at the best pizza place I’ve ever been, we went back to Mike’s for a fun night. On Father’s Day, we headed to Dodger Stadium for a sensational extra inning game in which our team won. The stadium was packed and it was little Charlie’s first game. Lot’s of high fives, cheering, and Dodger Dogs. Great kids and we loved every minute. I honored my dad by wearing the same jersey he wore when he threw out the first pitch at Dodger Stadium two years ago.

We considered stopping for the night, but then decided to drive all the way home. We arrived around 11:00. The relationships of the week, some old and some new, were special. While Trisha and I know we will slow down as time passes, as long as we can we hope to be “bodies in motion.”

www.TheBestofOurLives.com

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