senior mental fitness


cavallo_feliciano

Feliciano

When my wife Trisha and I speak to senior groups and organizations about successful aging, one of our most important recommendations is to socialize. Living in isolation has long been shown to be extremely detrimental to both our physical and mental well-being. Remaining social as we age has been one of the most studied and verified behaviors for continued good health and mental fitness.

This brings me to my story. More than forty years ago during the Viet Nam era, I served in the U. S. Air Force. After my first tour of duty stateside, I was sent to a NATO base in southern Italy. Being a newly wed, I desperately wanted my wife to join me. Not having much money, I devised a plan whereby I gave a buddy who was sending his wife home on a Christmas charter a few bucks, and my wife assumed her identity on the return flight. Being in such a remote part of the country, there was no room on the base for us to live so we had to live on the local economy.

Prior to her arrival, I heard of a man in a small town several miles away (it actually had a small castle) that would rent to Americans from the base. I borrowed a car and went to talk with him. He turned out to be a wonderful man named Feliciano. He was the town electrician and had four apartments above his business. He spoke very good English because during WWII he was captured by the allies early on and spent the entire war on a farm in Scotland. Beyond his language skills, during his captivity he realized a value and interest in meeting people from other cultures and perspectives. I was able to rent an apartment from him and it would be our home until my two-year tour was finished.

Visiting with Feliciano was a daily occurrence. Watching soccer on the television in his shop was great fun. He was interesting, polite, and what we might call an “old world gentleman.” Our frequent parties and loud music  brought an occasional knock on our door, but he just smiled and would say “some of the old people have complained.”

I recently discovered Feliciano died last year. It seems his beloved wife had passed away ten years ago and both of his daughters had moved out of the country to be with their husbands. The NATO base had long since closed, and when he retired, Feliciano was left with only his little home on the quiet street of his small Italian village. Finally, one morning he dressed in his suit and tie, lay on his back, put a pistol under his shirt and pulled the trigger. Unbelievably, the official report said he then pulled his shirt down and died. Proper to the end.

Learning of Feliciano’s death, and perhaps more disturbing, his loneliness, has left me very sad. I know he tried all he could to be social and he lived in isolation for as long as he could. I hope he is at peace now.

The life lessons here are so obvious, I’ll spare you the clichés. For us, hearing about our old friend got Trisha and me reminiscing about our time in that village. After some detective work on the internet, I was able to locate a couple who were good friends from our time in Feliciano’s apartment house. They live on the other side of the country, and we haven’t seen them in forty years, but we already have plans to get together sometime next month. I think Feliciano would be very pleased.

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www.TheBestofOurLives.com

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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

 

Personal Choice

Many seniors may believe their longevity is a matter of genetics or simple luck. The fact is, a study published by the American Journal of Psychiatry indicates the determining factor in one’s longevity is a person’s personal choice.

The study, which tracked mental and physical health, was conducted over a period of sixty years with nearly 1,000 subjects from various socio-economic backgrounds. Only the factor of clinical depression was deemed to be outside the control of subjects in regard to their longevity.

The study identified the following factors, all of which were considered to be personal choices, as being the most important in determining an individual’s longevity. They were:

Exercise – Experts recommend 30 minutes of regular exercise.

No Smoking – The list of smoking-related health problems is too long to list. If you smoke, quit.

Appropriate Weight – Obesity can contribute to heart disease, diabetes, and joint problems.

Positive Coping Mechanisms – Learning how to deal with stress and control anger is essential.

Stable Marriage – Research shows happily married people have less illness and longer lives.

Moderate Alcohol Intake – The key term is moderate. Excessive alcohol intake can cause liver problems and possible harmful drug interactions.

Depressive Illness – While this is the one factor found to be outside an individual’s ability to make a choice, it is strongly recommended a person seek treatment when feeling depressed.

So, there you have it. It’s the personal choices we make with regard to these factors that are the most important in our longevity. Of course, there are many other factors such as acquired disease and accidents that can play a role. But, for the majority of individuals, it is the choices we make.

Happy Thanksgiving

Sometimes things just work out for the best. Having just returned from some travels recently, my wife and I had not made plans for Thanksgiving. Last week the phone started ringing and we now have at least a dozen or so family members spending much of the Thanksgiving holiday with us. We are very blessed. I wish all of you who read this blog a very happy holiday.  

 www.TheBestofOurLives.com

“there is a time to weep, and a time to laugh . . .”

This is my favorite painting. If you don’t share my faith, no problem. One’s faith is a personal decision and I respect everyone’s beliefs (unless you go around blowing people up). The point is, it makes me smile and that in turn makes me feel good. I’m aware some people contend we should only spend our lives doing solemn works and in quiet reflection. Good for you. I personally take that “a time to laugh” verse just as seriously.

Several things put me in a reflective mood about humor and laughter this week. One of the things was when my shy and soft-spoken mother walked in and sat down in a room filled with many of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She seemed to be musing about something so I asked her what she was thinking. She said, “You know, so many of my friends and family are already in heaven, I’ll bet they think I didn’t make it.” It was a very serious and sweet comment. And very, very funny.

I also have a wonderful cadre of friends who send me humorous email forwards. Truth is I’m not big on sending forwards to folks, but my friends are very selective and the stuff they send is most often hilarious. Much of it this last week was laugh out loud funny. I really enjoyed their selections.

Additionally, this week my wife Trisha and I were invited to speak at a luncheon about retired-life issues. I spent much of my time discussing the wellness benefits of humor. Preparing for our presentation forced me to brush up on my humor research. Once again, I found the information very valuable. Here are some of the wellness benefits of humor I shared with our audience.

Humor:

– relaxes muscles

– reduces harmful stress hormones

– lowers blood pressure

– lowers serum cortisol levels

– speeds oxygen to the blood

– increases blood circulation

– triggers release of endorphins (the body’s natural pain killers)

– helps in weight reduction

– boosts the immune system

– provides a feeling of overall well-being 

I guess the axiom “laughter is the best medicine” really is  true. The fact is, we live in a very complex, demanding, and potentially stressful world. As we grow older, maintaining a positive attitude and managing our stress becomes very important for maintaining our mental and physical health. Looking for the humor in our lives at a time when we face very real and serious wellness issues will help to maintain an important balance.

Don’t worry, be happy.

Stay healthy, keep on laughing.

Best, John         www.TheBestofOurLives.com

WOW! What a crazy wonderful week.

In the past I’ve written a lot about the power of a positive attitude and the many benefits it can have on our lives. Especially as seniors. It really worked for us this week.

 

As I mentioned in my last blog, my father passed away one year ago. An anniversary of this type can be very depressing and downright difficult while marking the passing of a loved one. We decided we would remember Dad, but in his honor, would also try to have fun. First, we invited some of my wife’s family, her aunt Pat and Uncle Noel, to visit for the week. We had a great time showing them our part of the country and even had a great night out with them and good friends.

 

Then, as the week progressed, several family members who were planning to gather at our home over the weekend began to report very strange and amusing happenings. Typical day-to-day problems or issues  were being miraculously and quickly resolved. In my case, I was trimming a large palm tree high over head. At one point my cutting blade got loose and when I checked it, the nut was missing from the main bolt holding it together. It was a very hot day and I searched high and low for that nut. Finally, I gave up and looked in my garage for a nut that might fit. Finding one, I tried to screw it on the bolt but it became obvious it wouldn’t fit. After several minutes sweating in the hot sun trying to make it work, I looked up to the heavens. As I did, the nut slipped from my hand, bounced on the pavement, rolled all around my driveway, and came to rest – – – right next to the original nut. I looked up and said, “Thanks Dad.” With several of these occurences, our family began to laugh and suggest Dad was orchestrating a celebratory week of remembrance.

 

I know what you are probably saying right now, but hold on. As I walked into the house mid-week, my phone was ringing. It was a man claiming to be a news producer for CBS in Los Angeles. He was putting a segment together about the Los Angeles Dodgers and had come across the story of my father throwing out the ceremonial first pitch almost two years ago. He asked if he could interview me about my father and his being a Dodger fan given the problems the Dodger ownership have been having. I agreed, and after speaking with him, he suggested my wife Trisha and I come to Los Angeles and attend the Sunday Dodger game. He said he would conduct an interview and have his camerman with him. We thought, what a great way to remember Dad and agreed to do it. We also called 5-year-old grandson Jack who lives outside L. A. and invited him to go with us. 

 

Understand, at the time we agreed, Trisha’s aunt and uncle needed to be at the San Francisco airport, an hour and a half drive from our home for a late morning flight. We also needed to meet family at the cemetery in the early afternoon that was another hour and a half from our home. Did I mention I needed to take my mother for lab work at the hospital and be there by 7:30 in the morning before the day even began.

 

It gets better. We then hosted a family dinner for thirteen people at our home and twelve of them spent the night. One of our sons, part of the “planning committee” had forgotten to mention that little detail. Oh well, we all had a great time and enjoyed every minute. It did mean breakfast for twelve in the morning and everyone pitched in. I was in charge of pancakes. After cleanup and swimming, it was now time for lunch. My wife smiled through it all, and it was great fun.

 

We then had to think about getting to L. A., so we called friends who live about half way and invited ourselves for the night. They not only welcomed us but prepared an incredible dinner and dessert. A super night with friends. Back on the road at 7:00 a. m., picked up Jack at Sunday school, and headed for Dodger stadium. Once there we met the producer, a very nice young man, and gave him an on-camera interview. The game was great, and we got to visit our son Michael who works for Fox Sports Net who was working the game.

 

By the time we got Jack home and fought the construction zones on Hwy 5, we got back just before midnight. What a week. But we remembered Dad in a style of family, friends, and fun he would have loved.

 

I should mention, we were shocked to learn it was not a local CBS story. The young man turned out to be a producer for the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley. Dad’s story may be on as early as tonight, June 27. Crazy.

 

Keep it positive.

 

 

                                    

                                 www.TheBestofOurLives.com

                                                                        

As we prepare for the Thanksgiving Holiday, it’s a natural time of reflection. Therefore, I pose the question:  “Are you really happy?”

I can hear a predictable response loud and clear: “What do you mean by happy?” Fair enough, let’s give this a try. Here are ten questions I’ve come up with that, if answered honestly, should give you a fairly complete assessment of your happiness:  

1. Do you have enough love in your life?  Do you have a relationship or relationships  in your life that provide you with a sense of caring and support? Do you have friends and neighbors that you can count on? Do you have social groups that provide you with a sense of belonging?

2. Do you maintain your mental and physical health and fitness? Do you care enough about yourself to eat properly and excise routinely? Do you schedule regular screening exams and follow your doctor’s advice?

3. Do you control the stress in your life? Do you understand where your stress comes from and take appropriate measures to control and reduce it? Have you created a stress-free living environment?

4. Have you secured your financial situation by living within your means? Do you have an overall financial plan? Do you have a budget and live within it?

5. Do you regularly help others? Do you give of yourself through time, money, or effort to better the lives of fellow human beings? 

6. Do you live up to the goals, values, and standards you have set for yourself? Do you live a life of honesty, spirituality, and pursue those things in life which are truly worthwhile?

7. Do you express yourself creatively? Do you strive to learn new things, expand and express yourself?  

8. Do you like yourself? Are you satisfied with the person you have become? What changes would you make?

9. Do you have enough humor in your life? Is it possible you take yourself and others too seriously? Do you seek out humor in your everyday activities and entertainment?

10. Are you having fun with your life? Has life simply become a chore or do you take the time for those activities you truly enjoy? 

That’s my list of questions. Perhaps you have your own questions and/or methods for determining personal happiness. Is there any real value in periodically making such an assessment? And what is so important about happiness anyway? Is that what life is really all about? 

One of my favorite class exercises as a university professor was to have my students take note of facial expressions of people they encountered in everyday settings. Based on their observations, I asked them to offer opinions as to each person’s happiness. It was an interesting way to begin a discussion on the concept of happiness, which in turn led to a discussion of values, goals, humanity, stress, etc. It was always an interesting and  valuable discussion. I hope this exercise was beneficial for you.

By the way, don’t miss my wife Trisha’s new blog: 

                                                                       

                      Thanksgiving Side Dishes « Trisha’s Dishes

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