“Blessed is the society that has oldies.” ― Lailah Gifty Akita, Think Great: Be Great!
We can live with gusto into our eighties and beyond if we heed the wisdom of our elders. Researchers have amassed a great deal of data and suggestions for successful aging from studying those who are living well in their eighties, nineties, and even one hundreds.
The first suggestion for a good, long life will be no surprise. Every study out there says the same thing - don’t smoke. Other findings may be more unexpected.
Dr. George Vaillant of Harvard Medical School gives a rather extraordinary conclusion. After studying the findings of 824 participants who were followed for over sixty years, Vaillant says that lifestyle choices are more important than anything else including genetics. Here are the lifestyle suggestions for aging well.
1. Develop a “make lemonade out of lemons” approach to life
2. Keep a healthy weight
3. Exercise regularly
4. Maintain strong social relationships (including a stable marriage)
5. Keep learning
A massive longitudinal study was begun in 1921 by Dr. Lewis Terman. He and his successors tracked 1,500 bright children for more than eighty years. The findings were compiled into The Longevity Project by professors Friedman and Martin.
1. Be conscientious (plan, organize)
2. Have a fairly high level of physical activity
3. Make it a habit to give back to the community
4. Have a good, long-running career
5. Have a healthy marriage and family life
6. Summon your resilience against reversals of fortune and challenges (divorce, loss of spouse, war, career upsets, health issues)
7. Don’t view every calamity as a catastrophe
Gerontologist, Dr. Karl Pillemer decided to survey and interview over twelve hundred older people. His work continues as The Legacy Project. A summary of the elders’ advice includes the following.
1. Choose a career for the intrinsic rewards, not the financial ones.
2. Act now like you will need your body for a hundred years: Stop using "I don't care how long I live" as an excuse for bad health habits. Behaviors like smoking, poor eating habits, and inactivity are less likely to kill you than to sentence you to years or decades of chronic disease. The elders have seen the devastation that a bad lifestyle causes in the last decades of life -- act now to prevent it they say.
3. Say "Yes" to opportunities: When offered a new opportunity or challenge, you are much less likely to regret saying “yes” and more likely to regret turning it down. They suggest you take a risk and a leap of faith when opportunity knocks.
4. Cut down on your worrying. It's a colossal waste of your precious lifetime. Indeed, one of the major regrets expressed by the elders was time wasted worrying about things that never happened.
5. Think small. When it comes to making the most of your life, attune yourself to simple daily pleasures and learn to savor them now.
6. Travel, make memories
When it comes to aging well advice, the person I am paying attention to is my (now deceased) mom. Mom loved working four days a week as a therapist until she was 86. Here’s what I’ve learned from her. (She left me a list)
1. The big elements for the good life are strong relationships, humor, and spirituality (purpose and meaning in life).
2. Read to your children. You will most regret not having spent more time with your children.
3. Marriage is more than 50-50. Always do more than your part. Learn from each other, take responsibility for your part in every fuss. Pray. Enjoy touching. Compliment each other, keep up with what’s going on in each other’s lives.
4. Don’t waste your sorrow, do something useful with it.
5. Walk thirty minutes five days a week.
6. Drink a little glass of wine every day.
7. Be authentic, don’t hide from your values.
8. Don’t compare your life (your spouse or your kids) to anyone else’s
9. Stay involved. Maintain a certain amount of routine, but keep learning and contributing through every loss and every season of your life.
10. Have a very small wardrobe of good quality clothes. Get rid of old clothes, keep buying a few new things, but always take something out when you bring home something new. Keep your hair looking nice - dyeing it or wearing a wig or hat may make you feel younger (Never go around with a “bed head”)
11. Don’t ignore the tough stuff in life, but focus on finding the good. Walk beside people in pain. Appreciate all the working people who are contributing to your welfare like the police, farmers, garbage collectors, teachers, doctors and nurses.
“To know how to grow old is the master-work of wisdom and one of the most difficult chapters in the great of art of living well” said Swiss poet and moral philosopher Henri Amiel in 1874. One of my friends and family, Matt, who is a hockey coach, reminds me that it's how we play the final period that matters the most. If we want to grow old well, we’d better pay attention to our elders.
How might you move up to The Good Life by paying attention to your elders and aging well?
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