THE BLOG

The Fountain of Youth Springs from Within

07/01/2014 12:07 pm ET | Updated Aug 31, 2014
Photo by Michael Pugh

"Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving."
- Patrick Dennis in Around the World with Auntie Mame

We're getting older, folks! Between 2000 and 2010, 25% more Americans were over the age of 60, and the number is growing. Just because we're getting older, though, does that mean we're aging? Well, sure, in one sense; in another, though, we're getting younger!

How's that? Well, we're in a generational shift in how we approach our older years. Nowadays, we have so many ways to live in an atmosphere of exuberance and fun! We don't have to be wealthy living on the Riviera, nor do we have to be marathon-running athletes in the peak of health.

Let's face it; we are what we are; we have a lot to be grateful for and a whole banquet of ways to enjoy life. First, let's get the dry basics out of the way. I'm pretty sure you've heard, "You need to lose weight and get fit, join the gym and work out, watch your food choices and portions."

No you don't -- at least not as a primary goal, if you're like me. To me, that's about as appealing as eating a meal of sawdust but, if you're in reasonably good health and your physician has given you the go-ahead, perhaps you just need a little encouragement to slide these excellent activities into your life.

At 73, here's how I'm doing it; you'll find your own ways, tailor-made for you. I stay grounded with life, and connected -- and there's a whole world of clarification in the two. I stay grounded by living below my means (Social Security); that takes a simple, creative lifestyle, which I manage to enrich greatly, still eating out with friends and enjoying life.

I also save $400 a year on gas power by hanging my wet clothes out to dry -- in cold, balmy or hot weather -- and maintain my own house, using as few machines as possible; that means lots of body movement in sweeping, bending, etc.

Constantly exploring ways of living 'green' and saving money, I grow as much of my own food as I can; I'm even exploring setting up an aquaponics unit in my home (and later, the garage) so that, even in inclement weather I can have fresh organic, inexpensive food. (No worrying about food prices going up, for me.) Gardening, even in my raised and ground level beds involves exercise and fresh air.

For portion control, I use the guideline of the size of my palm for most items. I'll eat any food group, though red meat and poultry less often than salmon, which I love with my greens and tomatoes. (Today's salmon was poached in lime juice, water and fresh lemongrass from the garden; that's it. Yumm!) I leave most of the sweets and other frills for occasional treats opting, instead, to purchase a variety of healthful items in small quantities -- powdered milk, eggs, quinoa, papad, (Indian cracker, 33 calories; one minute in the microwave), salmon, whole grain crackers and deli cheese (1/2 pound to last a month), coffee and tea (no sugary drinks).

For connectedness, my day starts at around 5, listening to NPR's Morning Edition in bed (of course, dozing off, I miss some); at about 7:30 I make hazelnut coffee in the French press and take it back to bed where I begin watching CNN's New Day online; during commercials I'll be checking my e-mail and other online news sources.

Up at around 8 or 8:30, it's out to walk my dog up and down our hilly street, meeting neighbors along the way and stopping for a chat. As my friends and I stay in touch, we keep our fingers on each other's pulses so to speak. We know when one of us needs something, has a gripe, a triumph or an occasion of celebration. That's good; it gives us an opportunity to let out things we might otherwise hold inside and to participate with each other's goings-on.

Back in the kitchen, I have breakfast with my parakeet, continuing to watch news programs online; in the summertime, I'll usually eat Shredded Wheat without sugar, a cup of watermelon or other fruit, and enjoy Cuban coffee. Then, on to more connectedness, including visiting with friends and family both online and in person.

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For me, a semi-retired journalist, I use Twitter to comment on events of the day, applaud news anchors and online blog writers or give them a little tweak in order to maintain journalistic standards of excellence. This way, I very much take part in issues relating to politics, business and lifestyle.

And I'm passionate about informing and encouraging all of us to take control and improve our lives, locally and globally, independent of unpredictable politics or business special interests. I focus on affirming and encouraging, while pointing out political areas I feel need improvement. We certainly can all make a difference, and we can leave a better world for our children and grandchildren. Well, we might as well do it for them; otherwise, they'll do it anyway and we won't be the heroes we might have been!

For a zestful life today, we need to reconnect with the person we were at 13 and 23 years of age, remember the most exciting, exhilarating things we did as a younger person, and get excited about recreating them in a modified form. The secret to exuberance at a certain age, is recapturing the feeling we enjoyed when we were 8, 10 and 13 years old, knowing that now we're emotionally stronger, wiser and smarter.

Along with joyously embracing new challenges, we can enjoy carefree fun like we did in those wonderful childhood years before all the couch-potato gadgets came along. I remember, as a child, on my bike flying down the hill in front of our house, hands high in the air, with firecrackers popping out of the handlebars; remembering gives me the same thrill as getting up on the water today (more on that below). The feeling we recapture will propel us forward, probably much more effectively than our brains telling us what we should do.

The key is to find any activity we used to enjoy - maybe basketball, volleyball, softball, playing catch or just riding our bikes (without the firecrackers). We can even hold a sock hop at home, inviting a few of our friends, along with our grandchildren and some of their friends, dress like we did in the '50s, teach them to dance to the oldies and have them teach us some of their dances. We'll bond more with them and they will see the whole thing as a hilarious costume party. As a treat, we can eat junk food during the party.

When I was in the 8th Grade in the South Bronx, we played a dexterity-coordination-balance ball game we called Me, Me, Dropsey, Roll Your Hands to Backsey (couldn't find a Google link, but you might remember it). I still play it sometimes.

It doesn't really matter what we do; once we begin, the rest will take care of itself as we begin pursuing our next, wonderful era. We might tell our stories -- in person, and electronically; we'll laugh and we'll cry as we pass on the lessons we've learned, and experiences we've faced. Our young listeners will learn from us to be strong, adaptable and resilient, and we won't even have to shake our fingers at them!

Along with the fun, it's also good to find passion with a purpose -- applying our wisdom, knowledge and skills to improving life for someone else. We could volunteer -- teach someone to read, mentor a child or teen, deliver meals to shut-ins or, as my 95-year-old Mom did until she died, play the good old songs on the piano for folks in a nursing home. One favorite was "You've Got to Accentuate the Positive," from World War II - remember that one? Also, we might take a course -- learn about something new -- ballroom dancing, playing a musical instrument, photography, great books, investing; the range is nearly endless. For us, nowadays, the world is our oyster!

For me, I found my joy again, training to waterski at 70 years of age; it gave me a challenging goal, in which I could measure my progress. The training was fun despite a couple of health glitches; it took passion and discipline, giving me the excitement of visualizing the result as I sweated it out in the gym. And the pure exhilaration it gave me to be up on the water again on one ski was just glorious; and then, the cherry on top -- I took my first barefoot skiing lesson!

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My first barefoot skiing lesson. Photo by Michael Pugh

Now, three years later, I'm ready to try to ski again -- in 2015, when I'll be 74. Whether or not I make it is less important than the wonderful journey of working out with a deeper purpose than just losing weight. Maybe I won't lose a lot of weight (I could stand to lose at least 20 pounds), but I know I'll tighten up, get stronger and more flexible, and gain stamina. From past experience, I know my eyes will start to twinkle again, and my posture and facial expression will reflect shedding years of just marking time.

As I begin with the go-ahead from my main doctor Sharon Bergquist (who's preparing for a triathlon), I'm experiencing a painful shoulder and limited range of motion so, my next step is to reconnect with Dr. Byron Milton, my sports physician, and get that shoulder resolved. In the meantime, though, I'm again working the treadmill and performing other mild exercises, working up to a full-blown training program -- once I have Dr. Milton's approval.

As for challenges and obstacles such as my sore shoulder or ordinary aches and pains, I see them this way: In waterskiing, we encounter wakes from the speeding boat. We can either hit them head on -- then we fall -- or, we can just sail right over them, like other challenges (setbacks), taking them as an expected part of life, and soon we're on the other side. Life is meant to be a combination of highs and lows, and constant change; sadly, we'll lose people we love, and at the same time, children and grandchildren will grow up, marry and give life to their own children. How we approach change is our choice.

Some more of my secrets are that I don't label people -- myself or others -- and I don't tolerate stereotypes of any group. That leaves everything in an objective wide-open framework, without value judgments. I compete only with myself, and I have no regrets; whatever missteps I've made, I've come to terms with and moved on, knowing better. I live for today, with a view to leaving the best inspirational legacy I can. Realizing I'm in the homestretch of my life, I want it to count for as much good as possible.

Now, finding our joy again isn't just about adding things; it's also about removing things from our lives. Grudges and resentments are good starters; who cares what someone did or said to us? We have better things to think about; forgive, reconnect and let the bad stuff go; we'll feel so much lighter!

Expectations should go, too: 'Will this happen?' 'Will they live up to my expectations? It just isn't fair.' Well, maybe they will, and maybe they won't; that's the nature of life. We'll have ups and downs, disappointments and amazing surprises. As Eckert Tolle says, 'Nothing is good or bad; it just is. It is what it is.'

Scale down your material possessions in favor of acquiring experiences rather than things. Start clearing out the clutter - no hurry, in your own time -- and donate those things. You've enjoyed them, now maybe you can pass them on to others; you have a new perspective on life now.

Yes! We're getting older; we're mentally and emotionally stronger than ever. We're having fun, and we're still contributing to society. What could be better? Yes, we're eating richly at the banquet of life, and just loving it as we lead the way for our next generations!