Typically, a January column lends itself to reminding residents that the New Year, after a season stress that typically includes more calories and less exercise than usual, is a good time to resolve to commit to a smart exercise and smart eating strategy. This writer inevitably asks herself, "Is there a new way to position this annual message? I wondered further, "Is it even necessary?" After all, most of the diseases that plague an aging body have a lengthy onset. We may say, "Ralph had a heart attack yesterday," but, in truth, Ralph's lifestyle, for years before that critical moment when sufficient heart muscle was blocked, triggered the "heart attack" itself. Years of alcohol abuse (more than two glasses of wine/day) can take a physical and mental toll with higher blood pressure, delayed reaction times and increased risk of drug interactions. Osteoporosis takes years to develop. Diabetes, arthritis and many other maladies of aging also have a lengthy onset. Years of smoking inevitably lead to a compromised respiratory system. In reality, it's the routines of earlier years that, after years of living with or denying symptoms, lead us to the doctor. Yes, study after study documents the benefits of exercise to improve life. Jay Olshansky, a professor of medicine and aging researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago writes, "Exercise is the only real fountain of youth that exists. It's like the oil and lube job for your car. You don't have to do it, but your car will definitely run better. Like many others he urges yoga, and tai chi-especially if you don't want to lift weights. Other gerontologists (professionals who study the biological, psychological and sociological phenomena associated with old age and aging) additionally urge a fiber rich breakfast cereal, flossing daily, eating whole foods, not supplements, and at least six hours of shut-eye to "regulate and heal cells."
On the other hand, Gwen Weiss-Numeroff's book Extrarordinary Centenarians in America: Their Secrets to Living a Long Vibrant Life is just one of several new books and published research that attempts to understand what behaviors support healthy longevity.
"Treat everyone the way you want to be treated," "love what you do," "go with the flow," "laugh often (you can't laugh and be angry, sad or envious)," "surround yourself with good friends" are just a few bites of wisdom delivered by these extraordinary people. A conversation with the author supported my own belief that avoiding stress was critical to trumping genetics and avoiding many maladies of aging. She reported, "All of the elders I interviewed were warm, gracious and lovely people. They were funny, witty, accessible and humble." Naturally it leads me to believe that it's the centenarians themselves who set the stage for their good life. After all, a person isn't surrounded by friends (including those who trigger laughter) unless the individual is affable him or herself.
I believe it's important to pay attention to life's coincidences. I was looking for a new message. In recent months my Email box seemed suddenly inundated with research about the aging process. I'd received this book as a gift from my publisher and was able to generate an Email conversation with the author. And, last, but not least, I read a series of post comments and received a highly unusual number of requests from LW residents to write a column that would encourage LW residents to consider changing some bad behaviors and attitudes.
For example, one resident relayed a story where a friend seeking help from an observer when her spouse was injured during a daily walk had been ignored. Another resident found herself embroiled in an irrational experience regarding who had signed up first for a tennis court time. I read a thoughtful post that expressed dismay by a neighbor who had observed several incidents when volunteers had been confronted by angry, abusive residents who gave little thought to the generosity of the people who are instrumental in making life better for those of us who live here. I, too, have watched and listened to residents spew personal attacks against volunteers and paid staff. Here, and in other gated communities I learn of the prevalence of what can only be described as "high school behavior" as gossip is spread about issues that are nobody's business, people gather in groups to whisper behind one another's backs and where, too often, cliques prevail that limit rather than expand the opportunities to continue to learn and grow.
Recently I spoke to a valued friend who suggested that perhaps people simply aren't taking the time to be thoughtful when they deal with others. Too often they may be projecting their discontent and anger inappropriately. For example, if someone is angry about a seemingly unresolvable issue in their personal life, it might be easier to manage the frustration by acting out on the golf course. Perhaps someone who creates untrue stories about how an incident unfolded is simply unskilled at taking personal responsibility for their actions.
As I put this article together the US experienced two tragic events-one in Clackamas, Oregon and one in Newton Connecticut. As I experienced immediately after 9-11, people put aside their differences and the divisive behavior of previous days to stand together in an effort to find solace and understanding and provide support and comfort to recover from events that defy understanding. That is, perhaps, the way we should attempt to live every day starting today. Yes, we need to move, choose food wisely, floss our gums, limit alcohol consumption and stop smoking. But, a thoughtful way of life that puts ourself in another's shoes, chooses laughter and seeing the good in others vs. living in fear and believing in conspiracy may be what will support a centenarian way of life.
"Bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other." Abraham Lincoln
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