Thursday, June 30, 2016

Live a Simply Fabulous Life—Whatever Your Decade!

 The recent “Longevity Issue” of Time Magazine held great promise—an entire issue devoted to the joy of longevity, how great! Then I read the very first article title on the cover: “The Alzheimer’s Pill: A radical new drug that could change old age.” My heart sank. My excitement vanished. Once again, getting older was automatically associated with decline and dementia.

Don’t misunderstand me: there are numerous individuals suffering with Alzheimer’s, and I am thrilled that the medical community continues its earnest resolve to alleviate that suffering and find a cure. What dismayed me, was the impression so readily embraced by our society, our media, and just about everyone around, that old age must be a miserable time of decrepitude.

Not! When you actually look at people in their 80s, 90s and beyond, there are an astonishing number who are doing very well. Who are thriving, even into their 100s! For example, George Blevins, won his most recent National Senior Games singles bowling tournament at age 100. Lillian Weber celebrated her 100th birthday in 2015 by surpassing her goal of sewing 1,000 dresses for needy children—she sewed 1,051, all handmade, all personalized.

John W. Donnelly married at 94, toured Europe at 99, and won yet another National Senior Games table tennis championship gold medal—at 100.

Amazing individuals, all three, and yet but a few examples of the many, many more alive and kicking in our communities. Which is why, BTW, I just launched a “MeetTheAmazings” Facebook page—to celebrate the dynamic, thriving, inspiring 60+ers all around us.

What’s terrific, is that science is showing us increasingly , how these happy, healthy older individuals are navigating their decades with such grace.

In a word, it’s attitude. Yes, diet and exercise are important. But more than anything, more than your genes or your status in life, how you think and what you feel are what determine your ability to enjoy a happy healthy long life.

How do you get there? Appreciate what is! Simply put, shift your focus from what you can’t do, don’t have, and are not, to what you can do, do have, and are—here and now. Like Marge, of Marge and Gower Champion fame, world-renowned dancers on Broadway and in movies.

Here’s what Marge says, at 90, in a 2010 documentary with her then dancing partner, Donald Sadler, also 90, in the studio the two used to rehearse and choreograph original pieces since working together in “Folies” on Broadway in 2001: “I think it’s kind of fun to see myself as an old lady . . . All this stuff that’s floating around the universe about being young. In this society, old, or even middle-aged, are dirty words. And everybody wants to live eternally young. Well, I gotta tell you, they’re fighting the wrong cause. They’re gonna get old and they might as well enjoy it . . . I know I had to learn a very, very important lesson, and that was to accept every decade for what it gives you, not for what it takes away. And you can adjust! So you can’t do falls or lifts, but you can still move with grace.”

Wise words indeed. The more you look for what your decades give you, for what you can appreciate--right here, right now--the more likely you are to live a happy, healthy life, throughout your years.

Get your attitude in gear, refuse to live the assumption that old age must be miserable, and have yourself a simply fabulous life!

Two Amazing Life-Changing Tips From Alzheimer’s Patients

Like most people, I assumed that Alzheimer’s was a terrible affliction, all downsides and no upsides. I mean, really, what’s wonderful about losing your memory, getting confused about people and places, and forgetting how to do many of the ordinary activities of life?

As I learned about Alzheimer’s, and came to know some people with dementia, my compassion, patience, and ability to love others regardless of their condition, increased. But never, in my wildest dreams, did I imagine how profoundly what I learned, not about Alzheimer’s, but from people with Alzheimer’s, would change my life for the better.

Let me explain: A friend of mine provides driving services to Alzheimer’s patients, taking them to their various appointments. One day, she was driving one of her charges, when the Alzheimer patient pointed out the window, and said, in a tone of utter amazement, “Look at the sky!” She was in awe of the beauty of the sky, her mouth hung open with appreciation and wonder at its majesty. And with that, my friend told me, she was jolted into really looking at the sky. Into appreciating it for the incredibleness that it is.

I mean, how often do you look at an ordinary sky - not a magnificent sunset or anything like that, just a sky - with awe? I didn’t! Not before I too was “jolted” into awareness. And I’m a big proponent of appreciating everything around us, but the sky? It’s just there. Not so, for the Alzheimer patient. For her, the sky was a new and astounding discovery every day. Frequently, on their drives together, the patient would point to something—the sky, a bird, a tree—and with that same tone of amazement, she would see it, observe it, appreciate it for the wonder that it really is, and as if for the very first time. Which for her, in a certain way, it probably was.

Then there’s the music minister at my church, who shared with us a story about his father with Alzheimer’s. His father had steadfastly maintained, all through the years that our music minister led a choir, that he couldn’t sing, and therefore wouldn’t sing, even though his son was convinced his dad could, if he’d just try it. Well, once his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, he forgot that he didn’t know how to sing. So he stepped right up into the choir and sang. Full voice, and very well at that. When his son commented how well his dad sang, and how terrific it was, his father announced rather indignantly that he couldn’t sing and he certainly would never do such a thing. Which didn’t stop him from joining the choir on the next occasion.

Here are the life-changing tips I learned from Alzheimer’s patients:

1. See everything as if for the first time. 

I don’t care if it’s the sky, your dog, your significant other, your child, your pancakes, your feet. Look at whatever it is and be in awe of its existence. Of what it means to have such a person/thing in your life. Of its beauty, its value to you, and the downright miraculousness of its being. You will enjoy everything in your life so much more. I guarantee it.

2. Forget that you don’t know how to do something. 
If you “forget” your shortcomings, what you’ve always told yourself you couldn’t do—you may just find out that you are capable of far more than you ever thought. So “forget it” as in, “Yeah, I used to think I couldn’t bowl, but you know what? Forget that! Sure. I’d love to go bowling with you!”

There’s so much everyone on the planet has to share, however improbable it may seem at first. I am ever grateful to these Alzheimer patients for showing me how to “forget” that I don’t know how to do something and go for it, instead of being woeful about it, or a defeatist. And while I’m at it, to look at my world, my friends, myself with new eyes.

They taught me to appreciate the marvel that is every bit of our world i, ourselves included, and enjoy the astonishing, eye-popping, ever-engaging wonder of it all.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Studies Show Working Longer Means Living Longer, Healthier Lives

A recent University of Oregon study indicates that staying on the job in your later years may help you live a longer, healthier life. Working past the traditional retirement age not only helps financially, but benefits your health and longevity.

The study, which was published this year in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, analyzed an ongoing study of people age 50 and older. Those working as little as one year past age 65 had an 11 percent lower mortality risk than those who retired and were in similar health. The researchers concluded that “early retirement may be a risk factor for mortality and [that a] prolonged working life may provide survival benefits.

Another study, this time from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), also noted that older working adults are healthier than their retired counterparts. The study uncovered a strong association with employment and health status even after accounting for education, income and lifestyle factors (Health Status of Older US Workers and Nonworkers, National Health Interview Survey, 1997-2001)

Both these studies confirm that staying mentally active, productive, having purpose and maintaining a strong social network of co-workers and friends makes a difference to our health. The CDC study also shows that older workers are emotionally more stable and have lower rates of absenteeism than their younger workers. Older workers have seen it all. They aren’t going to stress over the small stuff. Since there is scientific proof that stress negatively impacts health, when you don’t let stress get to you, your body responds in all sorts of positive ways.

For older individuals who have already retired, volunteering produces similar types of emotional and physical benefits as staying on the job. Contributing to society whether through work or volunteering leads one to appreciate and be grateful for the ordinary experiences of life, which in turn creates mental and physical well-being. Appreciation and gratitude are the secret ingredients that all happy long-lifers share. It’s a state of mind we should strive for no matter our age.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Victim to Victor: An Amazing “Steam Punk” Shift in Focus

Madelaine Cable--before and after.
The other day, a good friend of mine gave a talk in which he described how he overcame his addiction to alcohol, and it basically came down to this: he decided he had a choice. To ease the pain of life by drinking, or to choose happiness. To stop looking at everything that didn’t work in his life, and deliberately look at what was working.

In other words, to shift his focus. Now, this wasn’t a magic wand he was waving. His whole life didn’t radically change from one day to the next, but what did change was how he felt about his life. As he persisted in paying more attention to what he liked about his life, about life generally speaking, he craved alcohol less, he felt better about himself and his life, and with that, his life circumstances got better.

His story reminded of a post I’d read earlier this year about Madelaine Cable, a 17 year old from Charlotte, North Carolina, who’d suffered a fractured T12 (essentially, broke her back) in a car accident, and had to wear a back brace continuously for a couple of months in order for her back to heal properly. The back brace was large and white; people would stare at it and give her weird looks. So Madelaine decided to transform her brace so as to feel proud of it, rather than ashamed and embarrassed by it.
With paint, stencils and a whirlwind of creativity, Madelaine and a friend “steam-punked” her brace into a symbol of victory, of triumph, of the “warrior-survivor” that she is, rather than the victim or “weird one” others saw her as.
What a marvelous shift in focus! What a life-giving, uplifting choice! Not just for Madelaine’s sense of worth and self-esteem, but for the upliftment others could feel from her courageous transformation of a pity-symbol into a victory-symbol.
Every moment in life is a choice point. Every second you can choose to feel good about something, or rotten about it. You can choose to focus on the downside, or do your darndest to find that silver lining. You can remember that optimists—those who focus on the upside, who are hopeful and confident about the future—thrive. As did my friend, the former alcoholic. Optimists do better at work, at school, and at sports, outperform their own talents, are happier and live longer than those who focus on the “ain’t it awful” of life.
Whenever you are tempted to focus on what isn’t working, to sink into that victim-mentality we are all prone to—remember Madelaine and “steam-punk” your way into a better choice. One for joy, happiness and success, always available just a shift in focus away.