Slow down as we age? Not necessarily


What do you plan to do when you're 75?

A friend of mine seems to have no problem answering that question.

There's teaching at a major university, writing a book, working with the Kiwanis (and being honored as their Man of the Year in the process), compiling a multigenerational, multifamily genealogy, volunteering at a major stage production, giving time to his alumni association (and being honored as their Man of the Year, too), driving the church van that brings the elderly to Sunday services, organizing a family cookbook, building bird houses, and celebrating a 50th wedding anniversary with a gathering for more than 100 family and friends. And I'll bet I missed something.

Where does he get the energy to do all that?

Well, research suggests he has the energy because he does all that.

There has been a major about-face in our understanding of aging and health. Not so long ago, we were cautioned to slow down as we aged. Since our mental and physical ability obviously declined as we grew older, we needed to do less and conserve what we had. Our "vitality" was a limited resource and needed to be doled out sparingly as we grew older.

Today, experts on aging advise almost the opposite. In fact, we should do as much as possible as we enter our senior years. Regular mental and physical activity actually preserves, and even increases, our energy and ability.

Not all of us can be as active as my friend (or another friend of mine who ran a marathon to celebrate his 60th birthday).

Aging, not to mention illness and injury, take their toll on all of us. Yet we also know that even the impact of seemingly incapacitating conditions can be mitigated to some degree if we resolve to stay as mentally and physically active as possible.

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Now we may have to start slowly, especially if we've let ourselves get into the habit of doing less. And we will never recapture the glory days of our youth, nor should we compare our level of activity or accomplishment to anyone else's.

We have to find out what is comfortable and healthy for us. But if we simply do a little more each day, if we stretch ourselves just a bit, we often will be pleasantly surprised at just how much we can get out of life, no matter how old we think we are.

Whether we're 55 or 75 or 95, we need to do as much as possible with what we have. And the more we do, the more we'll have.

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