By Brian Goslow
The key to healthy and happy aging takes an attitude adjustment and a behavior change. Just ask Gerry Blight, 61, of Las Vegas, who could have become disheartened when he was diagnosed with heart disease at age 50. Instead, he took a course of action that reversed his physical and cognitive health — becoming more physically active and increasing the amount of writing he did.
“While I cannot discount the advantages of improved blood flow from aerobic exercise, the reading and composition have been incredible and the writing has seriously improved my memory,” said Blight, who has written several screen plays based upon historical events that required a lot of reading. “My recall of historical dates and events would be the envy of any college student.”
When he realized the rejuvenation he was undergoing, Blight set out to write a book on the subject of health and aging. He said the complexity of researching and composing a 90,000 word manuscript and then editing it down to what became Fittin’ It All In: Adult Fitness, 40 to Forever improved his mental faculties.
“My health has never been better,” Blight said. “I still see a cardiologist, but the visits are relatively calm check-ups as I follow a good diet and stay active. Earlier this week, I ran four miles on a treadmill and then finished my workout with a one-mile climb on a stair-stepper. I was tired, but invigorated.”
This July, Blight will be competing in the National Senior Games in Minneapolis, Minn., having earned the right by qualifying in field events at the Nevada Senior Games. “It is fun, and the people you meet are amazing,” he said.
While much of the advice given on healthy aging comes from doctors, nutritionists and other health-oriented professionals, sometimes it’s the patients and customers that inspire.
A few years ago, Dr. Mehrdad Ayati received some invaluable advice from a female patient, who was nearing age 90. The Octogenarian, who was still living an active life, told him that he should put all his medical tips and advice he has given her during office visits into a book so she wouldn’t have to fit her doctor appointments into his busy schedule.
“I have finally taken her advice,” said Ayati, a clinical assistant professor of medicine and general medical disciplines at the Stanford School of Medicine. Ayati wrote about his female patient in the introduction to Paths to Healthy Aging, which he co-authored with colleague Dr. Arezou Azarani. “My visits with her brought a lot of pleasure and enthusiasm for me and were the highlights of my days. God bless her soul, she knew how to live, play and enjoy life to the fullest. She did not let anything get into her way. That is how we should all live.”
Each of the book’s five chapters: Nutrition, Mental Health, Frailty, Overmedication (Polypharmacy) and How to Find a Geriatrician, comes with a series of questions intended to get the reader on the road to learning how to evaluate their current health situation and practices.
When it comes to healthy aging, Ayati believes there is a lot of information out there and most of it is very confusing for his patients, their caregivers and the general public. “Those recommendations for healthy and happy living are hard and often impossible to follow,” he said. “In my practice, I am faced with many disappointed patients who are exhausted from following these unsuccessful and complex steps. Our goal for writing this book was to clarify a few of these misconceptions and simplify the journey.”
Using his professional experience on what course of action has worked best for his patients to achieve meaningful, joyful and healthy lives, Ayati (who, with Azarani) put together a “simple workbook,” intentionally omitting long explanations and complex medical terms to keep things straightforward. “We chose five topics that are of most interest to my patients and kept things simple, short, concise and easy to understand and follow,” he said.
Being pro-active rather than reactive is the key takeaway in the quest for healthy aging. “Many of the medical conditions and ailments the elderly suffer from can be avoided through preventative measures or by being proactive about their health as they age,” Ayati said. “The more proactive they are, the better they can prepare themselves to live a healthy, happy, high quality and independent life as they age.”
It helps to plan your time so that you’re engaged doing things that you enjoy and are interested in or feel is making a contribution to family, friends or community.
“It’s when you are bored, dissatisfied, and feel your life has no meaning — that you are going to die inside — and then your brain, too, is going to decline,” said meditation teacher and author George A. Boyd, founder of the Mudrashram Institute of Spiritual Studies in Los Angeles.
Boyd left his academic and vocational counseling job at the age of 60 to pursue what he considers his life’s work. “It’s been the most creative time in my whole life,” he said. “During this time — a little over four years since I left work, I wrote and published 12 books, presented hundreds of webinars and taught meditation students all over the world.” Boyd has continued to learn and train, becoming a certified NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming)practitioner at 62 and life coach at 64.
To make the most of the second half of life, Boyd said people need a vision of what they truly want to do with their lives, then plan for it and make it happen. “If you are excited, if your life is an adventure, if you are doing what you have always wanted to do, and when you wake up each day and move the boulder further — your brain is not going to decline,” he said.
Getting rid of “I can’t” and “don’t” attitudes can be the most important change you can make on the road to healthier aging, said Murray Grossan, founder of the Grossan Health and Ear Institute, who helps clients with stress management.
Grossan gave an example of a six-week study that required participants to play the Tetris computer game or Bridge. MRI testing then revealed that a new part of the brain began operating.
He also encourages increasing the use of the senses, and teaches his clients to improve their smell recognition. “At the store, test your skills in recognizing what are in the perfumes — rose or jasmine (for example),” Grossan said. Another helpful exercise is improving the sense of touch by going into the closet, closing your eyes and trying to identify clothes and what they’re made of. “Practice when you go shopping by feeling the material and then read the labels (to see if you were correct).”
While much attention is given to individuals who accomplish great things later in life, Grossan, author of Stressed? Anxiety? Your Cure is in the Mirror, said being creative doesn’t mean you have to write a great book. “(Getting) new dishes and new table settings is using your creativity, too,” he said. “Being creative makes you younger, especially when it’s done with humor. Watch any seniors taking an art class — the ones molding clay look younger.”
In her book, 60, Sex & Tango: Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer, wellness expert Joan Frances Moran shares how she overcame all the stereotypes that came along with getting older. Her big turning point, Moran wrote, was the morning she woke up having turned 64 and found she had no desire to get out of bed. As she just lay there, she realized she needed a playbook to guide the next part of her life.
And while, at times, she felt that if she wanted to compete in today’s youth-oriented society she could still feel as if she was 19, what she wanted — and needed — was to embrace and celebrate her true age. “The trendy mantra that 60 is the new 50 is delusional because boomers believed that our world-weary intellect, over the top charm, and scintillating personalities would always give us an advantage over other generations.”
Becoming a yoga teacher and engaging in daily meditation helped Moran find inner happiness with her current self. “Mindfulness inspires new skill sets that quiet the mind, raise our level of consciousness, increase awareness and foster health,” she said. “The practice of mindfulness has been proven to alter the molecular structure of the brain making us healthier and happier, enhancing self-assurance and the ability to sustain change.”