Books offer advice on aging gracefully
It’s autumn, the season that has long been used as a metaphor for the onset of age. So it’s a good time to review books that show us how to enrich the golden years emotionally, physically and mentally, and suggest ways to confront the challenges of aging. Reaching our senior years should be a clarion call for renewal, not a knell for lost youth.
The RBG Workout: How She Stays Strong…and You Can Too!, by Bryant Johnson, illustrations by Patrick Welsh, 128 pages, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, hardcover, 2017.
Bryant Johnson, certified personal trainer and U.S. District Court clerk, has published the workout routine he’s developed for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Complete with meticulous instructions and hand-drawn illustrations, The RBG Workout provides a step-by-step guide to a one-hour twice-weekly workout that is suitable for seniors, even octogenarians like Justice Ginsburg.
The exercises are geared toward strengthening muscles as well as enhancing flexibility, balance and mobility — all vital for older people who wish to live independently.
The workout consists of a five-minute warm-up followed by rotations and stretches, then strength, balance and basic functional exercises ending with a cooldown. At-home suggestions are included for those who are not working out at a gym. Easier alternatives are provided for some of the exercises.
Johnson helpfully provides substitutes for gym equipment. He lists items to be found at home, or inexpensive substitutes that can be easily purchased.
Johnson, a veteran and Sergeant First Class in the Army Reserves, is a resident of Washington, DC. The book is entertaining, the commentary droll, the illustrations whimsical. It makes the very idea of working out fun.
Aging Famously: Follow Those You Admire to Living Long and Well, by Elizabeth Meade Howard, 350 pages, Jefferson Park Press paperback, 2017.
Elizabeth Meade Howard, of Charlottesville, Va., has compiled a book of thoughtful profiles of senior achievers who have thrived with grace, dignity and a healthy mental outlook.
They are about equally divided between male and female. Many have been widowed, some live alone. But they are all busy in the creative arts, literature, politics and other fields that keep them occupied and moving forward with enthusiasm towards the goals they have set.
Howard tells the story of her own father’s tenacious hold to life, and his wide-ranging interest in the world around him. When he died at age 90, she found comfort in meeting others who reached old age with gusto.
In the following decade, she set about interviewing them, mostly in person, and writing short biographies about their purposeful lives, their past achievements, future goals, and what drives them to continue the pursuit of excellence well into old age.
Reading these sensitive and well-written portrayals of the more than thirty seniors who are older than four score and ten is heartwarming and informative.
Many of her subjects live in nearby Virginia, others are celebrities who are Aging Famously. For all who are looking for role models on how to successfully navigate old age, this book will give you many examples.
Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old, by John Leland, 256 pages, Sarah Crichton Books, hardcover, 2018.
Follow a year in the lives of six men and women age 85 and older as chronicled by New York Times’ reporter John Leland. All of them may live in the New York area, but their stories hold universal appeal.
Unlike the profiles in Howard’s book (above), these individuals could be our own neighbors and friends. They are not famous, and must cope with the bureaucratic healthcare system, family estrangements, housing hardships and nursing challenges faced by those with limited resources and aging bodies.
Yet in many ways, they are presented as more real and loveable than the famous and accomplished — relatable and full of foibles, candid in their thoughts, and enjoying more simple pleasures.
What keeps them going? Living with purpose, showing gratitude, accepting death, and choosing happiness. That is Leland’s conclusion bolstered by his subjects and the research studies he cites.
Happiness Is a Choice You Make — it’s a state of mind rather than an objective measure of one’s experiences, Leland shows.
These aged elders, as he calls them, have extracted happiness through the lens with which they have viewed their lives and enjoyed their longevity: finding happiness where others might see misery, taking each new day as a blessing, putting past disappointments in perspective, forgetting the bad, and keeping positive memories alive.
Longevity Decoded: The 7 Keys to Healthy Aging, by Stephen C. Schimpff, M.D., 202 pages, Squire Publishing paperback, 2018.
Physician Stephen Schimpff is Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland Medical Center and its former CEO. Citing the latest research, Schimpff provides readers with a systematic approach to living a long and active life.
He distills the latest scientific discoveries into seven keys that should open a door to an old age that is free of — or at least delays the onset of — chronic illness and frailty.
The seven keys he identifies are: eating the right foods, exercising, managing stress, getting sufficient sleep, eliminating smoking, staying intellectually challenged, and being socially connected.
Longevity Decoded encourages us to follow the good doctor’s prescription no matter our age. The deleterious effects of harmful behavior can be reversed, and it’s never too late to start.
These hopeful and helpful words are accompanied by easy-to-understand suggestions that are specific in nature and not overly onerous to follow. Schimpff writes eloquently about the positive aspects of old age that should be embraced by all.