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Age Wise: Is it age-wise to stretch a good life to 102?

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My Mark Twain quote last month “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do” and my birthday quip that I surely won’t be around in 20 more years prompted a retort.

A reader sent me a message that he could not believe that I wouldn’t be around at age 102, knowing how active I am. Strangely, soon thereafter I discovered a little book I had tucked away in my aging wellness tool box entitled “Happy to 102!”

Subtitled “The Best Kept Secrets to a Long and Happy Life” by Kathy and James Johnson and Lily Sarafan, it was published in 2009 by Home Care Assistance, Inc., and was dedicated to centenarians around the world. I found the content to be very helpful.

I have been thinking about centenarians — 900 seniors over 100 years of age currently live on the island of Okinawa. According to the US Census Bureau in 50 years more than a million Americans will live past 102. Mmmm — do I want to be one?

As a geriatric care manager in private practice I encountered numerous clients who seemed to “run out of steam” at around age ninety, after which there was very little quality of life. I often stated (joked?) that I would be passing on at age 89 and a half!

This little book encouraging happiness to 102 was trying to change my mind — do I need to adjust both my thinking and my financial resources for an extension? The suggestion that a psychological attitude can be a determinant in how long I live is intriguing.

That revolutionary thought, that we can have some control over our life timetable with a positive commitment to longevity, contrasts to the oft-stated reasons for passing — being called by God, being tired of living, coming to one’s time to die, and being ready to die.

Such life-extending factors as visualization and mental challenge, diet, exercise, sense of purpose and social relationships seem to contribute to happy and healthier lives regardless of age. This thinking is consonant with the theme for Older Americans month (May 2018).

Promoted by the Administration on Aging, this years’ theme Engage at Every Age, emphasizes that you are never too old (or young) to take part in activities that can enrich your physical, mental, and emotional well-being, celebrating the many ways older adults make a difference in our communities.

Examples of what being engaged can mean include such things as participating in activities that promote mental and physical wellness, offering wisdom and experience to the next generation, and seeking the mentorship of someone with more life experience than you.

As I accommodate to a growing list of chronic diseases, I can think of lots of active aging activity less strenuous for those like me with multiple chronic conditions in later life. My computer helps promote aging wellness activities for older Americans in my communities.

Another example of engagement which brings a sense of satisfaction is volunteer driving for the Community Volunteer Transportation Company (CVTC). Other investments in community activities are beneficial to my well-being, as well as boosting feelings of competence and self-esteem.

A TED Talk by Harvard researcher Robert Waldinger, M.D., outlined how we can give ourselves and others the gift of a happier and longer life. He emphasized that the best life involves close connections — quality relationships reduce stress and heal hurts.

The new reality of aging wellness for me includes objectives to avoid stress, exercise moderately, eat less and sleep more. A friend told me “I find myself relating more-and-more to your message. I am slowly learning to reduce my expectations on what I can do and how long it will take. Tough lessons!!”

I have always believed in the concept of the “Power of Positive Thinking” as described by Norman Vincent Peale in his 1952 self-help book. Although it seems plausible that my attitude can impact my ultimate date of death, with benefit to the brain as well as the spirit, I still don’t believe I want to live to 102! How about you?

Owen R. Houghton, Ed.D., lives in Jaffrey and is a retired aging wellness educator, comforted by Summerhill Assisted Living care of his spouse with Alzheimer’s As a member of Monadnock at Home, he is an advocate for aging well. Readers may contact him at nohoughton@myfairpoint.net.

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