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“Focus on Health” - Age and Ageing

by the Social Diary Health Columnist Ruth S. Jacobowitz
Column #5, January 30th, 2006

I have a cartoon in one of my lectures that shows a frankly late middle-aged woman dressed to the nines speaking to her frankly middle-aged husband and exclaiming, “Seventy is the new fifty!” I put it into my lecture a couple of years ago to make the point that we are living longer and healthier lives.

Then, on a CBS Sunday Morning—there was a long segment entitled “Seventy is the new Fifty.” I was really interested in the program because my friends of a certain age seem more active and vibrant than I ever thought individuals in those years were in past generations.

I remember in my youth there was always an old Aunt or Uncle that we were supposed to visit and remember on special occasions. Now Aunts are in their Pilates or Yoga classes and Uncles are lifting weights and entering marathons. It has long been rumored that the late great actress Helen Hayes once said, “Rust is rust!” Well there is nothing rusty about the new 70 year olds.

I meet couples on cruise ships all the time that are 70 or much older who are sailing with original partners (or new ones if illness or fate intervened) who work out each morning, tour all day, and dance half the night away. So what is it that changed our lives so dramatically?

We have to give medical advances lots of credit for this unique change. Drugs to combat high cholesterol and high blood pressure, stents to widen and hold open clogged arteries, advances in cardiac surgery, advances to combat cancer, and to forestall Alzheimer’s disease all have contributed to this groovy middle age. I say middle age, because I believe middle age begins around the age of forty and goes on for as long as one is healthy.

Creativity seems to come alive when we have more time and my painting class is filled with people of all ages. Many are really talented; others are expressing themselves in oils for the first time and loving it. Knitting, needlepoint and crocheting are more popular than ever, and many knit shops not only have classes, but invite customers to drop in, not only to figure out how to pick up a stitch, but to pick up a conversation with a new friend. I’ve even heard of knitting clubs in Manhattan. People now are also taking more time to play bridge, work crossword puzzles, and to volunteer their time helping others. And many of these young, aging adults have become community activists helping their communities, our country, and the world.

Living arrangements have also changed and retirement communities are all the rage. These communities offer all sorts of activities--softball, water aerobics, fully equipped fitness centers, tennis, golf, health and beauty spas, classes, lectures, and trips to theatre, shopping, museums, etc. I remember learning of a group of friends who wanted to be together as they aged and not have their children take care of them and so they pitched in and bought a large house with bedrooms for all the participants where they could live together taking turns with housekeeping and bookkeeping chores. Some live there full time now, others part time, and still others visit, but they’ve all been friends for years and have each other to count upon as their lives change as they age.

On that CBS Morning show, Robert Butler, M.D. the president of the International Longevity Center and the physician whom I consider the guru geriatrician said, when asked to describe the aging population in America today, “Well, it certainly is a lot healthier, more robust and vigorous than it used to be.”… “ I think health is the central issue. People define the beginning of old age when they feel a decline in function: a decline in physical function, a decline in cognitive function. So function and health are at the heart of it.”

* Ruth S. Jacobowitzis a health advocate, lecturer, and the author of five consumer health books. Her newest book is Final Acts—a novel. Visit Ruth at her web site www.ruthjacobowitz.com .

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