My mom and dad both died in their early 70s, so when I turned 80 two years ago, that was older than I ever expected to be.
Since my parents were not role models for a vital old age, I had to figure it out for myself. I think I’ve done a pretty good job, since this has turned out to be the busiest, happiest and most successful period of my life!
Here are my tips for aging well, with a smile and finesse.
- Don’t socialize exclusively with seniors.
When I’m around people of my advanced age, I feel my advanced age. When I hang out with my younger friends, I forget my advanced age. For one thing, they keep me up-to-date on the latest trends. This is important, since I rarely recognize the name of this week’s musical guest on Saturday Night Live. In return, these young ones seem to value my wisdom, and there’s nothing I enjoy more than advising people on how to live their lives. It’s a win-win situation.
- Wake up with a project.
Have a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Maybe you’re hosting your bridge club. Maybe you’re writing a memoir. Maybe you’re one of those weirdos who feels the need to alphabetize your spice cabinet. Whatever works. It doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as it’s something fun and satisfying. There’s nothing more depressing than facing the prospect of a day with no planned activity.
- Find your community.
Isolation: bad. Interaction: good. If you’re lucky, you’ve got lots of close friends and loving family nearby, or you are an active member of a religious or senior community. If you’re not that lucky, it’s still important to feel that you are part of a group that cares about you. I have that with my neighbors, my creative colleagues, and a wide and diverse circle of friends. Whether it’s a sewing group or a political club, get out there and socialize. A life lived alone is not a life. Even Henry David Thoreau lasted only two years in the woods, writing Walden. Then he moved back in with his parents.
- Imitate the blue zone lifestyle.
There are certain communities in the world where people live longer and healthier — and are more sexually active — than anywhere else. Even though they are not geographically connected, all these communities, from Sardinia, Italy, to Yorba Linda, California, do have certain traditions in common. These traditions have to do with diet, physical activity and a strong sense of community. I read the book The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner and have tried to follow some of the lessons of these feisty nonagenarians. On the Greek island of Ikaria, where there is no word for privacy, villagers get together every night for some red wine and music. Sounds like a plan to me.
- Move your body.
Take a walk. Take a hike. Take a swim. Play some tennis. Do Pilates. Best of all: Blast some Aretha Franklin and boogie around your living room. (I have a friend who likes to do this naked. Why not?) I’m not saying you should move your body a few times a week. I’m saying move your body every single day of your life. The more time spent lying on the couch or sitting at the computer, the less time spent on earth.
- Do something you’ve never done before.
I am not about to race a motorcycle, but I’ve always wanted to go snorkeling. This may not sound like a great challenge to normal people, but I have a fear of having my eyes and ears underwater. On the other hand, I love the idea of closely observing those magnificent aquatic creatures from the Blue Planet series. If I can sell enough of these sea-life articles to pay for a Caribbean vacation, I am determined to swallow my fears and — hopefully — not too much salt water.
- Don’t give up on sex.
Orgasms are good for you. Get them any legal way you can. Be inventive.
- Exercise your intellect.
Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, Words with Friends, learning Italian, taking an online finance course. Keep those minds active and growing and alive.
- Spend some time with a human being every day.
I’m not talking Zoom. I’m not talking Facetime. I’m talking a live, person-to-person get-together. Even if you have a spouse, partner or roommate, it’s blissful to get out and schmooze with someone you don’t see all the time. I often forget to do this because I’m so focused on getting my work done. Then I meet a girlfriend for lunch and I suddenly remember how inspiring and validating and life-affirming that experience can be.
- Make the world a better place.
So, you’re retired. You’re financially secure. You can play golf whenever you feel like it. You can take your kids and grandkids on a cruise down the Rhine. You can give yourself a spa day when you need a little extra me time. All these things are pleasurable, and you have worked hard to earn them. But I think you might get even more pleasure from using your skills to do something for others. I know a retired businesswoman who is a relentless advocate for the homeless. I know a wealthy lawyer who created an organization that fights genocides. These women are my heroes. That’s why I should have my own news program. I would call it The Antidote, and would only air stories that are inspiring and optimistic. I'm too busy to do it right now — maybe when I’m 85.