"To be too certain of anything is the beginning of bigotry." -- Novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Do You Believe These Myths About Aging?

     It's fair to day that most Americans do not look forward to old age. They fear sickness and disease, their diminished physical and mental capabilities, and the attitude of younger people who often consider them irrelevant, or even amusing. But it turns out that what a lot of people believe about the aging process is wrong. Do you fall for any of these common myths about aging in the 21st century?

     How long we live depends on our genes. We cannot pick our parents, so we are stuck with the genes we were born with. But in reality, how those genes are expressed depends a lot on how we live our lives  Our thoughts, emotions, lifestyles, and how we cope with stress, all go a long way in determining whether certain genes are turned on or off.

     This means we have the power to nurture the good genes and prune back the bad ones. For example, someone may be genetically disposed toward Alzheimer's disease, but whether they actually get Alzheimer's depends largely on their lifestyle, including sleep, diet, stress levels. My brother-in-law, whose father died of heart disease at age 49, never smoked or drank, and he just celebrated his 74th birthday. My ex-wife's older brother, a former marathoner, is the first person in his family to reach age 80.

     Our bodies will get frail and fall apart. Everyone who has been on earth the same amount of time has the same chronological age, but they don't all have the same biological age. Our biological age is based on how well our bodies function, including blood pressure and weight, bone density and cholesterol levels.

     A healthy 60 year old who takes care of herself may be biologically no older than a 40 year old who does not. Anyone can lower their biological age with exercise and good nutrition. One simple example: Harvard Magazine reported that subjects who walked an average of just ten minutes a day lived almost two years longer than those who didn't exercise at all.

     Our sex lives will deteriorate. Our energy levels, of all kinds, depend more on lifestyle and attitude than they do on chronological age. Meditation, restful sleep and exercise are effective ways to pump up energy levels. While it's true that testosterone, the hormone associated with male sex drive, diminishes with age (f.y.i., testosterone levels are higher in the morning, lower at night), the reality is, for men as well as women, sex drive is mainly generated in the head.

     More problematic than aging, for both men and women, are factors such as stress, fatigue, medical conditions and tensions within a relationship. So as long as we can think sexually and communicate our needs and desires, we can remain sexually active – which may not always involve intercourse but can include plenty of other intimate activities.

     We're not as smart as we used to be. B doesn't like me to brag about this, but she was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate at her college. Now one of her go-to phrases is: "I used to be smart." But I keep reminding her of a study from the University of California and Columbia University. Researchers tested a group of 20-somethings against people in their 60s and 70s, in various subjects, and found that despite a general loss of mental acuity, the older group did better than their younger test-takers in almost every category.

     How is that? The younger people were better able to manipulate information and process it quickly. But the older subjects benefited from their knowledge acquired through culture, education and a lifetime of experience. They had more focus, a better perspective and more patience. And for most practical applications – whether buying a house, driving a car, or playing cards – the wisdom that comes with age trumps the quick-mindedness of youth.

     We will get cranky and be unhappy. Not true. Here's what the scientists found out. Studies have consistently shown that happiness declines with age for the first couple of decades of adulthood – even for people who are successful, as many high achievers never seem to fully appreciate their success. People's levels of life satisfaction typically bottom out in their 40s. But then they begin to increase as they age through their 60s. The pattern has become known as the happiness U-curve.

     So take heart in the 2011 study from Stanford University that concluded, "The peak of emotional life may not occur until well into the seventh decade.”

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Philosophy of the Beach

     We're tourists here in Charleston, SC, and so when it gets cold or cloudy on the beach, as it did the other day, we go do the other thing that tourists do -- visit the local shopping area and browse around the souvenir stores, with their t-shirts, pillows and candles.

The fog keeps some people away, not others

     Some of the sayings on the t-shirts are funny, some are inspirational. All of them taken together could be said to offer a philosophy of the beach. Here's a sampling of what I saw the other day, when the mists rolled on shore and sent us inland for a shopping excursion:

     Go where you feel most alive

     Happiness is sand in your toes and a shell in your pocket

     Coffee keeps me busy, until it's acceptable to drink wine

     Live a pineapple life: Be sweet on the inside, stand tall, and wear a crown

     Not all who wander are lost

     For a happy life you need three things: Someone to love, something to do, something to look forward to

     I could keep this kitchen clean if you people would just stop eating here

     If you love me, you'll let me sleep

     Today's menu: Eat it or starve

     Family means nobody gets left behind

     In our home we laugh, we share, we make mistakes, we love, we dream, and count our blessings

     Fortunately, the sun has come out again, so it's time to take a walk down to the pier and take advantage of what we really came here for -- the sand, the sun and most especially the warm weather. It's going up to 82 today. We have another week or so of Snowbirding. Then it's back north to find -- I hope -- early spring in the mid-Atlantic state that we've chosen to make our home.

It's a new day!

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Educated Retiree

     Last year B and I took part in a series of discussions offered by the Foreign Policy Association called "Great Decisions." The eight-week program was offered at the senior center where we were living at the time, in Connecticut, and also where we were vacationing at the time, in Charleston, SC. So while we were away from home, instead of missing some sessions, we caught up with them in South Carolina.

     So this year, when we moved to Pennsylvania, we looked for a place where they offered the course. We didn't find anything near where we lived, so we approached our local Center for Learning in Retirement and . . . long story short, we will be moderating the course this spring at home, starting in March.

     In preparation for that, we are attending the sessions which have already started in Charleston. So far we've learned about Russia and China, and yesterday we talked about Turkey.

     The Great Decisions program is offered every year, all over the country, typically in a local library or senior center, or the community college. I'd encourage anyone who's interested in foreign policy, or learning a bit more about the world, to look into the program in their area.

     As you know, I'm all in favor of using retirement to enrich our lives and advance our education. So I wrote a piece for US News called 4 Ways to Further Your Education in Retirement. Here's how it begins; go check it out if you're interested.

     A couple of years ago I visited my sister in Jacksonville, Florida, as part of my annual snowbird trip. When I arrived she told me she and her husband would be busy one night. They were taking a course called "The 1960s and Vietnam" at the University of North Florida. She went on to explain that the university has a program allowing Florida residents, age 60 and above, to audit regular undergraduate courses with tuition waived.
     I asked to come along. So one weeknight in February we joined 20 or so undergraduates, along with half a dozen retirees, to listen to a lecture and participate in a class discussion about the Kennedys, the Johnsons and the Vietnam War. The 20-year-old students got first-hand reports about the 1960s from people who lived through the events. Two of the retirees in the class were Vietnam veterans who related personal observations about the conflict.

     There are many learning opportunities available to retirees for free or at a low cost. And there’s a bonus: You not only learn something, you also have the chance to socialize with other people who have similar interests. Here are four ways to further your education in retirement . . . 


Saturday, February 10, 2018

Sightings of Charleston

     I signed up for another photography class at our Center for Learning in Retirement, at home in Pennsylvania. Like the course I took last fall, the class culminates with each student presenting a portfolio of pictures centered on a particular theme.

     Since I'm in South Carolina, and not in Pennsylvania, I picked for my theme: historical Charleston.

     So here's a preview of the photos I've been taking. Of course, I'll be taking more, and culling trough them to choose the best, but this is my first effort. Any feedback you can give me -- photos you especially like, or ones you think are boring or cliches -- would be much appreciated and help me put this all together.

     We'll start out with a picture of East Bay Street, showing the elegant houses along Charleston harbor.

     And then a view across the harbor, out to Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.

     This is a view of the First Presbyterian Church of Charleston . . . with three doors, perhaps symbolizing the holy trinity?

     And here's a view down Broad St., a main thoroughfare in Charleston, taken from the Old Exchange Building, once a slave market and prison. Notice the British flag (Charleston was named after King Charles) and the American flag with 13 stars.

     So the theme is Charleston history. Two signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried in this churchyard: South Carolina governor John Rutledge (1739 - 1800), who was rejected as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and tried to commit suicide by jumping off a wharf into Charleston harbor, and another South Carolina governor Charles Pickney (1746 - 1825) who went on to become a U. S. Senator. But I was more interested in this grave, of Margaret Charlotte Elford, 1817 - 1860. The inscription says . . .

Leaving a husband with seven young children to lament their irreparable loss
She was
In childhood obedient
In wedlock virtuous
In prosperity humble
In adversity resigned
In sickness patient
In death happy

     And here's another photo from the graveyard which I thought was interesting simply because there's a daffodil blooming, in early February!

     This rather abstract photo shows the buried-and-recovered city wall from the 1700s, visible along the top of the picture.

     And this abstract photo is a close-up of a sweetgrass basket, traditional work from the local Gullah culture, still handmade and then sold on Charleston's city streets.

     And finally, two photos showing typical, traditional Charleston features. A gated private garden . . . 

     And the side porch of a house, with the front door leading not into the house, but onto the porch -- all designed to let the sea breezes through to cool off the home.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Sunset in South Carolina

      I have drifted north from Florida to South Carolina, where a few days ago I met up with B. The weather is sunny and in the 60s.

     I finished the project I was working on, and so now I'm back to being retired. And back to blogging. Congrats to Bob Lowry who, I saw, had a piece of his called "What Factor Determines the Success of Your Satisfying Retirement" picked up by the Olderhood website. How can you not want to click over to Olderhood and find out what it is?

     Which reminds me . . . don't forget that I have a list of "More Resources" way down at the bottom of my blog, referencing lots of other sites that might be helpful to us in retirement. Check it out . . . or really, check it out periodically to see what's going on elsewhere in the world of retirement.

     So anyway, last evening B and I together walked out to the pier and watched the sunset.

     This is the view at 5:57 p.m. yesterday, looking east.

     And this is from the same spot, also at 5:57 p.m., looking west.

          As Bob Lowry reminds us, none of us will ever have a problem-free retirement. But may we all have a happy and peaceful retirement.