Why You Shouldn't Fear Your Golden Years
Sure, getting older has its challenges—but you'd be surprised what a little self-care and a positive attitude can do.
Warner Schlaupitz is 94, legally blind and losing his hearing—but all that doesn’t stop him from competing in the Delaware Senior Olympics.//Photo by Leslie Barbaro
Warner Schlaupitz won medals in cycling and weightlifting in the 2017 Delaware Senior Olympics. In fact, he beat his old cycling record by a minute and lifted 10 more pounds than he did the year before.
For 2018, he plans to ride a little faster and lift a little more weight to qualify for the 2019 competition.
Oh, and he’s 94, legally blind and losing his hearing.
“My philosophy has always been it’s 50 percent mental, 50 percent physical,” says Schlaupitz, a retired plant manager for Playtex who lives in Dover. (He was even lifting weights during commercial breaks while watching a football game on television during the interview.) “Mother Nature gives you muscles and bones and tendons. If you don’t use them, Mother Nature takes them away.”
Skin care and medical advertisements tell us every day that growing older is something to fear, but with a little care and a little positive attitude, living a life like Schlaupitz’s doesn’t have to be unattainable. There are plenty of things to do to help the trip to the golden years be, well, just that—golden.
Remember those crazy stories you read about doctors who used to bleed their patients to cure them? Well, this isn’t about putting leeches all over your body, but giving blood might actually have health benefits. Studies show that people who give blood occasionally (every three years or so) are shown to have less cardiovascular problem risks and less cardiovascular disease. The studies also found a slightly lower risk of cancer in blood donors.
Dr. Chukwudi Ubarieke, a microbiologist at the National Blood Transfusion Service, gave this theory as to why it works. Blood is full of hemoglobin, which is made of iron. You need iron to be healthy, but too much iron can lead to it accumulating in your blood, producing free radicals. While there is a lot of science behind what a free radical is and what it does, the bottom line is it can damage blood cholesterol cells causing them to burst, leaving their contents stuck to artery walls. “Blood donation can ensure that this iron does not get to the level of producing too many radicals.”
So, donating blood helps the donor stay healthy, helps someone who needs blood and there are cookies at the end—it’s a win-win.
Adopt a dog
Yet another reason why dogs are “man’s best friend.” A Swedish study posted in November 2017 found that dog ownership is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and death.
That’s not news to people like Patrick Carroll, executive director of the Delaware Humane Society. It’s not just dogs that make a difference, he says. Pets provide physical activity, support and companionship, says Carroll. There is also the building up of the immune system from the pet licking the owner and bringing dirt into the home. Also, having a pet helps people be more mindful of their own health. A pet owner has to think about caring for the pet to make sure the pet gets proper food and exercise. That mindfulness often spills over into the pet owner thinking of his or her own care, Carroll explains.
Take Jeff Fry, a retired federal investigator for the postal service. People in his Lewes neighborhood think of him, and his Goldendoodle, Mooshie, as the unofficial neighborhood watch. The pair take walks around the neighborhood at least twice a day, covering a total of at least three miles. Plus, there are the stops along the way to visit with neighbors who come out to pet Mooshie or throw her a Frisbee.
Carroll does emphasize that it’s all about getting the right pet for the right owner. Volunteers and staff at the humane society are ready to help with making the right pairing. There are even grants available for people who are 60 and older to help defray the cost of adoption.
Do brain aerobics
At 43, writer Lee Ann Walling earned her MBA. At 57, she learned how to build webpages. Now in her 60s she became FAA certified to fly a drone and is learning Greek so she can read the Bible in the original text. She watched her mother fade away with Alzheimer’s so she’s decided to fight that possibility for herself by keeping her brain really active.
According to doctors and scientists around the world, her method is helping. Learning new skills—especially ones that are new and mentally challenging—can keep the brain functioning as it did when it was younger. In fact, studies have shown that people who take on learning a new, challenging skill, like learning a new language or playing an instrument for the first time, can actually change the dynamics of their brain and cause synapses to start firing again.
There are plenty of learning opportunities in Delaware as well. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute with locations in Wilmington, Dover, Lewes and Ocean View, is for learners 50 and older. It offers classes in the arts, technology, languages, music, economics and law to name a few. Delaware Technical Community College’s three campuses offer everything from computer programming to field trips to historic places in its continuing education courses.
Walling gets frustrated with friends who tell her they are “too old to learn.” They don’t have to be as dedicated to learning as she is, just be willing to try something new and stick to it for a while, she says. It took her a year to get a barre chord to sound clean and clear on her guitar.
“It’s really healthy for your brain,” says Walling. “And it’s so much fun.”
Carin Langen is the owner of Right Balance Pilates in Lewes.//Photo by Leslie Barbaro
Do body aerobics
Yes, the body ages, right down to the ends of our DNA strands that tend to fray on the edges as we get older, but the process doesn’t have to be a downhill slide. Studies show that almost any amount and type of physical activity may slow aging. Research shows that many of the changes attributed to aging are actually caused in large part by disuse.
Yep, Schlaupitz was correct. Use it or lose it.
The good news is that it isn’t too late to start and that even a little bit can make a difference.
Endurance exercises, like walking, riding a bike, jogging and swimming are some of the best ways to protect one’s metabolism. Besides helping with cardiovascular health and weight control, exercise has been shown to boost mood and improve sleep, lower cholesterol levels and even fight some of the neurological signs of aging. More blood to the brain equals more brain function.
Carin Langen, owner of Right Balance Pilates, moved her business to Lewes for the over 55 market specifically.
“Pilates is very safe for almost every person,” says Langen.//Photo by Leslie Barbaro
“Pilates is very safe for almost every person,” she says. She recommends a person see his or her doctor first and then make a free appointment for an evaluation before jumping in. For Sydney Arzt, who is in her mid-70s, Pilates changed her life. Barely able to walk, she was told it was time for a double knee replacement surgery. She chose Pilates instead and today, she walks upright with little pain.
“It strengthens so many parts of your body,” says Arzt. She’s even gone down a shoe size from her regular workouts. “I think I’ve tightened up the muscles and tissues around my feet and ankles.”
Pilates helps strengthen a person’s core—which helps with balance and walking—which can help slow down aging. Langen says Pilates is about being able to ride your bike and not worry about falling off, and being able to pick up your grandchildren.
For at least one of her clients, it’s about surfing at age 70.
Stress less, laugh more
Before running out the door to sign up for puppy and me aerial yoga classes taught in Hindi while you learn to play the cello, take a moment to stop and breathe. Challenging the brain and exercising the body are very important, but so is establishing a sense of calm. Chronic stress is bad for the brain. According to a study published at Dartmouth in 2011, chronic, continued stress can actually shrink the brain. Yikes.
Perhaps laughing a little more is the answer. There are even exercise classes that promote it called Laughter Yoga. The classes, which are offered locally in Media, Pennsylvania, and Lewes, teach laughing and help its participants find reasons to laugh—imagine a room full of middle-aged people literally acting like monkeys. Even faking a laugh at first can lead to real laughter that then releases “feel good” chemicals in your brain.
Try looking for a silver lining in every situation, recommends Walter Bortz, author of “Living Longer for Dummies.” He writes that aging is a self-fulfilling prophecy, so a positive outlook will lead to positive feelings and results. Getting older has its advantages, says Bortz, like more knowledge and experience, the time to do things you couldn’t take on before and the will to stop making comparisons to other people.
SMALL CHANGES CAN HAVE A LASTING IMPACT
Not everything has to be a complete change of life. Sometimes a small tweak to your everyday routine can make an impact. Here is a list of recommendations made by local holistic medical professionals, aging specialists and, well, some seniors who seem to be having a ball.
1. Get a good night’s sleep. Make a habit of going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time to help set your body’s sleep cycle.
2. Drink more water. Proper hydration helps keep all your systems working smoothly (yes, all of them), keeps your skin softer and even helps you sleep better (see No. 1).
3. Play video games. Pull out the old Tetris or Pac-Man games. Or don’t scoff if your grandkids ask you to play Nintendo. Studies show that video games can help increase response times after about 35 hours of play (not continuously). There are even special games designed to stimulate the brain, like those created by companies such as Lumosity and Nintendo.
4. Limit sugar intake. Everybody knows about the dangers of diabetes and obesity, but high sugar diets also add to the aging of the skin by damaging collagen, the stuff that makes skin plump and more youthful. There’s even some information that too much sugar can make the skin more vulnerable to sun damage.
5. Add coconut oil to your diet. There is growing evidence that coconut oil may have some benefit in fighting Alzheimer’s disease, plus its natural antioxidant properties make it a great anti-aging moisturizer for your skin.
6. Eat your blues. Blueberries are considered a super fruit that supply anti-oxidants that help guard against neurological diseases.
7. Become a social butterfly. Get off the couch and get out. Go to lunch with your friends, go on a trip with a group or head to the senior center for weekly games of bingo or bridge. People who socialize are happier and healthier and tend to live 10 percent longer than people who don’t, according to Carol Holzman, director of Cadbury Senior Lifestyles in Lewes.
At 94, Warner Schlaupitz is living proof. He tells the story of how he used to play golf quite often with several younger men who would suggest he slow down because he was getting too old for the game. Schlaupitz didn’t listen.
“I buried all four of them,” he says.