Readers reply: This is what ‘aging well’ is all about

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(Elizabeth von Oehsen/The Washington Post)


When we asked what “aging well” looks like, more than 500 readers responded. But one idea came up again and again — aging is a lifelong process, so start thinking about aging well when you’re young. The following is a sample of what readers told us.

Katherine Delanoy, 90, Eagle, Colo.: I started a book group in my 80s, which gave me something to look forward to, I volunteer to help during election years, and I write letters to the editor here and there — all of which help me mentally.

Janette Ellis, 39, Washington, D.C.: I’ve adopted eating well (80/20 healthy to “junk food” ratio), staying active (formal exercise and just being busy with a young family keeps me moving!), having “me time” when I feel it’s necessary for my sanity, getting as much rest as I can, meditating, staying hydrated and having an overall positive outlook on life.

Michelle Justiniano, 54, Hampton, Va.: Once you hit your 40s, you need to realize that the body is not going to react to the same environment that it did when it was 20. We all want to stay young, but realistically, the body is not made to stay that way. “Aging well” means we are still alive to read that book, climb up that hiking trail and eat that late-night dessert. For me, the true key is to stay positive and remain optimistic once that reality hits.

David Ritchie, 79, Portland, Ore.: Resist lethargy!

Stephen Bomber, 60, Portland, Ore.: Looking for an age to start thinking about “aging well” misses the point. The best strategy is to establish a lifestyle that promotes the goal before it’s an issue.

Juliet Powell, 55, Bellevue, Wash.: Aging well for me implies that the society I live in respects the aging process. I can access services, interact socially and contribute without being dismissed or forgotten.

Phoebe Girard, 74, South Dartmouth, Mass.: Put together a circle of older friends with the idea of sharing various outlooks and comparing notes. An elder-circle can be fun!

Pam Luschei, 68, El Cajon, Calif.: In our culture, getting older is not a value we esteem. However, there’s a beauty and wisdom that comes with aging and growing older. Aging well is embracing and accepting the limits of our bodies, while fully living and appreciating the wisdom that has come from experiencing life for six or seven decades.

“Adopt an open mind.”

Bonnie Hughes, 78, Rochester, N.Y.: Adopt an open mind. This has kept me healthier and allowed me to roll with the inevitable punches.

Alice Kopunovitz, 64, Kent, Ohio: I worked as a pharmacy technician for 10 years, and I got the sense that people just felt that they could smoke or live on candy and chips and there would be a pill to fix that. They end up with huge pharmacy bills every month and don’t have a good quality of life. At the same time, there needs to be balance. I don’t feel that eating nothing but grilled chicken and greens while running miles a day is aging well. Trying to make good decisions about your health, your finances, making time for family, friends, and travel are all important.

Rita Liesiefsky, 69, Grafton, Wis.: The only “practice” I have developed is … I’ll be dead soon, so what does it matter? It’s very freeing. I am the old lady I wanted to be!

Patty Rasmussen, 62, Conyers, Ga.: To help my mental and emotional health, I pray in the morning and at night, and I write in a journal. I try not to hold on to anger or negative emotions.

Judith Sonder, 70, East Providence, R.I.: To age well, one needs appropriate housing, regular exercise and checkups, hobbies, a trusted handyman, and a good support system.

At any age, a healthy diet can extend your life

Marguerite Lorenz, 58, Temecula, Calif.: As a professional trustee and executor, I’ve had the privilege of getting well acquainted with hundreds of elders. The successful ones over 80 can still do all the things they want to (physically and mentally) don’t smoke, avoid hard liquor, and not one is overweight. One more thing; embrace your eventual vulnerability; get your estate plan in writing, and keep it up to date.

Mark Tochen, 77, Camas, Wash.: Digging in the garden beats digging in my memories, and the walk along a beach or a river walk is appreciated more than ever. We should cultivate our relationships with good friends and loving family — none of them should be taken for granted, and we should find nearby oases.

Cynthia A. Current, 65, Durham, N.C.: I don’t ever tell myself I can’t do things because of age. This has to be developed as a lifelong attitude. I know people in their 30s and 40s who already think they’re old!

Linda Jaro, 82, Boca Raton, Fla.: You must choose life with all the adventures that come your way, good or bad. Aging brings many losses of family and friends and of certain activities that you used to be able to do. If you keep a positive outlook and take one day at a time, getting older is not so bad.

Sylvia Smith, 69, Ellenwood, Ga.: We should begin to think about aging well in our 20-30s as what we do then can impact our health in our later years. I compare it to investing. The sooner you begin, the greater your return in the long run. Healthy eating, regular, consistent exercise, social activities, and religious engagement! And by all means spend time on a yearly basis with a counselor! Getting rid of baggage and issues earlier in life make for a healthier future.

Abby Dart, 66, Brooklyn: At age 63 (I’m now 66) I decided to try the opposite approach of so many (move to Florida, embrace a senior community, retire or just stay in place), and I sold my house, my car and moved from Ann Arbor to a small apartment in Brooklyn. I had to learn a brand new lifestyle of subways, dense urban living and the usual challenges of a city like NYC. However, I think a big part of aging well is to always be trying new things and stepping out of ones comfort zone.

“It’s about vitality … not age!”

Barbara Holleb, 75, Springfield, Va.: Stay connected to your inner child. It’s about vitality … not age!

Erin Bethea, 60, Akron, Ohio: As I’ve watched my quite elderly father decline I have learned that even when you know you have become a burden to your loved ones and your world has grown quite small you can still make a positive contribution to their lives simply by expressing gratitude for their caregiving, accepting their assistance rather than fighting it, complimenting their efforts, saying something witty or playfully teasing them, and generally maintaining a positive attitude. My father lights up with happiness when he sees that he has made me laugh or smile. He knows he has made my day a little better.

Janet Anderson, 75, Vancouver, Wash.: This month, I added a smartwatch and wireless ear buds to help monitor my vital signs and to provide a lifeline in the event of a fall. And I can listen to books and music while I engage in my latest activity, Nordic walking.

Roger Harms, 75, Edmond, Okla.: Long before you’re really old, select a home sited within easy walking distance of a number of shops and services. It is healthier and freeing to engage with life in the absence of total dependence on motor vehicles. By simply walking to the grocery for a couple of items or to do some banking will be promoting your health.

Jean Potuchek, 74, Poland, Maine: The biggest barrier to aging well is ageism, all the negative messages that older people are bombarded with every day and often internalize. It is never too soon or too late to fight ageism in our society.

Kiesa Kay, 61, Micaville, N.C.: I often feel invisible as I sit here in this little house surrounded by my ghosts and my memories. I have to force myself to get out and try relentlessly to make new memories again and again. Sometimes I just miss everybody. Aging well means being willing to jump into the river and swim. It means being ready to sleep outside under the stars. It means taking waterfall walks, and it means accepting the things that are irrevocably changing.

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