Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

4 Things Healthy Older People Have in Common

old people.jpg
I’m, right now and right here, sitting on the peak of that so-called hill we always talk about. Things could go swell for another 40 years, at which time I’ll be buried by any remaining friends. Or they could blow up in my face and trim my life back by a few decades. My body is no longer resilient to careless experiments. That’s for sure. At almost 40, I do indeed suffer the consequences of an extra shot of espresso, two nights of interrupted sleep, or a chocolate binge.


The forgiveness and flexibility of my youth has officially gone bye-bye.

So I’ve begun to ask myself what the energetic 80-year-olds that swim at the Naval Academy with me are doing differently than the lifeless elderly folks at the senior center I occasionally visit. And, yes, I’ll occasionally pretend to be Barbara Walters and ask nosy questions about what they are doing right (or wrong, but I don’t quite word it like that).

Here are a few observations from my unscientific study, four characteristics or things in common the winners have:

1. They like to laugh.

Yep, nearly all of them have a marvelous sense of humor. And this is consistent with a Norwegian study that suggests folks who can laugh at life’s ups and downs live longer. For example, the study, which was presented at a meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society and reported by USA Today, followed a subgroup of 2,015 cancer patients for seven years, and found that the people who could laugh more easily and had a healthy sense of humor were 70 percent less likely to die than the poker-faced guys.


2. They are involved.

Yep. Each and every one of them was engaged in some type of project: babysitting their grandkids, participating in some writers’ group, working on a literacy campaign, or playing a part in the local theatre group. All the vibrant folks had some passion or life mission that got them up in the morning and gave them reason to wake up another day.

3. Most of them are religious.

The majority of the healthy people I interviewed were regular churchgoers and had an active faith life. In fact, Time magazine recently published a cover story on how religion is beneficial to your health. One study mentioned was that of social demographer Robert Hummer of the University of Texas. He found that persons who never attend church have twice the risk of dying over the next eight years as believers who attend once a week. Daniel Hall, an Episcopal priest and a surgeon at the University of Pittsburg Medical Center, who was also mentioned in the article, found that church attendance in itself accounts for two to three additional years of life.


4. They watch what they eat.

I was so hoping that this would not be the case, because I am aware that maintaining your weight gets more difficult with every year you hike down from that peak. Metabolisms slow and appetites grow, because energy starts disappearing like coal, and you can’t burn off the calories that used to crank up your metabolic rate. And will power? Well, it’s where the energy is … gone.

Well, that gives me plenty to work on this week. I don’t know about you.

Do you have any of your own observations?

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  • Lorna

    Hi Therese,
    I’d add to this what a person believes about growing older.
    I remember seeing a woman who lived near to my family age by what seemed like 20 years in 3 months. Her dress sense – everything seemed to change very suddenly. She was only about 50 and started to present herself as a much older and frailer woman. Withdrawing from previous activities as she ‘just did not have the energy anymore’ – it seemed to be more to do with her personal belief about hitting a certain age.
    Congratulations – I did 40 last year and it’s great – a new vintage, with plenty of it’s own treasures. Enjoy! (o:

  • Barbara Bowman

    I’ve noticed something else. Some people are obsessed by numbers, meaning, they give weight to each passing year. Every birthday my husband (who has been “getting old” since age forty,) makes the comment that *I’m* getting old. If my knee bothers me, I’m “getting old,” according to him. I’m certainly aware of aging. My middle has gotten rounder, and I don’t feel like running with the grandchildren. But, age for me is really just a number. “Old” people are ready for the rocking chair. Getting older doesn’t have to mean much of anything if you still have a zest for life.

  • Your Name

    Age is but a number. In todays world like the other responses “getting older” doesn’t mean that we pull out the rockin’ chair. It is a state of mind. At 51-yrs old, I have taken the position, that I make my own happiness, whatever that might be. Today, I am in better health than the past 50-yrs. I have lost weight, watching what I eat, starting walking/running, have interests that I share with others (church/knitting club). I have a new look on life, that today is the only day I need to live in, and if I stay focused on today, then their can be a tomorrow.

  • AlaMich

    This undoubtedly goes without saying, but exercise, exercise, exercise!! Along with watching what you eat, this is another one I wish weren’t so. My uncle, who is almost 71, has been swimming, biking, running or walking probably every day for most of his life, could pass for late 50s, is in great health and very lean. And I have a sneaking suspicion that the really healthy elderly people aren’t the ones who just go walking 3 times a week, but the ones who are doing really vigorous activity 5-6 days a week. *sigh* I’m trying, but I am not athletically inclined, and unfortunately, exercise doesn’t really do much for my depression, although it does help with anxiety.

  • Your Name

    I am 69 and going on 70 in December and I do not feel old at all. My hair is silver and my face has a few wrinkles and laugh lines, but I am told that I am young for my age.
    I notice that many of my friends who are around my age or even younger talk about all their ailments. They swell on negativity. I have 2 dogs and I walk every day up a very steep hill with them. They keep me young too. And I try to eat healthy.
    I am not a religious person. I believe in God, but do not go to any house of worship. I belief we can pray anywhere and God will hear us.
    The thing that keeps me young is my attitude towards life. It does not matter how old you are you can over come any adversity if you really want to. Every day is a challenge and I take it one day at a time. The important thing is to live in the moment and take each day as it comes. Surround yourself with the things you are most passionate about and you love the most. All these things are the key to staying young.

  • Your Name

    Common denominators for those living to 100+: (from an old TV interview)
    1) They remained physically active – most not overweight.
    2) They always had events and activities to look forward to.
    3) They had a sense of humor.
    4) They possessed the ability to cope with loss.

  • Angels mom(marie)

    I’m 52, I still get surprised that I have white hair, that I’m overweight and I can’t do all I want to do. Because in my heart I’m still in my 30’s. We aren’t all going to be movie stars or be skinny that is the way it is. We just need to have patience with ourselves and try to mentally adjust to changes. I still want to roller skate, but if I would it would be on carpet or grass. Maybe with a pillow tied to my butt. I move like a turtle and built like a gnome. That is the way it is. But we can laugh at ourselves, when we screw up.

  • Vince

    You forgot one important point about Seniors. They EXERCISE! Whether it’s walking, running, biking, hiking, swimming or any form of physical exercise that they’re able to do is helpful to living a good healthy life.

  • Your Name


  • T Harrell

    They mind their business.

  • SuzanneWA

    Milton Berle once said – “Laughter is an instant vacation.” I find that the more I laugh at the silly things I do – and I do plenty – the better I feel about myself. I’m a twice-widowed, 61 years’ young woman with bipolar disorder (Kind of a prescription for disaster, no?), but as long as I do my daily Bible reading (on the Internet!), and have FAITH that I’m gonna live just as long as the Lord wants me on this planet, then I’ll take what he gives me. Never been suicidal – lucky ME! But – my manic highs are tooo high, and I no longer chase them like ephemeral dreams. They are gone and forgotten in my youth. Now, I accept my diagnosis, and remain happily stable with being bipolar. If you don’t have it – honey, you don’t know what you’re missing!! If I had half a mind…HA!!!
    Your sister in Christ,

  • Paulette

    Iam retiring as of tommorrow from my job of 17 years and planning on joining the neighborhood senior center. But I have to tell you, it is not my mother’s senior center. I plan on joining a palates ball and aroebics class 3 days a week and possibly a yoga class and take some college courses. I always wanted to try to paint with watercolors.
    I also want to get started in my healthy chocolate business which I am passionate about. It’s the greatest thing for arthritis since aspirin and I want to share it with everyone!
    No BINGO for me!!!!

  • Bruce

    Until I read this I didn’t realize I was ALREADY OVER THE HILL. 15 years over. Like they say, I haven’t reached the top yet. I hope I don’t wake up old tomorrow. Everyday has to have meaning, something to look forward to. Me, 1 cup of coffee and then to the garden. Bending stooping, pulling weeds,watering, fresh morning air. After that, I volunteer as a school crossing guard. (Yeah, I’m retired, 10 yrs now) Now it’s 9:30 am, time to go visit a friend in the old folks home but she’s 90 and full of knowledge and history.
    Point is, go find something to do. Volunteer at a local school, day care center whatever. Just get out and do something. Sittin’ around is bad..

  • Your Name

    We now know that the brain is plastic and does not stop growing. People who value themselves generally end up valuing others as well. It just works that way. Taking care of #1 is not selfish. Among other things, it allows you to take care of others because doing things like yoga, regular exercise, staying in contact with the outside world, make you younger. Age really is all in our heads because if you think about it, it is related to time. And time is an artificial construct. I was just reminding a client tonight that our bodies are not only miracles, but they are all about healing. Ok, at some point some things might slow down a little. At 56 I have to work up to my yoga poses. But that is because I haven’t been doing them regularly. I have friends who do and are my age and they look and move 20 years younger than their age. Also, to help your body heal, keep away from processed foods, sugar (a toxin to your body), and lean towards more organic foods, esp your greens. See how easy that is?

  • Poison

    When you talk about religion you always talk about Christianity not any other religions. I’m assuming that the benefits of religion can be found in ALL religions, not just Christianity?

  • Penny

    How do you know so many “active churchgoers”? Most of the healthy elderly people I know have lived *spiritually* but have discarded organized religious to embrace the true essence of living. Occasionally I try to read your blogs, but I find your ideas and writing to be “loose and fancy free” and highly misleading. Unscientific indeed. You offer your readers some pretty bad blogging. No thanks. I prefer real journalism.

  • Gioya

    My father was an optimist and it kept him vibrant. There was never any problem that couldn’t be solved, never anything that could not be fixed, from pocketwatch to a slinky. A lust for life is absolutely necessary.

  • Your Name

    Hi Beyond Blue…I really do love your observations, but I do strongly disagree with #3, most are religious. I am not a church-going “religious” person, but I do live, as best I can on a daily basis, according to my spiritual beliefs and I do believe in allowing others to do the same. It’s my observation that “god fearing, church-going people” are the ones most responsible for the horrendous body count–all in the name of religion– in the last 5000 or so years. So enough divisive religion and more honest spirituality please. Sincerely, jerome thailing

  • Maggie

    Hello, great article. My mother is 80 years old and showing no signs of aging. She can go shopping alone for hours, all over town. She drives, walks and is very involved. She prays an hour each day and attends mass several times a week. She is probably going to live past 100, but she does have a pretty big rear end that we need to work on….!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Zulia

    My Mum is 77 and she has been one of the most energetic and strong women I knew. She worked part time in the medical university until 2 years ago when they changed the language of education from Russian to local. She had to stop working at the age 75 and suddenly came down with minor Parkinson diseaze. The worst part is loosing her memory. Yes, I agree that one needs to be involved in the community, but in our small town when the old people try to get part time job, other people TALK a lot that the family and children cannot support them, so my Mum is not comfortable with that.
    Don’t ask, but my Dad wouldn’t allow the internet in their house. Most of my Mum’s friends left our town after the break up of the Soviet Union and she just can’t find common topics to talk about with the ‘newcomers’ from the villagers that flooded our town.
    Both my sister and I live in different countries and only talk to my parents on the phone.
    How can we help our MUM????

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