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Aging very well

I received a memorable piece of correspondence this week from a reader named Frank. With his permission, I'd like to share it with you. It began "¦

"I'm 70, fit, healthy by the common measurements, have no aches and pains. I have stayed within two or three pounds of my target weight for 30 years. My head hair is brown with a few gray strands here and there. I have inherited essential tremor. It's nonlethal and mainly provides my neck an abundance of exercise."

I can already tell "¦ this is someone who takes life in stride. I hope any health professionals reading this column take special note of his next comment.

"My primary doctor often comments on my health and lack of aging problems, yet never seems to think to ask what I might be doing to achieve this state. (Here's hoping I'm not jinxing myself.) The simple truth is: I work at it. Not hard, but steadily. Here are a few rules that govern my efforts."

And then this forthcoming 70-year-old man, whom I'd like to know better, shared his "rules." (They were quite bountiful; I am offering only a few).

  • Think of food as nutrition first, entertainment second.
  • Think of red meat as your seductive enemy. It will clog your arteries, over-tax your food-processing organs and (according to grandma) make you "logy," whatever that may be.
  • Eat food combinations. A bowl filled with a wide mixture of frozen fruits and berries floods the taste buds with goodies (defrosted, natch).
  • Find a way to enjoy, or at least put up with, regular exercise. My base exercise is 35 minutes every other day on a raised, non-motorized treadmill. I installed a reading shelf and also have it facing a TV.
  • Stretch before that regular exercise. A long, low-angle stretch, placing weight on two hands and mostly one foot, not only stretches the legs but also the arms, back, hands, wrist, inner organs — everything. I've experimented and found that if I miss stretching for more than two or three days, my muscles and joints seem to find much to complain.
  • I discovered water a few years back. Lack of regular doses of this free and plentiful liquid, especially as one ages, may bring on all sorts of shakes, shimmies, faintness, weakness and general feelings of poor health and mental confusion. When in doubt, try a pint or two of water first — then give it time to work.

Frank winds to a close in this little treatise on aging (very) well by reminding us that: "Every day can be a new beginning, if you feel the need. The old saw, 'Do something, even if it's wrong,' carries lots of wisdom. There are times when just the process of taking some sort of action, successful or not, can give one a sense of control. And that, in itself, produces good results."

He ends with, "Forgive me for rattling on so long. I haven't really ever summarized these things in this manner "¦ did me a world of good."

Me too, Frank.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 776-7371, Ext. 210.