On attaining age 80
Both my wife and I had our 80th birthdays this year. We have each had many congratulations and some questions about how we manage to be healthy and active at our age. Our typical answer: we have been fortunate and we eat a good diet and get plenty of exercise.
In the course of getting enough exercise for health one must accept the label of neighborhood exercise nut. In order to damage fitness by too much exercise, running more than 20 miles per day or bicycling upwards of 100 miles per day is required. An order of magnitude or two less exercise than that is enough to get major health benefits. If one has obligations in life other than fitness, there isn’t time for an excess of exercise. In addition, the extra appetite to which exercise entitles us makes the details of selection of food items much more forgiving.
More than luck is involved in maintaining mental health. If a realistic view of the world were a requirement for normal mental health status, a moderate degree of depression would be the norm. So to satisfy our psychiatrists, something approaching extreme optimism is necessary. Constructive involvement in work, community and family contributes to health. We were fortunate in these regards. Give us more part credit for mental health in avoiding “non-information.” It isn’t what we don’t know that gets us into real trouble; it is what we know that isn’t so. Some suggestions in this regard: avoid advertisements unless researching a purchase; do not deal over the telephone, unless you initiated the call; avoid magazines where the advertisers influence the editorial material (most magazines nowadays even if you have to pay for them); videotape most TV; choose books carefully. Most sources of book reviews emphasize best sellers. Only a tiny fraction of best sellers will stand the test of time. Our best book finds are from the Phi Bets Kappa Key Reporter, Science, Nature, The Guardian Weekly (from Manchester, England) and the Lancet (an independent British Medical Journal with a lot of general cultural material). I stumbled on how the Phi Beta Kappa Key Reporter maintains the quality of its book reviews by submitting several with no acceptances. The editor decided to put me out of my misery by explaining that all their book reviews are commissioned from a stable of experts.
And if you feel frustrated by some circumstance in life, figure out how to become part of the solution. Be prepared to enter politics or end up on the school board. The bottom line: stay involved and struggle not to be retired prematurely.
John . Frantz, M.D.
June 4, 2003
Addendum: A few days after completing the above I was watering new, fragile parsnip plants. They grow from tiny seeds with very little stored energy. It occurred to me that all of life must be endowed with this overweening optimism or we wouldn’t be the survivors because there wouldn’t be any. These tiny seeds depend on landing in a fertile location and getting water frequently when they are young, a compounding of low probabilities. That is why there are so many seeds. So the psychiatrists are correct in not accepting anything not close to extreme optimism as a normal attitude. Call it the will to live.
When we treat people as if they were already the people who they aspire to become, we have helped them on their journey.
Roughly translated from Goethe, 1749-1832