It’s Only a Number Physical activity, social networking, and meaningful engagement characterize these senior citizens, our models for a new age.
s I looked around the classroom, it hit me. OMG. I’m middle-aged. Like most of my fellow classmates who had returned to graduate school in search of a different career path, I stood in stark contrast to the traditional students. But, as I look around thirty years later, I have to agree with evolutionary anthropologist Oskar Burger of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany. “Seventytwo is the new 30.” In my twice-weekly Zumba classes at the senior center, I dance along with “girls” from my elementary and high school days. They are kicking up their heels and having a ball. So am I. Also having fun are two other faithful attendees, Richard and Beverly, both of whom will celebrate their 85th birthday in April, one day apart. Richard, the elder, dances in seven Zumba classes during the week, some at the local Y and others at senior centers in two different communities. He supplements those classes with Step Aerobics four times each week. And when he’s not scooting around to these activities, helping his wife with yard work, or just plain walking, Richard finds time to Google his dance companions and others of interest. Beverly is just as amazing. After our Zumba class, she dashes off to a line dancing class in a community eighteen miles away. She maintains her own household, fills her social calendar, and treats health issues that arise as merely temporary setbacks. Productive activity is what characterizes my eighty-five-year-old neighbor. Almost every day, Buddy has a new project, either household repairs or landscaping. During warm weather months, he can be seen meticulously maintaining his in-ground pool. The fruits of his labor he graciously shares with all those seeking relief from the heat. When Buddy spies that a neighbor needs help, he springs to the rescue, mowing the lawn or removing leaves or snow. On trash collection day, my personal “leaf fairy” gifts me with emptied trash barrels lined up neatly by the garage door.
Buddy’s wife of 62 years, Pat, in addition to being a model homemaker, is a valued volunteer in her church. Her baked goods are as prized as her presence. Last year, the Archdiocese of Boston presented the prestigious Cheverus Award to both Pat and Buddy in recognition of their years of service and volunteerism. Another Energizer Bunny is my friend Jim. This eighty-five-year-old retired twice from his vocation: first, from a public school and, then, from a private secondary school. But he did not set aside his avocation. Jim eagerly awaits the coming of each winter, so that he can ski to his heart’s content and share his love of the sport with others as an instructor and coach. In the public arena, 85-year-old Tony Bennett shows that age puts few limits on achievement. He continues to delight audiences both young and old, and with his Duets II album, he became the oldest living performer to top the Billboard 200. In 1955, then-Senator John F. Kennedy wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about bravery and integrity. The heroes in Profiles in Courage were extraordinary men. Today’s heroes, I find, are ordinary people. They demonstrate their own brand of courage. They overcome obstacles, physical and emotional; and fortified with hope, they forge ahead. These models for a new age remain physically active, socially connected, and meaningfully involved. From what I have seen, they clearly demonstrate what scientists call the U-curve of life satisfaction. In a corner of my bedroom sits an empty rocking chair. Having just re-entered my prime, I am determined to step out of my comfort zone, and—like the heroes around me—I am taking strides to keep my numbers up.
Keeping fit and loving it
Dancing to stay fit is Beverly Monigle (front left). Joining her at the senior center in Danvers, Massachusetts, are forty other enthusiasts.