Dr. Roger Landry spent more than 40 years as a preventive medicine doctor. If he could write a mass prescription for America’s aging population, it would likely be the title of his book: Live Long, Die Short. In a nature analogy he likes to use, he advises us to be more like a leaf . . . “become more colorful with age, make more beauty with others than alone, and then drop off the tree” when it is time. The retired Air Force colonel and surgeon is serious about aging vibrantly, and he has the data to support his recommendations.
The book title is a more interesting way to talk about a term from public health policy, known as “compression of morbidity or disease.” It is an especially timely topic as the country debates “Death with Dignity” laws and the medicalization of the end of life for elders. Atul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal, beautifully addresses how ill-equipped we are to have the right kinds of conversations about our end of life wishes.
Referencing data from the MacArthur Foundation, as well as others, Dr. Landry’s book is actually a prescription for a better way to age. Instead of thinking as we currently do about a long period of decline, research is showing us a new paradigm – and we can start now, regardless of our age. Lifestyle choices determine about 70% of what our old age looks like.
Successful aging means paying equal attention to our physical, intellectual, social and spiritual sides. This includes having a sense of purpose in our lives – understanding why we are here on earth. By supporting each of these dimensions, we develop a resilience that serves our immune system, our brain, and our heart. That resilience can help us ward off the illnesses that define long periods of decline, which are dehumanizing, painful, and costly.
Dr. Landry believes that people over 65 are to be valued as resources, rather than set aside as “retirees.” Having an important role in our society creates purpose and engagement which are vital to healthy aging. Incentives and public policy can help change this, but getting back to the way we valued the wisdom and experience of older people in our pre-industrial society is critical.
This book is packed with research and tips for living an active, engaged life. Keeping moving is one of the most important. As Dr. Landry says, it is a critical requirement of us as an organism. Our mood, our heart, our brain and immune system all function best when we are using and moving our bodies.
Becoming more colorful as we age is the best way to embrace change, celebrate our life stage and make it vibrant. As Silvernesters, we are breaking the stereotypes of aging by choosing how we will live, and with whom, as we get older. We are committed to staying engaged in life, or as Dr. Landry says, “As long as I have a pulse, I am going to grow.”
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