AARP boss: It’s about living, not aging

As we get older, we get slower. We can’t run as fast as we once did. We can’t ride as many miles on our bike. We can’t swim the 100 as swiftly as in our younger days. We might as well resign ourselves to knowing that as the years roll past, our health gradually deteriorates until, well, we spend more of our days resting and watching TV. Once we’re past 50, it’s all down hill from there.

Right?

Wrong. Absolutely wrong, said AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins, author of the best-selling book “Disrupt Aging.” She urges us to fight the good fight, to go down swinging, yelling and battling because that is what will keep us healthy and wake up feeling refreshed and ready each morning. She challenged Hawaii residents to smash stereotypes about aging and rethink the idea of getting old.

“We need to change the conversation in this country about what it means to grow older. The way people are aging is changing, but many of our attitudes and stereotypes about aging are not. We need to challenge those old stereotypes and attitudes and spark new solutions so more people can choose how they want to live and age,” she said in a recent speech in Hawaii.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell recently presented Jenkins with a proclamation declaring Saturday as AARP Day in Honolulu. The mayor recognized AARP for partnering with the city and the World Health Organization to help Honolulu join the Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities Program and for helping to develop a comprehensive action plan for improving the quality of life for residents. The effort includes the city’s Complete Streets measures to make roads safer and improve public transportation.

The proclamation also recognized how Jenkins’ book has started a movement to change the conversation about what it means to get older.

“It’s not about aging. It’s about living. And I want to give people the opportunity to embrace aging as something to look forward to, not fear,” Jenkins said. “To see this as a period of growth, not decline and to recognize the opportunities, not just the challenges and perhaps most importantly to see themselves as contributors, not burdens.”

Easier said than done, but in chatting with some of Kauai’s residents who have remained healthy in their golden years, here are a few things they shared that they have found as key. Some of this is pretty basic, things you could find in quick online searches. Others are a little more suited to life on Kauai and the advantages of being on an island. And a few are things I’ve learned along the way as I’ve gotten older. This country is not kind to older people. We value and cherish our youth. But we can learn most from those who have experienced life.

w Have purpose. Too many people retire with nothing to really do. It’s critical to have goals, get out and be around others, volunteering, sharing insight with youth. Plan trips. Become a handyman.

w Be positive. Nobody wants to hang out with a crabby person. Be encouraging. Smile. Share joy. Greet others with a hug.

w Keep learning. Read. Write. Develop new skills. Pay attention to current events. Talk to people with other points of view. Visit places you’ve never been before.

w Exercise. Run, swim, bike, walk. The most important thing is keep moving. Stay active. Jump. Skip. Hop. Raise your hands. Buy some light weight. You don’t need to bulk up with 25-pound dumbbells. Work up a sweat.

w Relax. Meditate. Pray.

w Call your relatives and say hello. Send your grandchildren a book, a CD, a card. Let them know you

care.

w Be brave. Be courageous. Be adventurous.

w Manage your money well. Stay financially sharp. AARP says about 20 percent of Hawaii’s seniors live in poverty.

w Eat fruits and vegetables. Try oatmeal for breakfast. Make smoothies with fruits. Drink lots of water, a general rule is half your body weight. Take vitamins. Avoid junk food. Go with smaller portions. Don’t eat until your belly is bulging.

w Sleep. Studies show that sleeping is critical to our physical and mental health. Lack of sleep makes us old and tired.

w Use sunscreen. It’s really an expensive, simple way to protect yourself.

Chances are, you will be on this Earth longer than you expect. So be ready.

Jenkins noted that a 10-year-old today has a 50 percent chance of living to 104.

People and society need to change the way we see health, wealth and self, she said.

“I believe we can create a society where all people can grow older knowing that they have access to the care, information and services they need to lead healthier lives with independence and dignity; and where they have the financial resources and opportunities to match their longer life expectancy; and that they are seen as an integral and inspirational asset to society. …

“When we disrupt aging and embrace it as something to look forward to instead of something to fear, we can begin to discover the real possibilities for becoming the person that we’ve always wanted to be and build a society where all people have the value to be who they want to be, not judged by how old they are.”

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