When someone is in their 90s, has no arthritis and laughs easily, we naturally want to know more about how they arrived at almost a century of life healthier than many who are younger.
A good diet and exercise are important, for sure, but there is more to it than meets the eye, as I learned when I joined Frank Walsh on his daily slow jog a few years ago. He was 91.
Frank was not always this fit. He golfed, but it was not until he was 40 that he “began to work out a little.” He and some friends would meet a couple of times a week at the Y to jog around the basketball court and then go for a swim. At the time, he was overweight, had aches and pains in his joints, and a nagging heartburn. He had none of these symptoms anymore, he told me as we started our steady incline up the steep road on a golf course.
That said, it was not until he turned 60 that he really began to think about health.
“If I am going to be old, I want to enjoy it,” he flashed a smile.
I know this to be true, because he was living with us at the time. Frank is my father. At age 60, he started slow jogging regularly and got a new job working in the pro shop at a golf course. In his 70s, he started working with free weights because he did not want to fall and break bones. Like his mother, my grandmother, an immigrant from Italy, he always ate three simple and balanced meals a day. He rarely needed to see a doctor.
It was clear that exercise and healthy eating played a big role in his vitality. However, when I asked him what his “secret” was, he does not mention exercise and diet.
Instead, he said, “It’s a good thing to be able to laugh and not worry too much about what other people think.”
When I asked what else, he thought for a moment. “It’s good to help people when you can. When I was working, I used to try to hire those who were down on their luck, needed a new start or a second chance. Now that I am retired, helping someone might be making the person I buy my coffee from, who looks a little down, smile.”
Then he added, “You know, it is always the right thing to be kind. When someone is mean to you, just ignore them if you can. It is stronger than fighting back.”
It got me thinking. I hope I have his genes, but mostly I want his attitude. It seems rather simple, making a difference in someone’s life each day. It does not have to be huge: maybe just a smile or making it a habit to buy something each week to donate to the local food pantry. If we are creative, the opportunities are endless. Not worrying what others think might be more of a challenge in our culture. As far as working out, my advice is always the same — find your fit.’
Frank died three years later at the age of 94 after a brief illness. He has taught so many so much, not by saying but by doing. How will you help someone today?