I traveled a couple of months ago to attend a family wedding. Before the actually ceremony, I attended a party in honor of the couple. As I entered the living room, a woman, appearing to be in her mid-70′s, seemed to literally leap across the room to meet me. Marilyn, I soon learned, was my niece’s future grandmother-in-law. We started a lively, wonderful conversation – but I felt a little discomfort. Had both she and her daughter (the groom’s mother) been “child brides?” Both the bride and groom were each in their late 30’s. How could Marilyn possibly be so young?! Later that evening, the groom told me that Marilyn was in her early 90′s, I stared at him in total disbelief. She held herself totally upright – without the slightest slump; she walked totally unaided and with a very sure foot, even down the dimly lit porch steps when departing later on in the evening; she wore no glasses, had no hearing aid, and if she had any cosmetic surgery scars, I didn’t see them. Her conversation about current events was on par with the best of us. So both mentally and physically, she truly was a good 15-20 years younger than her actually age. How could this be?
If you think Marilyn has some simple age-defying secret under her cap, you’ll be disappointed to learn that it isn’t so. As with most valuable things in life, the answer to Marilyn’s success with aging well is neither simple nor easy. Let’s just say this: she exercises daily (physical activity); she plays bridge with friends at least twice a week (socialization); an accomplished pianist, she continues to take not only more piano lessons, but foreign language lessons, as well (mental stimulation); and, while not a religious fanatic, she stills practices the faith of her youth (spirituality). Oh – and yes, she probably not only has some good genes, and also a bit of very good luck. But don’t get smug now, and say that the genes and the luck are Marilyn’s secrets. Remember all those other components – all initiated on a daily basis by her initiative and will power.
And so, I urge you to read, “Phys Ed: Your Brain on Exercise” – and in doing so, you’ll think of Marilyn. Author Gretchen Reynolds says that exercise countermands many of the numbing effects of aging that occur within the brain. Then she identifies the research proving that it really is true! If we want to age with grace, we need to help our bodies with exercise. And if you’re despairing about adding even one more thing into your already crammed schedule, then listen up! “(T)here’s not yet any discernible ceiling on brain-healthy exercise, (but) there is a floor. You have to do something. Walk, jog, swim, pedal — the exact amount or intensity of the exercise required has not been determined, although it appears that the minimum is blessedly low. In mice, …even a fairly short period of exercise and a short distance seems to produce results.”
So, there you have it. Sweet, simple. Exercise! No gettin’ around it.