Creative Aging Expert

January 2009

In This Issue

From Turmoil to Tranquility

Commentary by Ken and Mary Gergen, in their Positive Aging Newsletter, Nov/Dec 2008

One of our guiding hopes for this Newsletter is to replace the tendency to view aging in terms of what we lose with an emphasis on what we gain. Among the gains we have reported is a generalized increase in feelings of emotional well-being with age. Replacing the gut wrenching agonies of the earlier years are feelings of greater tranquility. One has a more balanced understanding of life and its ups and downs. Researchers Michaela Riediger and Alexandra Freund now add a new dimension to the earlier work.

Daily life in the adult world is often one of breathless turmoil. It is not simply that one so often feels "behind" in one's work, but there is never time enough to care for family and friends, for attending to one's personal needs, for repair and upkeep of one's living place or possessions, and this is to say nothing of planning for a vacation or one's financial or professional future. The personal investments are enormous, and we are spread all too thin. Particularly agonizing for many is the sense of unrest that accompanies virtually all one's activities. Time and effort devoted to one need, desire, or ideal are always at the cost of something else. Catching up on work is often at the expense of family; time with family may mean the loss of friends; immersion in the social world means no time for personal needs, and so on.

It is here that the research of Riediger and Freund is very helpful. In two studies, with over 140 participants ranging in age from 20-70 years of age, the researchers took measures of motivational conflict (i.e. the feeling that one wants to or should be doing something else in a given situation). As both studies demonstrated, such conflicts tend to disappear with increasing years. Possibly there are fewer tasks or commitments as one ages, and more time available. Further, one may have learned to move more gracefully and confidently through a multiplicity of motivational goals. These researchers also took measures of emotional well-being. Similar to preceding studies, these measures also showed increases in feelings of well-being with age. And, most significantly, the increase in feelings of well-being were correlated with reductions in motivational conflict.

Comment: This piece caught me by surprise. I'm not sure tranquility has totally conquered turmoil in my life. Perhaps I have too many commitments - from writing to planning trips to running a business. I do, however, experience a feeling of emotional well-being, as well as gratitude for my long life and my health. How about you? How do you respond to this piece? Write and tell me if your turmoil has turned more towards tranquility as you age.

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Gloria Steinem: Past 70

At age 29 she was a Playboy Bunny; later on, a crusading feminist. Now times have changed, and Gloria Steinem (age 74) is thinking about age. "Fifty was more about defiance for me: 'I'm just going to go on doing everything I did before.' And it wasn't until I was about 54 that I realized that doing everything I did before was not progress. Hello? And 60 was exciting. Sixty was like the new country. And 70 does sound like mortality. And it does make you think about dying." For more on her thoughts about age, see Gloria Steinem, Doing Sixty and Seventy (Elders Academy Press, 2006).

From Human Values and Aging Newsletter, January 1, 2009.

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Margaret Morganroth Gullette

I have just finished reading Aged by Culture by Margaret Morganroth Gullette who is described as a cultural critic, prize-winning writer of non-fiction, internationally known age critic, essayist, and activist. She is currently a Women's Studies Research Scholar at Brandeis University. I found the book very dense reading. I had to meditate on each paragraph it was so chock full of ideas and new thoughts about how aging should be studied. It was chosen as a "Noteworthy Book of the Year" by the Christian Science Monitor. Read more of her provocative articles.

The University of Chicago press offers this synopsis of Aged by Culture:
Americans enjoy longer lives and better health, yet we are becoming increasingly obsessed with trying to stay young. What drives the fear of turning 30, the boom in anti-aging products, the wars between generations? What men and women of all ages have in common is that we are being insidiously aged by the culture in which we live.

In this illuminating book, Margaret Morganroth Gullette reveals that aging doesn't start in our chromosomes, but in midlife downsizing, the erosion of workplace seniority, threats to Social Security, or media portrayals of "aging Xers" and "greedy" Baby Boomers. To combat the forces aging us prematurely, Gullette invites us to change our attitudes, our life storytelling, and our society. Part intimate autobiography, part startling cultural expose, this book does for age what gender and race studies have done for their categories. Aged by Culture is an impassioned manifesto against the pernicious ideologies that steal hope from every stage of our lives.

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Hopping and Skipping to Health

Forget the treadmill and the barbells for encouraging fitness. The latest idea in exercise is called Plyometrics, which means using your own body weight as the instrumental source. Simply put, we are encouraged to return to some childhood play. Jumping, hopping, and skipping are all forms of exercise that increase muscle power, strength, and explosiveness. A study at Loughborough University in England found that regular hopping was among the best ways for women to improve their bone density. The amount and strenuousness of the plyometric activity depends upon the condition of one's joints, so don't stress your knees or hips. The following are some ways do plyometric exercises.
  • Climbing up stairs two at a time
  • Drop jumping: Stand on a box a few inches off the ground. Drop to the ground and then jump upwards and forwards as high as you can. Repeat 10 times (or less).
  • Skipping: The U.S. National Institute of Health claims that skipping burns more calories than any other popular exercise except running. Start with a one to three ratio. For every minute skipping, rest for three.
  • Lateral hops: Place an object by your right foot. Hop over it to the left then back again. Do this 15 times, if you can. Then repeat this with your left foot.
From: Plyometrics by Peta Bee. The London Times, July 14, 2008, (as published in The Positive Aging Newsletter, December 2008).

Comment: This article made me want to go out and buy a jump rope and to try skipping around the block! (Be careful though.)

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Spanish Immersion in Costa Rica

Have you been trying to learn Spanish by taking classes here and there and listening to tapes? Try a new approach and go to Costa Rica for a Spanish immersion program. It's called Spanish and Fun, and it is run by three people: a former Peace Corps member, a certified English teacher, and a local Costa Rican Spanish teacher. A two week stay is recommended. One is not only immersed in the language, but also the culture. Living with a local host family, doing a service project at a school or farm, participating in the holidays and cultural traditions while having 3-4 hours of Spanish instruction each day. I find their prices quite reasonable. Here is what one participant says about the program.

"I had an amazing experience with Spanish and Fun. It was perfect for learning intensive Spanish in a short period of time. The program was very well organized and the instructors were fantastic! My host family was incredible, so welcoming, kind and always with amazing typical foods! I would highly recommend this program to people of all ages and all language levels! It was the perfect start to a six month tour of Central and South America." Emma Cohlmeyer, Sociologist, USA

For more details check out their web site or e-mail them.

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Free Cruises

If you are able to give lectures on lifestyle issues such as retirement, reducing stress, or having adventures, you can be a life enrichment speaker on a cruise ship. Good at dancing? Sign on to be a "gentleman host" whose main job is to dance with the single women! Applicants must demonstrate their steps before being chosen for this position. Dance teachers are needed as well as masseuses, bridge instructors, and every ship has a religious leader aboard. Different cruise lines have different regulations. I have worked three cruises as a life enrichment speaker. Sometimes I am charged the port tax which might be $150 which I split with my friend who accompanies me for free. I give a workshop each day the ship is out at sea, and occasionally when they are in port. For more information: click here: Google Parlay Your Expertise into a Free Cruise.

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New Senior Center Models

The intergenerational, community-based dinner theater of the Donelson Senior Center in Nashville, Tennessee, is ranked as one of the 25 top attractions in middle Tennessee! "The theater program has been an opportunity for older adults to showcase their abilities and socialize with the youth," said Janet Jernigan, executive director of Senior Citizens, Inc. Gone is the stereotypical center with rectangular tables aligned in rows, stark walls, and "old folks" playing bingo. Centers are adding fitness wings, computer labs, atriums with sunlight, lounges with high-definition, flat-screen televisions. Even under budget restraints such simple things as placing round tables in the dining room to encourage socializing or starting up an intergenerational band are possible.

The programs in Columbus, Indiana, were scattered around the city - first located in a house, then moving to a 14,000-square-foot historic former water works building. Later a satellite center was opened in a shopping center. Now all those programs are being brought together at Mill Race Center in a sprawling 30,000-square-feet facility which will open its doors in a downtown park in 2010. Their motto is, "Community Center for Active Adults," and their center will be open from early in the morning to late at night.

Many senior centers are partnering with existing organizations to offer programs. In Charlottesville, Virginia, the Senior Center In, directed by Peter Thompson, has brought in yoga for people with Parkinson's disease by working with the National Parkinson's Foundation, and offers one of the best aquatic exercise programs in the country in collaboration with Atlantic Coast Athletic Club, a private wellness organization. The Sunshine Center in St. Petersburg, Florida, has been involved with 150 agencies over the years and provides office space to many that offer resources to center participants free of charge or for a nominal fee. Examples include a consumer protection program of the Attorney General's office and community-based mental health services sponsored by the Older Americans Act.

This information comes from an article authored by Arlene Karidis, A new Act for Senior Centers, published by the Journal of the National Council on the Aging, Innovations, Issue 1, Spring 2008.

Comment: Take another look at the senior center near you. It might be offering some exciting programs that will enrich your life and bring you new friends of all ages.

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Join a Hiking Club!

Belonging to your local hiking club can offer you many adventures. The Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club (ODATC) in Richmond, Virginia, sponsors hikes every weekend, as well as a Wednesday hike for retirees. They also put together some exciting adventures elsewhere. This summer found eight of us hiking the high Sierras in Sequoia National Park in southern California on a club-sponsored trip. In late January I will head to the Florida Everglades to participate in an ODATC kayaking trip. Along the way we will spend time camping at Cumberland Island National Seashore in southern Georgia and in Everglades National Park in Florida. These parks are some of the most amazing natural areas I have ever visited so I am wild with anticipation for the many birds, mammals, and alligators we will see.

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Surfing the Age Wave

The next excitement for me is my keynote, Redefining Old Age for the 21st Century March 10th at the Forum on Aging in Newport News, Virginia. It is sponsored by the Peninsula Agency on Aging, and the theme is Surfing the Age Wave! It should be fun.

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Emily Kimball
3220A West Grace Street
Richmond, VA 23221-1306
(804) 358-5536
Fax (804) 358-2415