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Kentucky by Heart: ‘Healthy Aging Summit’ inspires goals for a positive lifestyle at 70 and beyond

By Steve Flairty
NKyTribune columnist

The “Healthy Aging Summit” I attended last week in Versailles came at a good time. Two days afterward, on September 10, I would reach the age of “three score and ten years” — that’s seventy, in non-Abe Lincoln talk.

And though I physically and emotionally feel pretty good, the thought of being 70 has caused me to pause and think of my own mortality, if not with alarm, at least with an increased sense of seriousness. It encourages thoughts of living more intentionally.

At the event, speakers shared information on estate planning, an initiative making our town, Versailles, more seniors-friendly, and one explained how to start a simple physical exercise program. They were beneficial. My favorite presentation, however, was from Dr. William Petrie, a psychologist who spoke about mental health and aging. A mature senior himself, he made some good points, some of which I’d not heard previously.

Steve, happily enjoying senior life in one of his flower gardens. (Photo by Suzanne Isaacs)

Dr. Petrie talked about living longer and better, with that requiring one to “stay engaged.” The benefits are many, he said, including fighting off the curse of dementia. So, what did he mean by staying engaged?

Stay away from sitting for hours watching television, he emphasized. The lack of physical exercise it engenders is one reason, and the passive use of our brainpower is another negative of the practice. Physical movement sends blood pumping through our system, and that is a good thing in several ways. It improves our mood as well as our cardiovascular health and skeletal structure. Those three benefits can significantly add time, and quality, to our earthly stay.

Challenging one’s mind—often the opposite of the passivity from watching television–lessens the occurrence of dementia as we age. People with more formal education, he noted, exhibit less dementia. But degrees in school aren’t the only way to challenge the brain. “Learn new things,” he said. “Learn Spanish, or do as I did, try to learn how to play the piano.” The number of ways to coax one’s brain to greater things is legion, and that usually doesn’t include TV watching. Wordle, anyone?

I’m pumped that Dr. Petrie suggested learning Spanish because I’ve been working at that since last year. It’s hard, especially as I have few around me who speak it fluently, but I’ve made progress… and I listen and watch Spanish instruction videos on my phone as I walk—multi-tasking for a more optimal gerontology experience, you might say.

As good as those suggestions are, the one he believes is most important is to engage socially. Obviously, that means being involved, at least somewhat, with groups. Church work, for one. Exercise classes at workout locations is another. Volunteering at charity social outreaches can bring a variety of emotional and physical benefits. There are many more, limited only by our imaginations.

Dr. Petrie discussed the idea of renewing old friendships. He suggested calling longtime friends you haven’t seen in years. That may lead to a trip to see each other, and in the process, meeting new people… with more social engagement, as Dr. Petrie indicated–a life source for the aging population.

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was released in 2019. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly NKyTribune columnist and a former member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Ernie Stamper)

For me, senior living should certainly be a time for well-earned relaxation, but that’s not all. To use my own, made-up metaphor, it’s not a time to be grazing in the fields, but a time to be joyfully cultivating the fields, planting, tending, and then enjoying the harvest. Learn things, find ways to encourage others, look beyond our own noses. Adopt the idea that the best is yet to come, and if it isn’t, what have we lost in believing so? It certainly takes more effort to live in such a way, but I believe it’s worth it—for all concerned.

With that said, here is how I hope to live my life at 70 and beyond yet knowing that not all things are under my control, and things could end in an instant:

• in some form, keep writing. I enjoy it, it challenges my brain, and it hopefully encourages readers to look for the best in each fellow Kentuckian and beyond those in our state.

• keep moving physically, daily. I’m currently working on a consecutive string of 10,000 walking steps for thirteen straight days. That number of steps is not magical, but it’s a goal that motivates me to keep it going consistently. I carry a pedometer on my right hip constantly and check the steps walked often. I’m also an avid gardener.

• make my desire to reconnect with old friends and family a reality. Once or twice a week for a phone call or to write a note should do a lot of good.

• along with my writing, read continually for information and enjoyment. It ties in with my writing very closely.

• understand that realistically, there are certain issues related to age that will occur regardless of measures taken, so it’s best to be accepting of those issues.

• avoid timewasters such as political “discussions” where minds are already settled and where animosity will be an obvious by-product. I aim to draw positive people to me by being positive. Sometimes it’s smart to simply change the subject in conversations.

• take measures to help get my necessary amount of sleep. Dr. Petrie said that less than six hours is bad for a senior and over nine hours is also bad. Stress management, staying away from caffeine late in day, and, of course, physical exercise helps in getting adequate sleep. (This issue is one of my biggest challenges).

• to hold a meaningful spiritual life, believing in a higher power as the context in which to live. For me, I embrace a Christian theology that doesn’t “beat others’ over their heads with a Bible,” but emphasizes loving actions.

I hope at least some of what I shared is helpful to you. Plus, I’m all ears. Feel free to share YOUR ideas by emailing me at sflairty2001@yahoo.com.

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  1. Aimee Lamb says:

    I enjoyed this piece immensely! Thank you, for all of the advice! I believe these tips are wonderful for all ages to heed. SO worth sharing!

  2. Steve Flairty says:

    I appreciate that, Aimee. I believe you will always be full of graciousness and a blessing to others. Thanks for all your encouragement!

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