Living Younger Longer

Mel Zuckerman, Canyon Ranch Co-Founder

I haven’t discussed my favorite subject, healthy aging, in this space for some time. But even though my age still feels like just a number, turning 83 has me thinking about getting older.

You may have heard the talk I often give at Canyon Ranch, Living Younger Longer. The title comes from a play on words, based on something I heard the noted anthropologist Ashley Montagu say at a conference in 1982. He was explaining that we get the whole concept of fitness from the ancient Greeks, whose ideal, as Montagu put it, was “to die young, as late as possible.” I know of no better formulation of what we all ultimately want, for ourselves and for those we love.

You don’t need me to tell you that the arrow of time goes only one way, or to remind you that aging is not a great process. So why do I keep harping on this nasty subject – aging? Well, partly it’s because I’ve done a lot of it. But mostly it’s because over decades of trying to communicate to our guests the importance of living well every day, I have learned that change begins when we really take in the hard truth that the aging process begins the moment we are born.

You cannot avoid getting old. But you can definitely hedge your bets against premature aging and loss of independence: Research has shown that disability, frailty and loss of independence with advancing age is 70 to 80% preventable or reversible based on lifestyle habits, especially exercise. The secret, which is no secret at all, is a healthy lifestyle – here are a few of the most important principles.

By the way, these are excerpted from my new book, A Handbook of Mel’s Tips for Healthy Living . Yes, I’ve just finished writing two books. Not bad for 83!

Exercise. “If we could put exercise in a pill, it would be the first anti-aging medication.” My late friend Dr. Robert Butler, the noted authority on aging, said this when he testified before the Senate Committee on Aging. There is no such pill and never will be – there are just the endless benefits of moving your body. So leave your aches and pains behind. Limber up. Work off your anxieties. Digest and sleep better. Stay strong and mobile. And even if you’ve never been active, start now, because age is no excuse.

Stay alert and lighthearted. Explore, learn and keep laughing. An active mind and a forgiving, easily amused temperament are the norm among people who age exceptionally well. Read the paper, take classes, explore the Internet. Read deeply about subjects that interest you. And always open those funny emails.

Give. What can you give to others? To the world? To the future? One recent study showed that retirees who volunteered their time had half the risk of dying during a four-year period as their peers who didn’t. Consciously combat the stereotype of the selfish, grumpy old person by practicing generosity every day with all your heart.

Have purpose in life. It doesn’t matter whether your goal is big or small, and it doesn’t really matter what it is, but studies show that people who feel a strong sense of purpose not only enjoy life more than those who just drift along from one day to the next – people with purpose live longer. If you want to enjoy life and find fulfillment, never stop setting goals.