The Spanish explorers of Florida were looking in the wrong place for the Fountain of Youth.
The Fountain of Youth may be just around the corner. We may pass it on our daily rounds. We just don't recognize it when we see it. The Fountain may be hiding in a health club, or in a local park, or on a walking path. It may be in a garden, or a library.
I haven't met anyone who can grant me immortality, but I talked Saturday with a woman who has worked with the elderly to improve the quality of their lives for some 40 years. She shared with me the two key things she has found that people who age well do. These are the two things all of us must do to age well.
2. Exercise. Keep moving but especially, concentrate on exercises that build balance.
It's as easy as that. And as difficult.
As we get older, our friends move away, perhaps to seek warmer climates or to be closer to their grown children. And, eventually, if we live long enough, our same-age friends die.
It becomes like high school again. We need people but it is so hard to approach them. Where do you do it? How? Will you be laughed at? Rejected? Even people who were once extroverts find themselves isolated, finding their only companionship in the TV set. They become depressed.
If we do not move enough, movement becomes more difficult. We decline, first little by little, and then it starts to accelerate. One day we realize we don't have much balance anymore. We slip on a throw rug. We fall in the bathtub. We hurt ourselves. We gain weight. We become even more inactive.
According to this expert, the vicious cycle of isolation and lack of movement can be broken. We are hoping that this cycle, which has taken hold with my elderly mother in law, can be stopped and reversed. Muscle and balance can be improved, even in the mid-80's. With that, my mother in law might be able to once again enjoy activities she used to do with friends. She may never be able to participate in a bowling league again, but there are other possibilities.
It does take a lot of work, once the cycle takes hold, to break it. So, in my self-study on how to age well, I now know I can never let the cycle take hold. At 60, it isn't too early to start wondering how I will make and keep friends once I retire. These are my challenges:
1. I am an introvert. But I must make the effort now to reach out to people. And some of these people must be young people - people in their 20's, 30's and 40's. It sounds morbid, but I need friends who will outlive me. I don't need to force friendship and I won't. I have never been a joiner, but it is time to join with people to share some of my interests, and see if friendship develops.
2. I think I may be exercising enough, but I really am not. It is time to add something such as tai chi to my routine. Or even, develop my own program of balance exercise. Walking and water zumba are not enough.
I must find my fountain of youth. I know it is possible.
Have you found your Fountain? Where did you find it?