Preview of Your Coming Attractions

When I retired after 40 years of writing columns for the San Jose Mercury News, I figured I'd said about all I could say. Wrong. I've realized that at age 76, I'm about 10 years older than the oldest baby boomers, who are now turning 66. My very average body has had a lot of experiences in those 10 years. I've learned a lot that could be helpful to people just starting on that same path -- what to do, what to avoid, what to keep an eye on.. Consider me your canary-in-the-coalmine for the boomer generation. Tune in regularly for the heads-up advice.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Chow Time

     How’s your appetite? If you have a taste for savings, you could be in just the right stage of life.
     As we age, our capacity for ingesting large quantities of food seems to shrink. Put it another way: We feel full faster.
     That’s a good thing, for at least a couple of reasons:
     1. As noted in a previous blog posting, longevity studies seem to indicate that cutting back on the amount of food we take in may add a few years to our lives. If we naturally feel like cutting back, so much the better.
     2. Some restaurants really seem to be piling the food on our plates. Not the ultra high-end, Michelin-starred eateries, mind you. Their portions, though tasty, tend to be smaller. Customers have complained about that. As a result, the less well-regarded restaurants make sure that they give us more than enough food per person to remain competitive. Customers say they like that (although obesity statistics show that such joy may be misplaced). So here is where senior diners are in really good shape, financially. Order a standard meal at Maggiano’s, say, or The Cheesecake Factory, and you’ll have so much food left on your plate by the time you’re full that you can ask for a doggy bag or box to take home. Voila, lunch the next day, at no extra expense. In some parts of our nation such as the over-stuffed Midwest, portions are so large that my wife and I have ordered just a single dinner, split it, and still felt fully satisfied by meal’s end. Dining for half price!
     There are lots of things about aging to be grumpy about, but eating isn’t usually one of them. Eat less. Save more.
     Bon app├ętit.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hitting the Joints

     Arthritis. What a pain.
     It’s painful literally, unfortunately, just as aging can be a pain figuratively. I never expected to be diagnosed with arthritis, never thought about it for a minute, but now, here it is and I’m stuck with it. The doc diagnosed mine as osteoarthritis, the most common type, and there’s darn little any of us can do to prevent it. Like gray hair (or no hair) it just happens.
     But once you’re stuck with it, there are ways to lessen the symptoms. These include pain, swelling and/or stiffness of the joints. And it turns out the best thing you can do for that is what everybody already has been advising you to do – exercise. Daily activity helps your blood circulation increase, which decreases swelling and stiffness. You don’t have to go the all-out, be-a-jock routine to get this benefit. Something as simple as walking will do the trick. Just don’t stay in one position for any extended length of time. Sitting around complaining because your joints hurt only makes things worse. Try to work through that pain, get in motion, and you should see improvement.
     If you’re really eager, low-impact aerobics and range-of-motion exercises also are good. In addition to walking and climbing stairs regularly, my wife and I also try to use the Wii Fit program on our Nintendo computer gaming console as often as we can. It checks our weight and body-mass index, tests our reflexes and offers a wide range of simple yet effective games to improve balance and flexibility, not to mention burning calories. And all in the privacy of our family room. No gym memberships necessary.
     Also try to eat well – the balanced diet bit, lots of fruits and vegetables, you know the drill. Try to get plenty of sleep, optimally 8-10 hours a night. Your body should tell you how much you need. And go easy on caffeine and nicotine, both of which adversely affect arthritis. Ditto for alcohol, although after you use it, you may not care.
     Researchers tell us that there are more than 100 types of arthritis, most of which involve inflammation of one or more joints. This causes a breakdown of the cartilage that normally protects the joints, allowing them to move smoothly and absorb shock. Lose too much cartilage and bone may rub on bone, causing that pain.
     A little pain, though, is better than not being able to move at all. So move it.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Rethinking Aging

     Hoping to extend your lifespan? You may want to dismiss everything you’ve been hearing to date, except for one old axiom.
     I say this after visiting Dr. Cynthia Kenyon’s lab at the University of California-San Francisco, courtesy of the American Cancer Society. Dr. Kenyon’s specialty is the study of aging (yes, cancer can affect that, and vice versa) by focusing on tiny worms known as C. elegans. These are simple little creatures physically, but they react to certain stimuli much like their vastly more complex cousins in the food chain, human beings. The worms’ speedy reproduction and short lives makes them perfect for extensive studies. Some of the results thus far hint at certain things we’d do well to take with a grain of salt:
     1. Oxidants. Yes, we’ve been bombarded with advertising for antioxidant pills, veggies and tonics, most of which claim that oxidants can harm us. Yes, that’s true, as far as it goes. But Dr. Kenyon’s studies have shown that worms exposed to a few oxidants live longer than those in pristinely protected, oxidant-free surroundings. So eat those blueberries – but relax about not ingesting enough.
     2. Stress. Granted, pulling your hair out isn’t a good thing. But the UCSF worms exposed to a little stress lived longer than those in stress-free conditions So what’s a little stress? It’ll vary by individuals, but a good way to cut back would be to stop stressing so much about stress itself.
     3. Weight. A well-balanced diet is the ideal, but for longevity, try a little less of it. Dr. Kenyon’s studies indicate that restricting calories extended the life spans of the worms, and could do the same thing for you. Don’t go all the way to anorexia, of course – that shortens lives. But cutting back a little couldn’t hurt. It may well help a lot.
     So, watch your weight until it drops a bit. Keep up that well-balanced diet – lots of fruits and veggies – but don’t go overboard about it. Accept that a little stress is a part of living – maybe a good part.
     And continue to hold onto that old axiom:
     Everything (even a little of the not-so-good stuff) in moderation.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A (Gray) Heads Up

     So there I was, a passenger in a friend’s car, when she pulled up behind another driver in the fast lane. He didn’t get over, so she had to pass him on the right. Glancing over at the other driver, she saw his gray hair and muttered derisively, “Old guy.” It made me want to reach for the Grecian Formula.
     Some 10,000 people are turning 65 every day, a statistic that’s expected to hold for the next 10 years. Old guys (or gals). A lot of them. On the road. Not such a good thing for motoring in general.
     Oh sure, you probably haven’t had a ticket in years. You pride yourself on your driving skills. But the unavoidable fact is that those skills tend to deteriorate along with the rest of your body as you age. By the time you’re in your 80s, your accident rate will be roughly equivalent to that of the terrible teens. By that time, it may be wise for you to consider hanging up the ol’ license. Sad, but true.
     In the interim, though, there’s something you can do.
     First, be aware of your increasing shortcomings.
     Second, try checking out the AAA website for seniors: It offers all sorts formats for fine-tuning your skills, from quizzes to videos and slide shows. There even are brain exercises designed to decrease your risk of accidents, plus guides to comfort and safety behind the wheel and even an online driver-safety course. The best part: It’s all free. You don’t have to join AAA to take advantage.
     I don’t think I’ll try to hide my age with Grecian Formula. But neither do I want to be the aging dude in the fast lane, either oblivious to the traffic behind him or so self-righteous about obeying the speed limit that he appoints himself lane monitor. Those folks give the rest of us a bad name: “Old Guy.”
     Don’t let that be you.