Listen to your elders
Eating right, exercising and engaging in community affairs can add years to a person’s life
By Naima Ford 01/27/2012
What do you want to be when you grow up? It is never too late to ask yourself that question, especially if your goals are to be happy, healthy and fulfilled.
“The numerical years to me don’t matter as much as your attitude,” says 82-year-old Pasadena resident Sharon Girdner, “because that doesn’t change with age.”
Girdner is the only child of C. Lewis Edwards, former Pasadena mayor and president of the Tournament of Roses, and Gladiss Edwards, founder of Pasadena High School. She spent her life watching her parents remain active and dedicated to serving their community. When she got older, Girdner became a nurse then married and had four children. They visit with each other as often as possible.
Following in her parent’s footsteps, Girdner has been active in the community, doing everything from protesting against injustice to donating food to the Ecumenical Council of Pasadena Area Congregations. She says the mantra that she has always lived by is to be fully present in whatever situation you find yourself in and to have a sense of humor. “Live in the moment and laugh,” says Girdner.
Exercise is also important to Girdner, who works out three times a week and eats a healthy diet.
Also important is giving.
“Do not just dwell on yourself, but think of others,” she says.
Another longtime resident, 86-year-old Marvin Schachter, agrees.
“Having a sense of responsibility to your family an d community is not a burden but an asset to having a happy life,” says Schachter.
Schachter grew up in New York City and fought in World War II. After the war, he attended Brooklyn Colllege and did graduate work at Cambridge and Columbia universities. After moving to Pasadena, he built a home for his family in 1965. Since then, he has been a tireless advocate for civil rights and senior rights.
“When one becomes an adult, one has two responsibilities — to one’s family and to society as a whole,” says Schachter, a member of the executive council of AARP California, president of the Senior Advocacy Council of Pasadena and a longtime member of the board of directors of the ACLU of Southern California.
He and Girdner agree that another key to aging well is investing in relationships, whether with family members or friends. This is especially important as people grow older, as children move away and longtime acquaintances die. It is important to work to maintain lasting relationships, whether that means talking on the phone regularly, taking trips to visit or staying involved in activities with others.
Girdner and Schachter’s experiences have been supported by popular studies. Author Dan Buettner and National Geographic conducted an extensive study and wrote a book on places called “blue zones,” areas around the world where people regularly live to be 100 years old or older. He identified nine characteristics that include knowing your purpose, decreasing stress, eating a mostly plant-based diet, drinking wine, and, of course, investing in the community and putting family first.
Sadly, there is no fountain of youth. But living well during the years you have is possible. Just listen to your elders.