At 82, Viola Von de Porche of Celina, Ohio, does water aerobics eight times a week, walks four miles a day, and on Fridays, she dances. Laura Kaster, 62, of Princeton, N.J., left corporate law at 59 to start her own mediation business. Retirement plans: fuggedaboutit. Duane Webster, 88, of Boca Raton, Fla., began skydiving at 73 and is currently angling to win a national Wii bowling tournament—between contests at the ping-pong table.
So, what vitamins are they all taking, you ask? What's the secret behind their willingness to plunge into events, friendships and challenges even as age tries to collar them? Their histories and experiences are, of course, unique. But with the help of experts, we've teased out some shared formulas for vitality. Below, we offer guidelines for living well at any age.
Stay connected. When Kaster left Chicago, her home of 22 years, for New Jersey, she wanted to keep her Windy City friends close. So she travels back three times a year to see Shakespeare performances with 20 of her dearest pals. "Connection with friends is what makes life possible for me," Kaster says. Not only that—being a social butterfly has physical benefits, too. For instance, people with rich social lives have less than half the rate of memory loss as less-outgoing types, say Harvard researchers. Dr. Edward M. Hallowell, a psychiatrist in Sudbury, Mass., agrees: "Connection is the other vitamin C. If you have a connection deficiency, you get unwell. Make a new friend, get an animal or even a garden. Connections are what make life a banquet."
Say yes more. "Say 'Yes' rather than 'No' to things," says Manhattan psychotherapist Irina Firstein. "Openness and easygoingness are the characteristics of youth." Webster, whose wife gave him a parachute jumping lesson for his 73rd birthday, echoes that point: "When you do something you haven't done before, that adds another paragraph to life."
Befriend your body. Von de Porche watches her weight the way hawks eyeball mice. "I don't wear anything with elastic in it," she says. "I don't eat sweets. I try to be a vegetarian. And for breakfast, I eat oatmeal." Still, she occasionally splurges. And that's the way it should be, Wright says. "Nutrition is not austerity. You can eat chocolate cake but not every night. If you make food austere, all you want is cake." Instead, she recommends green, red and orange vegetables like spinach, red peppers and carrots and filling protein like fish or chicken at every meal. "I think of diet like resource management," she says. "How do I preserve my body's goodness?"
Nourish your brain. Nancy Merz Nordstrom of Pelham, N.H., lost her husband to a heart attack when she was 48, leaving her to raise four children. Although she tried therapy, nothing made her feel alive again until she returned to college three years later. "I felt 20 years younger. I would skip through the halls and run up the stairs." In fact, multiple studies indicate that mental stimulation keeps brains sharp, prompting the growth of new cells and pathways, says Nordstrom, who's now 64 and has a Master's degree in education. The author of Learning Later, Living Greater and director of the Elderhostel Institute Network in Boston, Nordstrom suggests identifying your interests and then sampling several: "Find out what lectures are in your community. Most colleges have free programs. Or try educational travel or community service. Think of life as a big blank canvas."
Move every day. Von de Porche was 53 when she took up running. Soon, she had won three gold medals in the Dayton Senior Olympics. "You've got to keep moving," she explains. If you think it's too late to go for the gold, think again. "Most people who don't exercise don't know what their bodies are capable of," says sports medicine specialist Dr. Vonda Wright, co-author of Fitness After 40.
Take a wisdom tour. Kaster, who transformed herself from a corporate attorney to a mediator, suggests a little due diligence: "Go on a wisdom tour of your friends. Find out what they think makes you thrive. That will make you feel better even if you do nothing else." And take stock of your physical self as well, says Dr. Darlene McCord, author of Living Well at 100 and founder of McCord Research in Iowa City, Iowa: "When you get your car checked, you have a 26-point checkup," she says, suggesting the same kind of point-by-point review to recalibrate vitality. "Know your blood measures, what diseases you are at risk for, your hearing and seeing, your balance. Your physician can help you work this out. And then start keeping your own file. Wellness and vitality are a journey-and it's your journey."
Easy ways to keep moving, from sports medicine expert Dr. Vonda Wright.
- Stretch every muscle group for 30 seconds daily.
- Walk or engage in other cardio exercise for 30 minutes 3 to 5 times a week.
- Lift groceries, laundry, firewood, etc. each day to build strength.
- Regain balance by standing on one leg, then the other, 30 seconds a day