Nothin' But A Number

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Take every ageist stereotype you know about senior citizens. Now take those stereotypes, wad them up into a little ball and throw them in the trash.

It’s from this starting point that we need to look at the “winter” of life.

Who says that growing older means slowing down? Of course, there are the inevitabilities that come with age as Mother Nature and Father Time run their courses on the physical, but when one moves beyond aesthetics in this youth-obsessed society we inhabit, it’s important to consider this: Do we choose to let the mind focus on all the stuff we have no control of, or do we roll with the punches, make the most out of our situations and keep our spirits timeless, ageless and full of gratitude for each and every day we are given?

The latter sounds like a whole lot more fun, doesn’t it?

Recent research shows that having a more positive attitude – being optimistic, easygoing, extroverted and laughing more – can play a role in living a longer, healthier life. Positive people are happier people, and we all know what happiness does for the heart.

What better way to stay young at heart than to keep on keepin’ on – both mentally and physically – getting the body moving, traveling, learning, trying new things and doing what you love?

Whether decades away or dancing on the brink, we’re all getting older, so listen up, and take notes, because these very active senior Oklahomans are sure to inspire the notion that it’s not how long you live, but how intensely you live while appreciating your life and living it to the fullest.

Stay Busy Having Fun

Bob and Bonnie White can tell you a thing or two about keeping busy.

Married for 59 years, the Whites, both 79, are always going someplace and doing something. Whether with their involvement in their church activities, sports or own separate interests, the key to their success as a happy, healthy couple lies in the fact that they keep busy and have fun together in the process.  

“We have always taken an active interest in one another’s activities. I quilt, and he enjoys that. He likes the colors and the fabrics and the patterns I put together and always helps me with things that need to be done, and I’ve always been really supportive of his weight lifting and baseball,” Bonnie says.

Bob, who has always been athletic, even coached a women’s softball league that Bonnie played on from when she was 47 to 70 years old.

When Bob started a gym in their garage to get physically conditioned, Bonnie was on board, and since then, Bob has become a competitive weight lifter (winning fourth place in his age group at a recent competition in Italy) and coach.

Bonnie stresses the importance of being supportive of what your partner’s interests are, even if it’s something that you wouldn’t normally have anything to do with.

 “I wouldn’t go to anyone else’s meets, but when it’s Bob, I’m there front row cheering him on. That’s what you have to do. Just because I don’t participate in it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it or enjoy watching him do it,” she says.  

“Being active as a couple keeps life fun and interesting. It’s important to have lots of interests and enjoy the company of other people. I think that’s what too many people don’t do. People get older and they think, ‘Oh I’ve worked all my life and now I just want to sit around and do nothing,’ but once you start sitting in that chair and start watching TV, in a few months, you can’t do anything else. So you better stay active the older you get.”

Nurture the Mind and Body

Nancy Blankenship, 78, says that her lifestyle changed about 10 years ago when she realized how much time she was wasting watching TV, and making the decision to stop watching TV left her more time to read.

Just like life is continuous, the learning process should be continuous, as well. A wise person once said that if you stop learning, you stop living, which in turns implies that to keep seeking knowledge is to continue to elevate your life above the usual.

Taking her love of reading up a notch, Blankenship’s higher education experience has turned into a lifelong crusade at Oklahoma City University where she has taken one class every semester for the past 26 years, including “Women in America: Twentieth Century” this fall.

Although she attended college in her youth, she couldn’t wait to get out, and it wasn’t until her daughter was in medical school that she decided to make her return to the classroom.

“The reason I did was because I heard a religion professor speak at our church, and he knew things the rest of us Methodists did not know. He made me want to learn all about all of that. Then I became a Unitarian,” Blankenship says.

Although a self-proclaimed former shy person, it’s been her years back in college that has turned her into one of the most outspoken students in her classes. Now always one of the first to speak up, it has been easy for her to make friends with both students and professors.

“My grandchildren are the ages of these kids, so it isn’t hard for me to relate to them,” she explains.

“It usually just takes a couple of weeks before they are comfortable with me and treat me just like one of them. I dress pretty much like they do, except not short shorts in hot weather. Mostly, I wear jeans or spiff up a bit more on occasion. Being more casual in dress puts everyone on a more level playing field, and it says, ‘Hey, we’re all in this together.’ It helps dissolve differences.”

Working in sync with keeping the mind active and healthy through proactive learning, keeping the body active and healthy through diet and exercise is a no brainer way to keep those endorphins flowing.  

Contrary to popular belief, research is showing that getting physically weaker and less mentally alert are not inevitable side effects of aging, but rather, they stem from inactive lifestyles.

Breaking the misconception that you have to slow down when you get older (and putting the average person, young or middle-aged, to shame), Darrell Creamer, 75, gets up at 5 a.m. and opens the St. John Siegfried Health Club in Tulsa at 5:30, exercising at least four days a week.

He started running when he was 34 years old without ever having been in sports and later transitioned into a dedicated rower, both competitively and noncompetitively, when he was 50 years old.

He says that in high school he always wanted to be a rower, and now that he is older, his workouts predominately involve the rowing machine.  

“I love the physical and psychological feeling it gives me. Exercise is soothing. It makes you feel good. It makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something, especially when you get older. I take very good care of myself. I’ll be exercising until I die,” Creamer says.

“Even more, I think that nutrition is much more important than exercise. I encourage people to read the lifestyle book, The Great Cholesterol Myth. It will change your life.”

After two major heart attacks – one in 2008 and one this past December, where he spent 42 days in the hospital – he attributes his survival and ongoing recovery to taking care of himself and working to stay in shape.

During the 17 days he was unconscious in intensive care, Creamer had a spiritual, out-of-body experience that gave him a fresh, newfound perspective on life.

After staying away from church for more than 55 years, he came to wanting to devote the rest of his life to serving God, and ever since, faithfully attends church and focuses only on what’s important.

“I have a 17-day hole in my life. I don’t remember one single thing. I was gone. When I woke up, I woke up a different person,” he explains.

“I don’t worry about anything anymore. People worry too much about things they can’t do anything about. I came to realize that I have a really good life. I’m financially secure, I’ve got a fabulous wife and great kids and grandkids, and I’m going to enjoy it all. I don’t worry about anything I can’t change. Nothing.”

Do What You Love

Continuing to follow your passions and do what you love throughout the course of your life has the ability to enable a feeling of ageless evolvement.

Bill Pahdocony has been an athlete his entire life and says, without hesitation, “I don’t feel old in my head. I’m a lot younger than my years indicate.”

Having played basketball and baseball in high school, the 76-year-old has since been bowling and golfing for the past 50 years.

His ongoing love of competition is strong, and he says that he’s always enjoyed the competition of sports and likes to compete against anyone, regardless of whether or not they are younger than him.

“If one hones his skills well enough then he can be competitive at any age. They may not throw the ball nearly as hard as they once could, but if they’re willing to be active, they can still score well based on accuracy and focus. Like, I may not be able to hit the ball as I used to, but I can still hit it straight. You don’t need to compete with anyone but yourself,” he explains.

Pahdocony plays golf and bowls in two leagues, practicing often to stay sharp on his skills. He and his daughter have placed as mixed doubles bowling partners in the National Senior Olympic multiple times.

Through competitions he and his family have had the opportunity to travel all over the country together, and the time they spend on “bowling vacations” is what he says he enjoys most.

“We stay close as a family unit and I believe very strongly in that. We enjoy the competition, and there’s no blame on anyone’s part if we have a bad day. As long as you do your best you can’t ask for anything more than that,” he says.

A former Oklahoma Poet Laureate, Fran Ringold, 79, is an author of prose, poetry and plays and has served as Editor-in-Chief of the Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry for more than 35 years.

Once juggling at least four things at a time daily, she finds herself doing more like two things at a time these days, but she doesn’t see this as needing to slow down so much as needing to maintain focus.

She sees her role as a writer as being a part of tradition – the past and the present – with hopes to give something to the future. 

“When I write I make discoveries. Those discoveries and the ultimate feeling that I’ve completed something after a great deal of revision – that’s energizing,” she says.

Ringold believes that the best years of life are every year of being alive, with each being filled with something special, from the birth of children to the birth of ideas.

As far as aging, she says that although she is unsure of whether or not she could say she’s embracing it, she has come to terms with the inevitabilities: “even the wrinkles,” she says.

“There comes a time when you look into the mirror and you know that you are not ‘the fairest of them all.’ But hell, it’s too time-consuming and expensive to try to fulfill that one. And it’s okay. I exercise. I eat right. Pretty good for almost 80, and 80 is sounding like a pleasant new era. After all, my mother died when she was 38 and my father when he was 56. How lucky can I get?” she explains.

“There is no need to moan about what we have lost or what we are not doing in the present or towards the future. We are living now!”

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