How to Find Your Own Mr. Miyagi | Healthy Aging Series: S8, E10

This blog references “Triumphs of Experience”: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study,”  Written by George E. Vaillan

“Better learn balance. Balance is key. Balance good, karate good. Everything good. Balance, bad, better pack up, go home. Understood?” Mr. Miyagi

“First learn stand, then learn fly. Nature rule, Danielson, not mine.” Mr. Miyagi

“Lesson not just karate only. Lesson for whole life. Whole life must have a balance. Everything be better.” Mr. Miyagi

“Never trust spiritual leader who cannot dance.” Mr. Miyagi

Mr. Miyagi represents the mature, aging man or woman. The quotes above, to Daniel, are from his many  years of experience, learning from good and bad decisions, learning from being out of balance, learning from the mistakes of trying to fly without, first, knowing how to stand, and from learning to follow leaders, who did not know how to dance. There was a maturity about Mr. Miyagi‘s words to Daniel-San.

Mr. Miyagi represents the image of a focused, giving, and wise, aging adult.
Do you know any Mr. Miyagi‘s? I can name a few. But, maybe a more important question is: How do you find a Mr. Miyagi? What does a real Mr. Miyagi look like?

The Harvard Grant Study

We’ve been looking at the Harvard Grant Study. George Vaillant, in his book, Triumph of Experience,” gives us a snapshot of maturing, aging men. This is my last blog on the Harvard Grant Study. The details of this study document the lives of 268 men, starting in 1937 and following them through to 2010. In the last blog of this season I want to focus on what it means to be a maturing, aging adult. I want to share two life task that indicate that an adult is maturing or getting wise.

What did Vaillant discover from examining the lives of 268 men as they aged? Vaillant writes that, “In a sense it was their ability to transcend decay and maintain human dignity, despite the ravages of mortality.“ What Vaillant discovered was that those men, who had completed certain life tasks, aged well.

Life Task One

The first task he calls generativity or what I would I call, “giving back.” Vaillant defines generativity as a capacity to foster and guide the next generation to independence. It means giving back or paying forward, for the guidance and mentoring that others gave to you.
I can name a few that gave back by giving to me. Bill K. Ken N. Clifford V. Allen N. And I can recall many, many others that I chose to keep unnamed. Men and women that shepherded me and shared their lives with me. They were my Mr. Miyagi.

Life Task Two

Valent list a second task which he calls Integrity, and I call “letting go.”
“How do we maintain hope,” he asks, “when the inevitability of death is staring us in the face?”

The answer is letting go.

In some sense, it means divesting yourself of the things that you have fought so hard to keep, like your home, your health, or your things.

Betty Neese was my Mr. Miyagi

In this sense, my mother was my “Mr. Miyagi.“ More than anyone else, she has helped me come to terms with the process of dying. She did not appear to have a shred of fear of dying. When I asked her what she thought about being 60, 70, or 80, she responded “I love the age I am right now. I would never want to be younger.“ What words of wisdom! She taught me to let go. She was my Mr. Miyagi.

Finding You Mr. Miyagi

How do you find your Mr. Miyagi? Maybe they are already in your circle of friends, family, or acquaintances.

First, look for someone who is a giver.
Has an older person invited you to coffee or to walk in the park? Is there an older person that inspires you to be a better person?

Second, look for someone that is letting go.

Look for someone who has started loosening their a hold on the reins of this world. Look for someone who values the inner world, and not just things. Find a Stoic.

Stoicism is a philosophy of life that teaches us to stop wanting more things, and start learning to value the things and people we already have.

I think, as we age, and as we mature, we begin divesting ourselves from things, and we begin looking for ways of giving back. We begin looking for ways of letting go of the things that have given us so much meaning in our lives, and investing in others.

Many of the men from the Harvard Grant Study accomplished these two tasks: giving back and letting go.

Maybe the unasked question is: Are you becoming a Mr. Miyagi for a “Daniel“ in your life? If not, begin learning balance. Begin learning how to stand, and then learning to fly.

And then, begin learning how to dance.

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

Live Life While You’re Alive, No One Will Survive | Healthy Aging Series: S8, E9

This blog features “It’s All About Me,” by Mel Brooks

My father hated the fall. “Everything is dying,” he would tell me. He wasn’t a pessimistic person. He didn’t complain a lot about getting older, at least not to me. He was proud of his nine children. He loved his 25+ grandchildren. But fall, I’m guessing, reminded him that, as Mel Brooks wrote in his recent autobiography, “No one will survive.”

I’m reminded of this often. News headlines. Car crashes and shootings. Family members facing terminal illnesses. The loss of a close friend or loved pet. You look at the mirror and you see your father’s or your mother’s face. The trend lines on your blood work slowly point downward. And you realize that you’re slowly dying. Sorry for the negativity.

OK, what do you do with that epiphany? Mel Brooks‘ advice is live life while you’re alive! I heard him give this quote while being interviewed for his new book, “It’s all About Me!“ Which he wrote, when he was 95 years old. I decided to read the book. Here are my takeaways from his book:

1. Mel Brooks followed his bliss. I borrowed this phrase from Joseph Campbell when he was interviewed by Bill Moyers and was asked what advice he would give to young people today and his answer was: follow your bliss. Mel Brooks found his happiness and success by following his bliss. His bliss was making movies. “Movies,“ he writes, “rescued my soul.“ I think that some people misunderstand what it means to follow your bliss. It’s not like a stroll in the park. It’s not the 10% rule, which says that you only need to “show up.”  Following your bliss means hard work, persistently paying the price, and never giving up. Look has something to do with it. Brooks writes that “you never know when and how a stroke of luck is going to come and cross your path.“ Following his bliss put Brooks into situations that made it seem like luck, but luck resulted from all the effort that it took to follow his bliss.

“I worked hard,“ he writes, “and I conquered my fear of the empty page.“ He never took no for an answer. He would never have found his bliss if he had never followed it. 

I followed my bliss, my passion, and I started working, in the helping profession 40 years ago. That was my dream as a young man. At the time I completed several internships. After graduating, I worked as a therapist for almost nothing, barely making $10 an hour. But I did it because I loved what I was doing. Forty years later, I love what I do I have found my bliss because I followed my bliss. Live while you’re alive.

2. Brooks learned one of life‘s most important lessons: he learned to stand on his own two feet. Credit his time in the army during World War II for helping him grow up. The military can do that. He did it to me. I spent a year in Texas, a year in Ohio, and two years in Korea. A long way from home. No hovering parents. OK, maybe a hovering drill sergeant. I tell the parents that I’m working with that soon, very soon, the school of hard knocks is going to kick in with their teenager. And then, that’s when real growth happens. The “learning to stand on our own two feet,“ comes, not necessarily books, or from time in a classroom. Most of our learning experiences come from outside the classroom, in the trenches, and because of the challenges that life presents to us. Brooks learned from every experience and everybody! From Neal Simon, he learned “that every second counts in comedy.” Even at 95 he continued to learn!

3. There would be no Mel Brooks without his friends. Specifically, he writes at if there had never been a Sid Caesar, there would never have been a Mel brooks.
He describes Carl Reiner as the best friend anyone could ever have. Brooks recalls the long walks he took with Woody Allen and the refreshing chatter that they had on those walks after work. His 40-year marriage with Anne Bancroft was a constant source of creativity and support. If you’re going to live while you’re alive, friendships matter, and if you let them, your friends will help craft you into someone that otherwise would not have been. We live in a culture of rugged individualism, where we are taught to be self-sufficient and need no one. But we need to remember the somewhat corny song by Barbra Streisand that says, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world,“ and the pronouncement that “No man is an island entirely of itself.”

I think living life while you’re alive, means seeking out new friendships and nurturing the friendships that you have.

I loved this book, and Mel Brooks has become my new hero. When asked “What is the secret to living a long life?” He responded, “Don’t die!” 

I love it.

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

Alcohol and Aging Bodies

Alcohol is Poison: At Least That’s What Some Experts Are Saying | Healthy Aging Series: S8, E8

Pat Morita, who played Mr. Miyagi was an alcoholic, and his alcoholism contributed to the loss of his health, the loss of a career, and eventually contributed to a shortened life. 

We looked at his life in a previous blog. I want to expand this topic of alcohol and aging and see what light the Harvard Grant Study sheds on it. Later this year, I will expand the topic of alcohol and aging by looking at the effects of alcohol on the brain, on sleep, and on our aging body. 

What did the researchers from this study discover about the effects of alcohol on aging when they looked at the men of the Harvard Grant Study? Let me first state that the study did not find significant issues with social drinkers. In fact, 72% of the social drinkers lived to be 80 years old, but there were two lessons that we learned from the effects of alcohol abuse.

Two Lessons on Alcoholism and Aging

Lesson One: Alcohol prematurely ages the body.

Of the 54 identified alcoholics in the study 19 or 35% were dead at 70 and only three lived or were alive at 80. “Their average lifespan,” Vaillant writes, “had been 17 years shorter than those of their social, drinking study peers.” 

I listen frequently to a podcast called “The Huberman Lab.” In a recent episode, Dr. Huberman, a neurologist, I asked the question: What does alcohol do to your body, Brain, and Heart. I did not enjoy this episode because throughout the episode, he referred several times to alcohol as a poison. But as I’ve reflected on the podcast, and as I’ve investigated the research, and I’ve concluded that he is right. Alcohol is a poison. There I said it. And again. Alcohol is a poison. Here’s what researchers say:

First, if you only consume one or two drinks daily, you will lose white and gray matter in your brain as you age. 

Second, consuming alcohol interferes with the brain-gut axis. We are only beginning to understand the role of the gut microbiome, but more and more evidence suggests that the relationship between the brain and gut is very important for our overall well-being. How does alcohol affect the gut? Alcohol consumption alters various chemical processes in our bodies, and creates a disharmony between our internal systems, including our brain  as well as our nervous system, and digestive track.

Third, alcohol affects our sleep architecture. I’ll speak more about this in upcoming blogs.

Forth, consuming alcohol increases our sleeping heart rate. I have been meticulous about following my heart rate over the past few months. I’ve been on an alcohol sabbatical and have noticed a dramatic decrease in my resting heart rate. Even one drink affects my sleeping heart rate.

Lesson Two: Alcoholism and Aging Marriages.

It’s difficult to determine a single cause for divorce. Marriages and long-term relationships are complicated and the reasons they fail are numerous. Add to that, the issues of aging, religion, and economics. They are complicated. The Harvard Grant Study looked at the effects of alcohol abuse on marriages. Of the 59 divorces that occurred throughout the study, 33 marriages or 57% occurred when at least one spouse was abusing alcohol. Vaillant writes, “It looks very much as though alcoholism within marriages often caused not only the divorce, but also caused failed relationships, poor coping styles, and evidence of a shaky mental health.“

Alcoholics Anonymous, The Big Book

If you want to understand the effects that alcoholism has on relationships and on people’s lives, I suggest reading Alcoholics Anonymous or what has been called the Big book. I reread it again this week. It gives you a glimpse into the life and death struggles that alcoholics have with alcohol. 

Vaillant writes, “Prospective study has consistently shown alcoholism to be the cause, not the result, of many personal and social problem. Alcoholism is the cause, not the result, of unhappy marriages. Alcoholism is the cause of many deaths, too, and not only through liver cirrhosis and moto vehicle accidents -suicides, homicides, cancer, heart disease, and depressed immune system can all be chalked up to this serial killer.”

Whole 30 Diet and Alcohol

I started the whole 30 diet the week before Christmas. If you’re not familiar with this diet, it involves not drinking alcohol during that 30-day period. As I write this blog, I’ve completed five weeks and I’ve lost 15 pounds. There are other factors that helped to include: one hour a day of exercise. No sugar added to any food. No grains. No dairy. And time restricted eating which is also called. Intermittent fasting. I’ve lost weight and feel better. Is it because of abstain from alcohol? Maybe. I’m not sure how to interpret the data, but my hypothesis is, most likely.  I recently listened to a podcast that discussed the topic of dopamine and how chronic alcohol use can affect our dopamine levels, which, of course affects our mood. Therefore, I’m going to extend my whole 30 lifestyle through the rest of this year at least the abstaining from alcohol part. I’ll consider this a one-year sabbatical from alcohol. I’ll share my progress and results in upcoming blogs.

To see more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.