Tag Archive for: marginal decade

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How to Channel Your Parents (When They’re Gone) | Healthy Aging Series: S8, E7

“Kevin!” I’ve seen the movie (Home Alone) a 100 times and I can conjure up the scene where Kevin’s parents realize that he’s not on the plane while it’s on its way to Paris. It’s a cute movie. Kevin is “Home Alone.” No parents, no family members, and no Buzz. And let’s not forget the two completely incompetent burglars. There is, of course, a cartoonish feel to it. Somewhat “roadrunneresques.” Lots of laughs.

Life isn’t so cute and funny when, during your life, you lose one or both of your aging parents. Then, you and your adult siblings are left alone without the anchors that your parents provided all those decades in the past.

Every family is different.

Some of you lost your parent or parents when you were we were young. Some lose a parent that was not the wished-for anchor that you needed or those parents that struggled with mental illness, addictions, and their own abandonment. Some of you had to be your own anchor and had to parent yourself. And some of you have no siblings.

My Family

I’m writing this blog primarily for people who have siblings and have lost their aging parents. I have eight siblings. Our ages range from 61 to 75. My father died in 15 years ago and my mother died in 2015. Both were anchors for us. And now we are “home alone“ without those anchors.

Step up and be the sibling that channels your parents

Are there any rules for older siblings when their parents are gone? Or maybe just simple suggestions to keep from drifting “out to sea” so to speak. I think so. Think of this as a way of channeling your parents. What would your parents want? How did they hold things together. That’s what I mean by channeling. Start with this:

First, be the brother or sister that reaches out and becomes a new and different anchor for the family.

We can reach out and pull the family together in a text thread, keeping everyone informed about what’s happening with each of the brothers and sisters. One of my siblings had a medical crisis this past year and we were able to stay informed and  we were excited when they made a full recovery. That brought us all together and we saw all the love and concern expressed in the text.

Some examples of Anchors

We can reach out and pull the family together in various ways. Start with a Google photos file that the siblings can share with each other. We have one called Neese Fam. This month seven of us got together and shared pictures. The two siblings that live out of state were able to view the pictures. Facebook can also be a way of sharing. Some of my siblings do not use Facebook and some people prefer to keep family issues and photos private. We can reach out and pull the family together by having lunch, making a phone call, or having a camp out at the local campground. I hear people complain that they never hear from family members. I often remind them that they have a phone and maybe they should consider making the phone call.

The second suggestion involves agreeing to leave politics and religion at home.

There are nine of us and we have a lot of different views of religion, and a lot of different views of politics. Our country is polarized, and families must be militant to keep that polarization out of their get togethers. Make it a rule: no politics and religion. There is plenty to talk about! At our last get together, we talked about health issues. When senior adults get together, those get togethers usually turns into an “organ recital.” You know what I mean: talking about body organs, like the prostate, the ears, the heart, and so on. We gossip when we get together. Gossip can be good when done right. It’s a way of sharing what you know about family members that others may not know. Of course, avoid being judgmental, but it can pull family members together.

The third suggestion is to learn to compromise and find a consensus.

I’m so proud of my family. Both of my parents wanted to be cremated. As my father’s next of kin, my mother had to sign the agreement to have him cremated. When my mother died, she had nine next of kin, and some of my siblings did not like the idea of having her cremated.  The document was passed around at the local restaurant where we met, and everyone signed it.

The fourth suggestion is to forgive and forget.

This means the sins of omission and commission. Nothing pulls members apart like hurt feelings. I was able to do the eulogy at my mother’s memorial service. If there was any person that was justified in holding a grudge and holding resentments, it was my mother. I’m not listing details but take my word for it. Here’s what I told the gathering at her memorial service.  “Our mother,” I preached, “didn’t let stupid shit rob her of her peace and serenity.” She didn’t let it push her family members and friends away. Most family members get upset, get their feelings, hurt, and become estranged because of stupid shit. It’s usually about religion or money, or sex and almost always forgivable. Everyone thinks, the offense against them is unforgivable, but put yourself in the offender shoes. If you want forgiveness from others, then forgive others of the stupid shit they do to you.

Channeling Your Parents

Most of us have parents that were strong and important influences in the lives of their children. They were anchors.
What I’ve been talking about is providing the same affect in our families that our parents provided for us when they were with us. These suggestions are in some ways channeling your parents because that is most likely what they did for the family when they were living.

Channeling a parent, be it your mother or father is what you do when you take on the role as a surrogate anchor, or leader, for your family. It doesn’t matter who does it. Anybody can channel their parents. You channel your parents by being the kind of person that would promote the things that they promoted when they were living. Nothing would make them prouder!

Post Script: I channeled my parents this past weekend. It was Easter Weekend. I orchestrated a one-night backpacking trip into the Hoosier forest with three of my brothers. It was a wonderful weekend.

We talked about our parents. We talked about our children. We told stories about growing up together.

We laughed as we struggled to cross a stream. We shared our freeze-dried meals (Coconut Curry Chicken.) We sat and stood around the warm campfire and gossiped!

No Politics. No religion. Just Love. Just what Mom and Dad would have wanted!

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

The Real Mr. Miyagi: How to Die Badly! | Healthy Aging Series: S8, E6

He described himself as a unique drunk. He could work almost every day, and no one would know it.”

“I’m drunk almost every day.” Pat Morita.

Mr. Miyagi. I’m guessing most of you have heard his name. He taught Daniel LaRusso karate in the three karate kid movies. Such a great character, and Pat Morita did a wonderful job bringing that character to life.

I’ve written about Daniel and Johnny in the Karate Kid/Cobra Kai Series. Both of them are petty, resentful, jealous of each other, egocentric, and basically really immature. Mr. Miyagi, on the other hand is portrayed as the wise sage. He is in the “giving back“ stage of his life. His story is about the early rivalries and losses during World War II, and how he rises above them, and becomes a man of peace and tranquility. It seems like the Bonsai trees are the metaphor for his life.

That is Mr. Miyagi. The story of Pat Morita is a much sadder story. I became interested in his life and watched a very good documentary, “More than Miyagi: The Pat Morita story.” Marita had what he described as an abandoned childhood. He gave up his dream of attending college and medical school, to follow his parent’s dream of working in their Chinese restaurant. Later, he did stand-up comedy and had several TV roles, including a part in the series, Happy Days. And then he got his big break with Karate Kid.

What the general public did not see but what Marita confesses is that he was drunk almost every day throughout his adult life.

He described himself as a unique drunk because he could drink almost every day, and no one would know it. He died at 73 from kidney failure . The last decade of his life was filled with a steep decline in health. He was practically penniless due to his two failed marriages and his inability to show up for work commitments. I encourage you to watch the documentary.

I’ve been writing blogs on healthy aging, and refer back to the book, “Triumphs of Experience,” by George Vaillant. It’s a book about the Harvard Grant Study, which was a longitudinal study of 268 men that began when they were 20 years old and students at Harvard. The study followed them until they died. I’ve looked at the overall lessons from the study, and I’ve  shared the predictor for successful aging (having healthy adult relationships when you’re 47 years old) and now I want to look at what predicts longevity or living to 90.

What predicted that the men of the Harvard grant study live to 90 years old? I want to know what those predictors are! Are there things that I can do or not do that will increase my chances of living to 90 or 95 years old?

There’s no question that there are things completely out of our control that affect longevity.

Heredity and the predisposition to various illnesses like cancer and Alzheimer’s disease affect longevity. Ancestral longevity plays a role in your longevity, but not as much as you think.

Five things that we learned from the Harvard Grant Study about living a long life!

The factors that contribute to a decrease in longevity are more lifestyle related. Vaillant spotlighted five risk factors or as he lists them, Vascular Risk Factors. Here is the checklist. Check off the boxes that apply to you!

  1. Smoking.
  2. Alcohol abuse.
  3. Hypertension.
  4. Obesity.
  5. Type 2 diabetes.

“Men with no vascular risk factors,” Vaillant writes, “lived to an average age of 86. Men with three or more, live to an average age of only 68. This complex of factors subtracted 18 years from a man’s expected life.”

The Bad News

Did you check smoking?

Throughout my studies on aging, smoking is the king of bad behaviors. Thirteen Hundred people die each day in our country from cigarette related disorders. If you smoke, do everything you can to stop now. There are several strategies for stopping. Smoking will contribute to a shorter life span and also to a very difficult “Marginal Decade.” If you haven’t followed my past blogs, the Marginal Decade is your last decade and if you haven’t prepared for it, it could be a very difficult 10 year for you. Nothing ruins your life like COPD!!

Did you check Alcohol Abuse?

Although alcohol related deaths per day are significantly less,  it is still 260. I remember, many years ago, selling a car to an acquaintance that had an alcohol problem. I was such a tragedy. She died a year later from her alcohol abuse. It happens. Alcohol abuse shortens your life.

Did you check obesity?

Obesity has become a very serious health issue in our country. The U.S. obesity prevalence was 41.9% in 2017 through 2020. It’s difficult determining the number of annual deaths attributed to obesity because of other overlapping disorders like type 2 diabetes, but a conservative estimate was, 300,000. That’s about 820 deaths per day from complications related to obesity.

Did you check hypertension or Type 2 Diabetes?

Untreated hypertension and type 2 Diabetes contribute premature death that can be avoided, to some degree, by wise lifestyle choices.

Marginal Decade

In a previous blog I introduced you to the concept of marginal decade. The marginal decade is your last decade, and it has the potential and prospects of being the most difficult in your life.

You have a chance now to make decisions and make lifestyle changes that will improve your quality of life and increase your chances of living to 90. In the documentary on Pat Morita, alcohol abuse took at least 10 years away from his life. It’s interesting in the first karate kid he gets very intoxicated, which is in some ways a very tragic way of mirroring the life of Pat Morita, the real Mr. Miyagi.

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

How to Escape the Rat Race | Healthy Aging Series: S8, E5

This blog will examine the work, “The Country Chronical,” by Gladys Tabor

I love sleeping in a tent, especially when it’s raining. I’ve had a few unpleasant experiences camping. Mostly I love it. I’ve slept through a blizzard in the Sierra mountains. Woke up to a foot of snow. I’ve slept through a “no see him“ infestation in Utah. I think mosquitoes are worse. And I’ve slept through a 14° night on the Knobstone trail in Indiana. I had to thaw my boots to put them on the next morning. Backpacking has always help me escape the rat race as you get older. Don’t you just crave peace and quiet?

Isn’t it nice to get away from people, and your computer, and traffic. That’s a big one for me. Getting away from your job, and people, and the news, and have I mentioned people? Backpacking is one way I get away from all that. Hiking is another. Sitting in my easy chair with a good book is yet another. I’m escaping now as I write this blog.

My male kitty, Hansel, is stretched out on the floor in front of our gas fireplace. I can hear him purring from several feet away. He looks up periodically and then jumps up on the arm of my chair and kisses my nose. I love his nose kisses! All of this calms my nervous system.

I think I learned how to escape from my mother.  A recent study that I read on aging suggests that as men age they are influenced more by their fathers and then by their mothers. Maybe. But I feel my mother’s legacy even now, as I slowly approach 70.

You might not believe what I’m about to tell you, but she introduced me to some books by an author, Gladys Tabor, when I was a teenager, and I read them, and I loved them! I asked for them before she died, and I cherish those early memories of reading them. I guess they helped me escape the rat race of adolescence, even just a little. Gladys Tabor left city life in 1935 and moved  into a vintage 1690 farmhouse she called Stillmeadow. I think my mother moved out of the city when I was 14, in part, because of Stillmeadow.

Through my four years of high school, we lived on a 20 acre farm. She named Terre Boon, which means the good land. I’m sure she thought it was going to be harder for me to get into trouble when we lived on a farm. Not impossible but harder. I reread “Country Chronicles,“ this past evening. It’s a journal of Taber’s first full year at Stillmeadow. It was written in 1974 when she was 85 years old. Country Chronicles is written in four parts, based on the four seasons, starting with winter.  I really can’t tell you what the appeal was when I was a teenager and first read these journals. They are the insights of an older woman and her life with her good friend, her children and her cocker spaniels. She writes about her meals, her neighbors, the snow, her house, the fresh smells of the country and the chores around Stillmeadow.

I randomly opened Country Chronicles to page 62 and here’s what Tabor wrote:

“On a clear day, toward the end of winter, the sky is forever. It loses the flat look of a bitter cold days, and seems to have a special promise. Even the birds fly differently, in widening circles instead of huddling. The air smells of melt instead of ice, and the buds on the lilacs are freshly varnished.”

Gladys Taber loved country life and shares tidbits of her “philosophy of life” throughout her books. Many of them were written during the Vietnam war and have an activist feel to them at times.

Here are some of the things that drove her to leave the rat race, and pursue country living:

  1. She writes a lot about the Vietnam war, and the effect that it had on relationships. I think her comments are somewhat appropriate in this very polarize time that we live in today. She writes, “The Vietnam war has been blamed for many things, and I suspect it had something to do with personal isolation, therefore, we now tend to keep conversations superficial in case that other person does not agree with our policy. We keep our cool, as we say, by talking about the weather.” I find myself in today’s rat race withdrawing and keeping my topics on small talk.
    2. Tabor worried about the loss of farmland and about progress. She wonders, “what the next hundred years will bring is not predictable. But I hope the basic personality of our town may survive with some woodlands and meadows left, some streams, still rippling with trout, some winding country roads unpaved.“ I think this is still relevant today.
    3. Clocks. Tabor hated clocks. “Within our society,” she writes, “we all watch the clock, nevertheless. They are clocks in almost every room in the house, and practically everyone wears a wrist watch. Radio and television announce the time hour after hour, to be sure, we know exactly what time it is.” Part of the rat race is being at the mercy of the moment, and at the mercy of time, and at the mercy of schedules. Maybe unplugging means leaving your wrist watch and your smart phone at your bedside for a day or two.
    4. Tabor loved her pets! She writes: “I stand firmly on my belief that both dogs and cats give richness to life, and both have been invaluable to humankind down through the ages.” Pets were a large part of her life, and I’m sure helped her have a sense of getting away from the rat race.
    5. For Taber, happiness was a choice. “I believe happiness,” she writes, “is simply reaching out for something lovely and believing in it. All of us need some magic in our lives, and all we have to do is believe in it.” Later she writes, “It may be that happiness is as simple as accepting what we are, and never envying those who seem to be endowed with other gifts.”
    I think that part of the rat race that we create for ourselves, is the competition that we create for ourselves with other people. Tabor reminds us that life is not a competition and maybe it’s as simple as appreciating the magic that is around us.
    6. Being grateful. By the time she wrote this book, she had lost her husband, but instead of feeling pity, she practiced gratitude. “I think,” she explains, “when we find so much to complain about, we should spend a little time, adding up what we have, and being grateful. I myself never open a box of tissues, without being thankful. I am not boiling up squares of linen.” I am not sure what, “boiling up squares of linen,” means, but it must not be one of her preferred activities.
    7. Tabor had a rather old fashioned idea of parenting. Maybe this is why my mother was drawn to her. She believed that mothers should stay home and take care of their children. I think in today’s world, the application of Taber’s old fashionness should be interpreted as: parents spend as much time as you can with your children. The rat race acts as a siren, pulling us away from our partners and our children. We should realize that those wonderful moments with family are in fact, a way of escaping the rat race, which soothe our sakes.

I think we can safely say that Stillmeadow rescued Gladys Tabor from the rat race. Maybe Stillmeadow can rescue you as well even though her books are difficult to find because they are out of print.

Or maybe you can escape by taking a walk or hike in the Jefferson Memorial Forest, or The  Parklands. May be reading sci-fi is a way for you to escape. Or adventure novels.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s time to move to the country.

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


The Healthy Aging Series by Mark Neese at True North Counseling

How to Finish the Race of Life | Healthy Aging Series: S8, E4

This blog will continue examine the work, “Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study,”  written by George E. Vaillant.

How do we sucessfully finish the race of life? 

Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence see life as a competition. Johnny is “jelly” because Daniel has a beautiful family, a very successful car dealership, and frankly Johnnie thinks Daniel believes he’s better than everyone else. Johnnie, is it an alcoholic and has a strange relationship with his son, and doesn’t have enough money to pay his rent.

They spend the first five or six seasons, literally fighting each other, miserable, and both languishing out the year. They not only failed to flourish, but failed to thrive. They both seem confused about what it means to flourish and what successful aging looks like.  The Harvard Grant Study followed 268 men (the study, included a number of the other men that were part of the study, called the Inner-City Study) throughout their lives in over a period of 85 years.

Instead of depending on Johnnie and Daniel’s idea of aging, let’s look to this study and consider what the Harvard Grant Study determined as flourishing.

Decathlon of Flourishing

From age 60 to 80…

  1. Included in Who’s Who in America
  2. Earning income in the Study’s top quartile
  3. Low in psychological distress
  4. Success and enjoyment in work, love, and play since age 65
  5. Good subjective health at age 75
  6. Good subjective and objective physical and mental health at age 89
  7. Mastery of Ericksonian task of Generativity
  8. Availability of social supports other than wife and kids between 60 and 75
  9. In good marriage between 60 and 85
  10. Close to kids between 60 and 75

Take a look at this picture of aging. Keep in mind that this is not about longevity. We will look at longevity in our next blog. This is more about quality of life. If you’re like me, you’ll immediately dismiss the first two criterion, income and professional status. In my opinion, these do not always equal flourishing in our modern world. But the last four or eight assessments they boil down to:

1. Psychological well-being. Generally speaking, this criteria means good coping strategies and mental resilience.

2. Physical well-being. This means the ability to do the things that most people need to do to take care of themselves. This would include shopping, chores, self-care, and other things that we call activities of daily living.

3. Social supports. I think this means our connectivity to people, family, and friends.
Flourishing simply put means doing well, physically, mentally, and socially.

What Predicts Successful Aging?

The Director looked at several factors that contribute or were possible contributing factors to successful aging. I’m not going to go through that lengthy list of things they looked at, but I am going to share one identifying factor that strongly predicted successful aging. Can you guess what it was? Of all the factors that they looked at, which included things like: a warm childhood, overall college, soundness, and coping strategies, the fact that predicted successful aging, the most, was the ability to find and maintain friendships at middle age.

When the study looked at the Decathlon of Flourishing, finding and maintaining friendships had the highest predictability for scoring high on this standard for successful agent. Here’s what the study did. They took a snapshot of men at age 47 years old. Those men who had developed friendship skills flourished. Here is my take away: the skills that you need to maintain good friendships, are also the skills that promote healthy aging, or help you flourish as you age. It isn’t necessarily the friendships that lead to flourishing but the skills that you need to maintain those friendships.

So what skills promote making and maintaining adult friendships? Here is my list:

1. The ability to tolerate other people’s opinions.

The world is full of opinions. I reminded of the saying that I overheard often while in the military: opinions are like assholes, everyone has won it. And I might add: everyone is entitled to their opinion. Learning to tolerate, appreciate, come, and respect the opinions of others serves as a type of Teflon for your sake, and is essential for good friendships.

2. The ability to see other people as multi-dimensional beings.

Labels are a curse to friendships. No one is just Democrat, Republican, Christian, Muslim, atheist, mother, or father. No one is just one thing. We are all multifaceted, multi-dimensional people. People are complicated. We are better equipped to age and flourish if we see everything about the people in our lives.

3. The ability to forgive and forget when people have wronged us.

Friendships are healed by forgiveness. People who do not or cannot practice forgiveness become prisoners of the resentments. I know that forgiving others isn’t easy but harboring, resentment, and anger almost always turns into depression. If we can learn to forgive others, we can learn to forgive ourselves from that internal cancer that eats away at our sake.

4. Being generous with yourself, and with your things.

Your friends need you and benefit from the gift of yourself to them. I never loan money to a friend or family member. I give them what I have as a gift. My friends, my family, my world, is better, I am better, when I give them all generous portion of my cell.

5. Seeing everyone as a peer.

Nothing disarms, others better or more effectively than treating them the way you would want to be treated. Nothing disarms others better or more effectively then treating them the way you would want to be treated. We live in a world of status and we are made to feel less than others because of that. I have two masters degrees, a license, and several certificates, but everyone I meet I treat like a fellow traveler, fellow, struggler, and a fellow explorer. I’ll never forget the interview of Norman Lear when he was 93. The interviewer asked him how he maintain his youthfulness and he responded “I treat everyone like my peer.”

6. Being humble.

Putting others before yourself. This is a hard one, but egocentrism, self-centeredness is a constant threat to our friendships and to us. Learning to think not what your friends can do for you, but what you can do for your friends is a skill that promotes peace and harmony.

7. Balancing being a giver and a receiver.

There must be a balance in a relationships in the world. We cannot always be the giver, and we cannot always be the receiver. Those who are always giving become bitter, and those who are always receiving become a burden.

8. Reach out as often as you can.

You cannot have a relationship with others if you refuse to initiate your get togethers. Pick up the phone. Send a text. Set up a coffee, date or dinner, or a walk in the park. Reaching out ensures that you experience the richness of others. It allows others to infect you with their hope, optimism, and love.

9. Avoid giving unsolicited advice.

Stop giving your family, friends, children, spouses, partners, neighbors, employees, and for that matter anyone else unsolicited advice. Giving unsolicited advice is a subtle form of disapproval. It’s a subtle form of being judgmental. People hate it. You become a conditioned punisher, and people will avoid you. There is that old principle that I have heard many, many times that applies to this and all other friendship, skills, and it’s this: live and let live.

If you want to be a person who is aging successfully, then look at your life and determine what your adult friendships look like. I think as we age, we tend to be more intentional about our relationships and therefore we don’t linger with relationships that are toxic or dysfunctional. But we do nevertheless, have friendships and those friendships will indicate how well you age because of the skills that you have used to maintain these relationships.

Friendship skills are, in essence, successful aging skills.

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


Can You Outrun a Bad Diet? | Healthy Aging Series: S8, E3

Reading time: 4 minutes.

Can You Outrun a Bad Diet?

Endurance athletes have one thing in common. Regardless of age, they run to eat! I can remember finishing a long training run for the Air Force Marathon, and remember finishing my summit to the top of Mount Whitney. I remember backpacking out of the Grand Canyon. Afterwards, I gorged on whatever I wanted. I couldn’t get enough to eat, and I didn’t worry about one single calorie!

Maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but I believe that most endurance athletes believe they can outrun a bad diet.

How does research answer the question: Can you outrun a bad diet? There are two answers to this question depending on how you defined the bad diet. If by bad diet you mean, a hypercaloric diet or over consumption of calories, then yes, it’s possible to outrun a bad diet There is some truth to the calorie in/calorie out strategy that many of us have been taught through the years. You can manage your weight by consistently exceeding your caloric intake with exercise (cardio and resistance training). In other words, if you take in 1800 calories of food daily and you expend 2300 calories through daily activities, you will lose 1 pound per week. (3500 calories equals 1 pound of fat). It’s science!

So, YES you can outrun a bad diet if by bad diet you mean over consumption of calories.

But…can you out run a bad diet if a bad diet means consistently eating junk food, fast food, simple carbohydrates like sugar, trans fats, and not enough fruits and vegetables? Can you out run that kind of a bad diet?

That’s not exactly the question that British researchers asked when they recently studied the diets and behaviors of nearly 350,000 people over a period of 11 years. They were asking the question:

Between diet and exercise, which of these played the most important role in decreasing the risk of mortality?

Was it quality diet or sufficient exercise? Don’t you want to know? What is more likely to help you live longer: diet or exercise? In a recent blog I looked at a study that asked something different. It asked what are the behavioral predictors for successful aging? They defined successful aging as free from disease, high cognitive and physical functioning, and a social support system. It did not look at longevity. Although you could infer from the definition of successful aging that a person is more likely to live longer. Let me set up this British study. Researchers access the UK bio bank. That’s a database of over 500,000 participants between the age of 40 and 69 gathered from 2007 to 2010. 350,000 of these participants completed the study the study looked at diet and here’s what they scored high:

  1. You scored high if you consumed 4 1/2 cups of vegetables and fruits on a daily basis. They also measured whether you had two or more servings of fish per week and two or fewer servings of processed meat, and five or less servings of meat as your protein. They rated diets from 0 to 3 based on the previous criteria with three being a high quality diet.
  2. They assessed the activity level and exercise level of participants. There were four levels of exercise: “0” was four no moderate or vigorous exercise during the week. “1” was scored if you exercised from 10 to 74 minutes each week of moderate to vigorous exercise. You received a “2” as a score if you exercise at a vigorous to moderate level for 70 forward to 149 minutes. And you scored a “3’” if you exercise 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous exercise. They followed all participants for 11 years and in 2020 they looked at the death certificates of all participants that it died and looked at their scores for diet and exercise and here’s what they found: people that ate a high quality diet and exercised at a high-level lived longer


When they looked at good diet and exercise separately those individuals who only exercised did better than those who did not exercise. So, if you only exercise, you will live longer than those individuals who do not exercise at all. Or exercise wins out over nutrition. But….


If you only have a good diet then you will do better than those individuals who have a poor diet. But, what this study indicated was, that individuals who had a good diet and exercise moderately or vigorously for 150 minutes a week, those individuals did better than those who only had a good diet and those who only had a good exercise regimen. It seems kind of silly that we have to look at 350,000 individuals and look at their diet and the amount of exercise that they do each week in order to determine whether or not it’s more likely that you’re going to live longer if you do both.

Take Aways

One “take away” from this study is that there are some things that I can do if I want to live longer. I’ve mentioned in one of my earlier blogs that both of my parents outlived all of their parents. And that is despite the fact that my father was a smoker. Both of my parents were relatively in good health and ate well. They weren’t big exercisers, though.

And so there’s no question that diet and exercise has the ability to trump genetics. It’s difficult to protect yourself from environmental factors such as accidents or exposure to toxic factors. I guess there are people out there that are pretty resigned to the fact that they are not going to outlive their genetics.

This study does indicate that within reason your behavior is going to determine to some extent how long you live.

You cannot eat whatever you want and avoid moderate to vigorous exercise and expect that you are going to live past your parents. I’m going to be sharing in a future blog a strategy known as back-casting. It’s a process of looking forward to what are call your “Marginal Years” or the last decade of your life, and then looking to your present life that is leading up to your marginal decade and determining what kind of things you need to do in order to have a very successful marginal decade. Clearly diet and exercise will play a role in that back-casting your marginal decade.

Can you out run a bad diet? If you mean, can you outrun eating or consuming high caloric meals? Then the answer is, probably yes. But if it means having a diet that includes sugars and avoids fruits and vegetables, then the answer is probably no. You need both exercise and high quality diet to counteract environment and genetics! Sorry for the bad news!

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


Triumphs of experience book

Triumphs of Experience – Part 1 | Healthy Aging Series: S8, E2

Reading time: 3 minutes.

Karate Kid. Cobra Kai. Mr. Miyagi.

I hope I’ve conjured up some images from either the Karate Kid movies or the very successful new series Cobra Kai on Netflix. The Cobra Kai series is so bad that I love it. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about two characters, Daniel LaRusso, and Johnny Lawrence, and their complete and total inability to learn from and let go of the past.

How does this introduction relate to a blog on healthy aging and to the book I am reading “Triumphs of Experience“? Most of us will struggle with our past. We might regret choices and decisions we’ve made. If you’re aging, which all of us are, the years move on, habits are formed, and opportunities are missed. Or, we create a past that will ensure a meaningful and successful future.

What if you could learn from the lives of others, learn from their mistakes, and from her successes? What if you could follow their lives from late adolescence, from 20 years old until they died?

That’s what the Harvard Grant Study did. The results of the study are shared in a book entitled “Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study,” written by George Vaillant.

In 1937, William T. Grant offered Harvard University a huge grant, amounting to $1 million in today’s money, to study men, eventually totally 268 sophomores from Harvard University. Grant owned a chain of department stores and was interested in developing a criteria that would predict the characteristics of a successful store manager.

Warning label: let’s make one obvious observation about this study. The subjects of this study were white men, attending an Ivy League school, and therefore this study can have limited application to most, or at least the majority of people in our country.

Having given you a warning label about the study my advice about reading the book or reading a blog about the study is this: take what you like, and leave the rest. Having said that, this study is seriously a one-of-a-kind study, akin to the longitudinal studies that have been done on nurses and Catholic nuns. Yes, these studies do exist.

I don’t want to bog you down with the details about the study. Chapter 3 of Vaillant’s Book will give you a history of the study. What I do want to do is to give you an overview of the lessons learned from the grant study, and then spend four or five more blogs, breaking down those lessons.

What is the clearest message from this 85 year study? Good relationships keep us happy and healthy. The author, who was also the Director of this study for about four decades, reported that there were two foundational elements gathered from the study. “Love is one,” writes Vaillant.  “The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.“

So, what were the lessons learned from this study?

First, there is such a thing as good mental health, and having good mental health contributes to a happier and healthier future. Throughout the blogs that I written, I’ve focused on psychological resiliency. Refer to the “How to Keep your Head in the Game” blog that was written a few months back.

Second, there should be a focus on coping skills to help us endure life’s slings and arrows. I have focused a lot on Mindfulness Practices and Medications in my personal life and in my practice. One of the best tools you can learn as you age.

Three, the most important influence on a flourishing life is love. The majority of men in the study who flourished found love before 30. What can I say? I love my wife, my sons, my granddaughters, my family, and my friends. They keep me afloat. They give my life meaning and purpose. Yeah, people who need people…

Four, what goes right is more important than what goes wrong. I liked this lesson. I work out. I learn. I continue to work and stay active. I try to eat right. All these “right” things are helpful in counteracting, or holding off the “wrong” habits and genetics that will event catch up to me.

Five, people can change and people really can grow. People really can grow!! You can teach old dogs new tricks!!

Six, if you follow people’s lives long enough, they change and so do the factors that affect healthy adjustment. It amazed me that it was impossible to predict how a person’s life would turn out. Sure, there were things that made success more or less predictive, but people are unpredictable. You are unpredictable and your future is not yet written. Such hopeful words!

I’m thinking back on the Cobra Kai series, and the endless bickering and fighting and competition that Daniel and Johnnie engage in. Life is best when we can rise above that petty competition and focus on love and relationships. Sounds corny, but as we will see in the coming blogs, only people that learn these lessons turn out to be a real winners.


Triumphs of experience book











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


Eighty Somethings: A Practical Guide to Letting Go, Aging Well, and Finding Unexpected Happiness by Katherine Esty, PhD | Healthy Aging Series: S8, E1

New Format and New Season

I’ve reorganized the format for my blogs to reflect Seasons!

I’ve written 74 blogs for our website, so I’m introducing the next season as Season 8!

Here is what you can expect in Season 8:

I’ve written 5 blogs from the book, “Triumphs of Experience.” This is a study that was started in 1937 that follow 268 men until 2010. It is an amazing book and gives us lots of insight into aging.

I’ve included 3 book “reflections.” They include books by Mel Brooks, and a book by Katherine Esty, “Eighty Somethings: A Practical Guide to Letting Go, Aging Well, and Finding Unexpected Happiness,” as well as a book by my mother’s favorite author, Gladys Tabor.

There is one blog that asks the question: Can you outrun a bad diet?

And then a blog about life after your parents are gone.

I hope you enjoy,



Reading time: 3 minutes

What’s the point of reading a book about people in their 80s? At first glance it seems a little depressing. Maybe that’s partly due to the negative images we have of people in their 80s. I was at a Kroger the other day when I man, seemingly in his 80s, was openly and obnoxiously complaining to an employee about the price of food. He told her that it was cheaper at Meyers. I’m not sure what his point was, but I felt sorry for the employee and I thought “Kroger man“ was reinforcing the stereotype of cranky, mean old people. Honestly, I’m sure if I sat down with him and listened to him, I would have learned a lot. Maybe, he was lonely. Maybe he was having trouble affording food.

I shared the story with my wife and if she was the employee, she would have  asked him what he would like for her to do about it. K. Maybe. Still. Why take it out on the employee? Still. Why make Eighty Somethings look so unkind. I ask again, why read a book about Eighty Somethings? The important thing to keep in mind is: Kroger man does not represent most 80 somethings.

Katherine Esty, in her book Eighty Somethings: A Practical Guide to Letting Go, Aging Well, and Finding Unexpected Happiness, provides a realistic and sympathetic portrait of people in their 80s.

What’s the point of reading a book about people in their 80s? Here are my takeaways from Estes book:

  1. Kroger Man does not represent the vast majority of Eighty Somethings. Esty interviewed 128 people in their 80s and was pleasantly surprised that most were happy despite their ailments.
  2. Folks in their 80s are survivors and have developed lots of skills. Most live on a very limited budget and are doing well. My mother lived on my father’s Social Security and lived well. She seemed to appreciate a simple lifestyle.
  3. Many Eighty Somethings are taking care of grandchildren and at times, they support for their adult children. Eighty Something households often become multigenerational households. Esty points out that many grandparents lack the imagination to see the important roles they could play in their grandkid’s lives.
  4. Most Eighty Somethings are experiencing significant loss and maybe we need to cut them a little slack. Estes shares her story of losses. As an Eighty Something she experience the loss of her husband, her strength and stamina, and friends. My mother would share with me her grief over the loss of my father. She missed him. She often talked about losing her old and new friends. She was generally in good health but in her 80s she fell several times due to her loss of stability and strength. Learning to let go is a common challenge for Eighty Somethings. In fact, it’s maybe the most important challenge of healthy aging.  Eighty Somethings are, of course, closer to dying than younger generations. Mortality awareness, awareness that death is in evitable, although by itself does not affect attitudes about death, does decreases our fear of dying and increases our acceptance of dying.
  5. Eighty Somethings are a wealth of wisdom and are a treasure trove of lessons to teach us. “Part of wisdom,” Esty writes, “is self-knowledge.” It isn’t just the ability to live life skillfully. It isn’t just having more experience or more education, or more degrees. Being wise  means coming to terms with who you are, your authentic self, and then being comfortable being that person. You give up on pleasing others and on trying to make others happy. You know your place in the universe and you rest in it. It seems to me that the successful Eighty Somethings that I have known and have met have something to say about being human, something to say about living, and something to say about dying. Certainly we could use a little wisdom in these times.
  6. More than anything, Esty’s book is a game plan for aging. Throughout her book she encourages people who are approaching their 80s to “write their own script.” “Eight Somethings” is written for everyone, but especially for those approaching their 70s and 80s. It’s a manual of a sort. The people that she writes about are survivors. By the time we reach 80 years-old half of our cohort will have passed on. My take away from her book is if you get the privilege of living into your 80s you have no one but yourself to blame if you become that cranky old man at the Kroger. Writing your own script means you get to decide what your 80s will look like. Esty’s book is optimistic about aging.  She herself is an Eighty Something who has continued to work as a psychotherapist and find meaning in her life. I found her book to be positive and uplifting and it gave me hope as I approach the end of my seventh decade.










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


How to Live Well in the Marginal Decade

How to Live Life Backwardly | Healthy Aging Series: Part 19

Several years ago, I worked with a young man who walked backwards. OK, he had some psychological problems and I guess if you think about it, what he did, kind of made sense. He didn’t want people sneaking up on him. He was a little paranoid, and a little cautious. 

Your Marginal Decade

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts (Huberman Lab) a few days ago. Dr. Andrew Huberman was interviewing Dr. Peter Attia. They were sharing a concept that I often share with my clients.  I preach that you need to prepare for the last 10 years of your life. They referred to this period of your life as, your Marginal Decade. They also introduced a new concept that was developed by Annie Duke, author of  “Thinking in Bets.” The concept was Backcasting, and it really doesn’t have anything to do with walking backward, and it is very different than the typical way we look at our lives. 

Backcasting vs. Forecasting

I recently went to my doctor, and she ordered a vascular screening. They looked at my calcium levels around my heart, and at my carotid arteries, and my pulmonary artery. They looked at my bone density. Lots of stuff.

They took a snapshot of my current risk factors and then they forecasted whether I was at risk for a cardiovascular event. That’s what the medical community does. They gather information through various screenings, such as your weight, your blood work, and current behaviors, and then they use that data to predict or forecast what your future health conditions will be. I wrote a blog about a study that asked whether there were predictors for successful aging. That’s forecasting.  

Backcasting is doing just the opposite. I tell my clients (often) that they must prepare for the last 10 years of their life. During the podcast is was referring to earlier, Dr. Attia, introduced a new term or a new way of looking at those last 10 years. He referred to them as the Marginal Decade. It is the last decade that you will live, and it is likely to be a tough one.

“ The gravity of aging,“ Dr Attia said, “is more vicious than we can imagine.”

I couldn’t agree more. That last decade has the potential of being very vicious to us. One of the strategies that has been suggested for preparing for that last decade is the process of Backcasting. Here is how it works: Think about what you want your marginal decade to look like (Fitness goals, psychological goals, social goals), and then begin developing strategies that will help you arrive at those goals. In other words, this is a creative way of preparing for the last 10 years of your life.

How I Backcasted My Life

This is a very personal experience and process. I believe, based on my parents average age of their death (85 years old), that I will be entering into my marginal decade in nine years. What do I want those last 10 years, from 75 to 85, to look like? First, I imagine that I want to be stable and able to come and go as I please. Second, I imagine that I want to be able to do the things that a person needs to do take care of himself to get around, and to get in and out of the community. Third, I imagine that want to be able to use my brain in my relationships, in my work, in my travels, and in my adventures. Fourth, I imagine that I want good solid relationships in my life. Fifth, I imagine that I want to continue writing. Sixth, I want to be able to study the things that I’m interested in. I want to go to the bottom of the well on topics that interest me! Seventh, I want to be able to hike mountains. I want to be able to cycle 15 or 20 miles on a Sunday afternoon. I want to be strong and be able to lift my own body weight in a dead lift. Backcasting doesn’t just mean physicality and emotional well-being, but it also involves your financial stability. Eighth, I imagine having the resources necessary to travel and have a comfortable life. These things are important to me. 

What do you want your Marginal Decade to look like? 

Once you get a snapshot of your marginal decade in your mind, it’s time to start mapping out the months, years, and decades leading up to that marginal decade. So, how do you act on a good Backcast of your marginal decade? I believe there are some meaningful and simple steps that you can take to do this. I’ve written blogs on resiliency, and these blogs address a lot of what I’m about to share. 

When it comes to physical resiliency, you’re looking at nutrition, exercise, and sleep. Set goals for yourself physically. Currently my goal is to exercise 8 to 10 hours a week. It always involves some resistance training. Usually that involves lifting weights to stay strong. I also do a lot of cardio exercising which includes cycling, hiking, and backpacking. If I want to be strong during my marginal decade, then I’m going to have to continue being strong and the decade leading up to my marginal decade.

If you want a healthy brain, then I must exercise. I am writing blogs currently on the aging brain and one of the principles that I’ve learned is, what’s good for the heart is good for the brain. We all know what’s good for the heart. I’ve also talked about being stable as you get older to avoid falls. My prescription is to add instability into your work outs to be more stable. So, I’m working on continuing to be strong during the decades leading up to my marginal decade. When I was in my late 50s, I was using a personal trainer and he asked me what I wanted my goal to be for when I was 60. I told him, “ I want to be a bad ass when I’m 60!” Now it’s my goal as I approach seventy.

What about Backcasting for your psychological well-being?

How do you maintain your psychological resiliency during your marginal decade? There are many things that you can do now to ensure that when you’re in your marginal decade you have a healthy and strong psychological constitution. First, being psychologically and emotionally resilient means having friends, investing your time and energy into your family and social relationships. Second, it means studying. Study topics that interest you! Read difficult books. Learn difficult things. Third, work your brain out the same way you would work out your body. Push yourself psychologically. Fourth, force yourself to have social engagements with your family and friends! Look for new friendships! 

These are the things that I am doing to prepare for my marginal decade. This isn’t brain surgery folks! Getting older and preparing for your marginal decade is not like falling off a log. And by that, I mean it isn’t going to happen accidentally. You must be purposeful in preparing for that marginal decade! I suppose that preparing for your marginal decade is in its simplest terms developing a lifestyle that will bring about positive changes and help sustain what you’ve been working on to date. Start working on that lifestyle now.

This is part nineteen in the Healthy Aging Series, written by Mark Neese, LCSW, BCBA. To see more entries in this series, click here.