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10/12/2013 10:20:59 AM

Growing young while getting old

By Virgilio M. Ofiana
Philippine Daily Inquirer

It’s been said that “a woman is as old as she looks, and a man is old when he stops looking.”

In my case, I had barely stopped looking when the company declared me old. I was retired at the age of 60 because that’s what the rule book said. But how could they retire me when I could still beat everybody in the R&D gym at table tennis and sometimes at chess when I had the time? My hair was still predominantly black and only a few wrinkles marred my face. And even if I did have the wrinkles, they stood for character etched by hard, rewarding work. Hey, that was what the American actress and writer Carrie Fisher said in 1956: “Wrinkles on a man is character; on a woman, its ‘Oh, my God, s-t!’”

How can they retire people when they’re still growing in their job, not yet about to go over the hill, but in fact are still poised to conquer new hills given their wealth of experience? Why not retire people on the basis of biological age (one’s real age), and not on the number of candles blown on birthday cakes?

Blame it on Otto von Bismarck, the “Iron Chancellor” who started it all in Germany in 1889. Bismarck set 70 as the age of retirement mainly as a ploy to disqualify his older rivals for the chancellorship. The age was later reset at 65 in Germany, and that was what other countries soon adopted for government employees.

While retirement suffers the myth of living downside the hill, I look at it rather as the period that now offers more available time and greater freedom, to “make the rest of your life the best of your life.” For starters, I buy and read a lot of health books that come in handy when I write my column for a health and fitness magazine, or when I conduct lectures whenever the opportunity presents itself.

As to family, I do have occasional interesting times with my two great grandchildren who, at four and five years of age, have the nasty habit of impatiently telling me how to operate the iPad, the better to remind me that I’m just five months away from my 80th happening. But the reminder doesn’t bother me, really, because my plan is to live up to 99 and not a day longer because I don’t think it’s nice to go deep six with century-old balls.

How to achieve this? I have planned for it with simple philosophies. Eat less and live longer. Don’t eat if you’re not hungry. Eat lots of vegetables and fruits at home; avoid processed foods. Always find a table to eat; chew your food at least 15 times before you swallow. Avoid foods with the ambience, they can drain your wallet. For exercise, I follow my cardio’s old advice: Don’t lie down if you can sit; don’t sit if you can stand; don’t stand if you can move about. Even standing for about two hours a day can make you fit; it strengthens your leg muscles and makes them efficient in squeezing the limb vessels to return blood back to your heart. Standing also puts longitudinal stress on your bones, which they need to build up minerals like calcium for stronger structure. Tending to my herbal patch is part of my daily cardio workout.

For relaxation, I join my old fishing buddies for fun-and-jokes-filled trips to any body of water that catches our fancy. Angling is perfect sport for seniors, never unproductive, since you can always pass by the fish market on the way home. Fishing, like the game of golf, is where you can have a good lie and get away with it.

For mental calisthenics (“neurobics” is the new term), I run to my books, shame the Inquirer crossword puzzle with a 98-percent batting average, or get lost in the Internet. No, I don’t do video, but yes, I do music, ofttimes with my ukulele and my old reliable harmonica, the one that never fails to bring back misty-eyed memories of the cumbanchero days of the early 1950s (Deepak Chopra suggests that going back in time is rejuvenating).

Believe me, our brain continues to grow, maybe not in the number of nerve cells but in their interconnections. At birth, we’re endowed with about 16 billion nerve cells in our cerebral cortex alone and, although we lose some 50,000 neurons a day starting at age 25, we’re still left with about 15 billion at age 70. The redundancy of neurons always present in our brain and the continuing connections with other neurons allow for the loss of great quantities of them without significant loss of brain complexity and power. Witness how such great men as Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Hugo, Tennyson, Graham Bell, Verdi, Franklin, Jefferson, and Russell continued to be creative even in their later years.

A most rewarding use of expanded leisure time in retirement is volunteer work. I have been doing this in medical missions, which are now second nature to me as a retired medical practitioner and current advocate of healthy aging under the aegis of the Unilab Bayanihan Foundation. On my own, I have been conducting free clinics and lay lectures on health iss



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