2011-08-03 / Fitness

Older … now what about wiser?

By Anna Sachse
CTW Features


Getting better with age starts with improving performances in the most important roles we play: parent, grandparent, spouse, employee and community member. Getting better with age starts with improving performances in the most important roles we play: parent, grandparent, spouse, employee and community member. When people are young, it’s easy to view oneself as the star of the show. But as the years pass by, people begin to realize that the character being played continually changes. So how do you become the best 50-plus you?

Here, a slew of experts weigh in on how to be a better…

Parent

The single best way to teach adult children how to lead successful, fulfilling lives is to model for them the characteristics that parents hope they acquire, says Kathi Casey, founder of HealthyBoomerBody.com. Dedicate quality time to both family and work, be financially responsible, cultivate meaningful friendships, avoid addictive behavior, face problems head-on, prioritize personal growth and talk to and about others with respect. Just as when they were younger, adult children will learn more by watching than they will from lectures or threats.

Of course, it’s certainly OK to offer advice.“But keep in mind that they get to make their own decisions and mistakes,” says Pat Nunan, a director for Boomer-Living.com and owner of Lifestyles Design, a Pennsylvania-based firm specializing in independent living solutions for seniors.“Let them know you’re there for them if they need you, but give them their space.”

In addition, even though a parent’s role will always be one of guidance, as children age, parents get more opportunities to be friends. Schedule movie, golf, book club, walk or coffee dates and show a genuine interest in their lives.

Grandparent

Depending on a family’s needs, grandparents can take on many different roles, says Nancy K. Schlossberg, a professor emerita in counseling at the University of Maryland, College Park and author of “Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose” (APA, 2009). If a grandchild lives close by, a grandparent might serve as a babysitter or playmate, but it’s also possible to play the part of a teacher and historian when family lives far away, thanks to telephones, email, Skype and good old-fashioned cards.

But being the best grandparent also means taking care of personal needs.“If you’re helping out with childcare, create a clear schedule that allows you time with the grandchildren and time away,” Nunan says. Grandparents are more likely to be pleasant and present with the little ones when also nurturing their own marriage, friendships and hobbies.

In addition, in order to keep up with all those tykes, stay on top of health. This means eating well, not missing medical appointments and getting at least 30 minutes of exercise daily. Casey suggests making fitness fun (and a fantastic life lesson) by incorporating grandchildren — shoot hoops, dance around the living room or play a game of hide-and-seek.

Spouse

One of the gifts of a long-term marriage is finally realizing it’s impossible to change one another, says Mary Eileen Williams, founder of the Feisty Side of Fifty blog and radio program.“My suggestion — after 36 years of marriage — is to become more accepting of each other’s differences and support your spouse’s new interests and opportunities for growth.”

It’s also vital to embrace moments to grow and try new things together, adds Marjorie Hope Rothstein, a boomer consumer expert and columnist for Boomer-Living.com.Travel, for example — from a wine country weekend to that African safari you’ve always talked about, just DO it. Prefer something longer term? Sign up for a basic yoga class, study gourmet cooking, take tango lessons or go skydiving.

“Anything that’s new and exciting for you both you will evoke a sense of connection,” Rothstein says.

Speaking of connection, don’t forget to touch each other, says Nunan, who’s been married for 38 years.This means maintaining intimacy in the bedroom, but also finding smaller ways to show affection, such as taking showers together, stopping for a hug as passing in the kitchen and always kissing each other goodbye when leaving the house.

Employee

Living in a roller-coaster economy and facing younger competition — how does an aging worker determine what his or her role is in a tumultuous workplace?

“First off — and I’m adamant about this — do not feel ‘less than’ because of your age,” says Williams, author of “Land the Job You Love: 10 Surefire Strategies for Jobseekers Over 50” (CreateSpace, 2010).“You don’t want to act like a know-it-all, but you have every right to take pride in the skill set, market knowledge and professional network you’ve built up over a lifetime.”

This attitude is especially important right now, she says, as the media has focused much of its workplace bad news around boomers, suggesting that they’ll have greater difficulty finding a new position if they lose their job. But buying into these discouraging headlines will only make it more difficult to present yourself as a confident, quick-witted, can-do current employee or job candidate.

That said, never demean younger coworkers, notes Schlossberg. Not only could a person lose out on learning from the unique perspectives or skills they bring to the table, he or she will likely be perceived as dated and someone who doesn’t work well with teams.

Instead, present yourself as a seasoned employee/job applicant who is eager to mentor younger workers and teach them the ropes, says Williams. “This is good for the organization and a great selling point in a review or interview.”

And if approaching retirement or financial stability has made interest in traditional employment wane,Williams also recommends looking into part-time work or consulting, which may allow people more freedom, or opting for an encore career centered on social responsibility or an activity you’ve always loved.

Community member

For the 50-plus crowd, finding ways to volunteer or participate in civicminded activities is critically important, says Schlossberg, who founded the website TransitionsThroughLife.com. “There’s lots of evidence to show that those who contribute live healthier, happier lives and perform better cognitively.”

There are plenty of charitable organizations in need out there so take the time to find an area that truly taps into personal interests, utilizes your skills and natural talents, fulfills you and enables you to serve others in ways that give you energy,Williams says.You might also consider helping out at a hospital, sitting on a panel to improve local parks, advocating for seniors’ issues, walking dogs for the Humane Society, painting a mural in a low-income area or volunteering in a grandchild’s classrooms Find more opportunities through the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), a division of SeniorCorps.org.

“Many boomers have spent years in unfulfilling jobs,”Williams says.“So community service can truly become the gold of your golden years.”

© CTW Features

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