Many of us have a list things we want to accomplish in our
lifetimes. These items might include
running a marathon, seeing the bulls run in Spain or travelling the world. For 64-year-old Diana Nyad
, her life list
included swimming 110 miles in the open ocean from Cuba to Florida, something
she first tried unsuccessfully 35 years ago. This week, she accomplished this
incredible feat, giving new meaning to the old adage that you’re never too old
to live your dreams.
Q: Diane’s story is
certainly inspirational, especially at age 64!
What kinds of physical limitations did she have to overcome that she
didn’t have to worry about on her first attempt, 35 years ago?
A: Endurance is
the main obstacle and physical limitation. Whether or not she could sustain the
kind of physical and mental effort required to swim that far was a key
question. As we age, we may not have the
same reservoir of energy or degree of aerobic fitness that we did in our
20s. But we do have the benefit of
mental toughness – we know what our limitations are and we have learned from
|Charles F. Reynolds III, M.D.|
It's evident that Nyad had built up and maintained her
stamina and hardiness to the point where she could undertake and complete her
110 mile swim. Many people who live to become centerarians make lifestyle
choices that promote robust aging, via physical and mental activity, plant-heavy
diets, social connectedness, and avoidance of deleterious activities like
Q: Nyad claimed she
was in her physical peak, is this really possible in your 60s? Is it safe for
all 60-somethings out there to sign up for an Ironman Triathlon?
I do think it’s
possible to be in the shape of your life in your 60s and beyond. People are living longer and remaining
engaged and vital: about 76 million Americans are now in the “third chapter of
life.” Even in the 7th
decades of life and beyond, there is always room for improvement – we can tap
into reservoirs of physical strength and improved mental acuity. We don’t’ have to be on a downhill course – we
CAN do things to improve our life
, but it does take work and determination.
Overall, exercise is important for all older adults in some
cases endurance events or races may also be possible. It is however key to
check with your doctor first, before starting or ramping up any exercise
routine. I advise my patients to pursue
a medically supervised aerobic program that includes resistance training.
Q: Despite her
previous failed attempts, Nyad came back time and again to attempt this
swim. Can you tell us about the
importance of setting big life goals?
In a great
book called The Third Chapter
, author Sara
Lawrence-Lightfoot states, “We want to find out what this penultimate chapter
of our life is going to be about…We’re ready for something new…for a new
adventure…All of us to some degree experience burnout. Burnout is not about working too hard…Burnout
is about boredom…This is about moving beyond the boredom to compose, to invent,
and reinvent the path we’re on.”
The setting of life goals has to do with a person’s need for
meaning. It’s a question of finding a
life of meaning, not finding the meaning of life. Utility to oneself and utility to others are
key facets to a fulfilling life. Setting
goals not only makes us more resilient to depression and helps us bounce back
from adversity, but it also becomes a source of motivation and fulfillment.
Q: What smaller steps
can older adults take to tackle their bucket lists?
A: Not everyone should (or wants to) jump
up and swim across the ocean. But
finding small activities that you find fulfilling and tackling them day-by-day
allows you to build your capacity to savor life and just be grateful to be
alive. Sometimes those activities are
physical but sometimes they are more social in nature – the key point is to
find pleasurable activities that allow you to savor life.
Labels: aging, Aging Institute of UPMC, University of Pittsburgh