A Hundred Year Challenge

Hi, happy belated New Year! I’ve been receiving a few “where are you?” “Where’d you go?” notes lately. Last August when that hurricane, turned tropical storm, Hilary hit SoCal it devastated the upper Santa Ana River basin in the San Bernardino Mountains and nearby desert communities. It swept away roads, bridges, homes, and a human life. I understood that it was an historic flood. Ken and I have owned a cabin on the river for 50 years. It was very personal to me and I felt compelled to capture it through the written word, resulting in six weeks of researching and writing. Then the holidays were upon us and last Sunday we celebrated my mother’s 100th birthday. My sister and I hosted a beautiful event with live music, a buffet fit for a queen, and 85 of her friends and family. Mom reports that it exceeded her wildest dreams.

I had the pleasure of sharing highlights of her long and interesting life. In thinking about my remarks, my thoughts naturally turned back to my own childhood, circa 1950. An image emerged of being in the chorus of such operas as Regalletto while our mom, the lead soprano for the Santa Monica Civic Opera Association, sang her heart out as Gilda, alone on the stage in the spotlight. It was a culturally unique way to grow up. The reflections led me to research what life is like for centenarians. My musings set me on a path to thinking about what kind of future I want to create for myself.

I had been toying with the idea of having my groceries delivered. I have now scrubbed that idea as I reframe the whole idea of lifting the heavy bags and carrying them up my stairs. Now I see this task as essential weight training. Reframing is looking at things in a new way. Perhaps instead of lamenting our limitations, we focus on all the things we can still do.

The ladies in my Pilates class recently told me about the Netflix documentary The Blue Zone which examines the five places on the planet which have the most centenarians. It has inspired me to walk up more hills and reduce my sugar consumption. I had been working on that when my historian friend, Pam Gibson, recommended a new book she was reading: Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity by Peter Attia, M.D. Fifty year old Dr. Attia is a marathon swimmer, having swum from the mainland to Catalina; a surgeon, and a man set on living well as long as possible, hoping for 100. He builds a case backed up by the newest research showing a path forward as we age. A path that could allow us to be at our vital best. He calls it “health span.” I am at the section in the book where he challenges us to create a Centenarian Decathlon of physical challenges as we age. His “Centenarian Decathlon” is a framework to use to organize our aspirations for our future years. It is a list of the most important physical tasks we want to be able to do for the rest of our lives. It is a lot about exercise and smart nutrition. Anyway, I have mentally enrolled myself in it! I intend to be a finisher.

Each year at my annual physical exam my doctor, Dr. Lo, asks me the required Medicare questions: “Donna can you put your bra on by yourself?” 

“Dr. Lo, I am riding my horses every week.”

Laughing, he replies, “I am required to ask these.” 

“Donna, can you use the restroom unassisted?” 

“Dr. Lo I walk my three huge golden retrievers two miles every day!” He chuckles again and it continues like that…”I have to ask.”

I smile and roll my eyes. However, these Medicare questions highlight the very serious physical limitations which most often accompany old age. In preparing the remarks for my mother’s event I learned that only 1 in 6000 Americans arrive at their 100th birthday. That is about .00002 percent of the population with no consideration as to what shape those persons are in. The United Nations defines anyone 60 years or over as “older.” Some studies distinguish between the young-old (60-69), the middle old (70-79) and the very old, (80+). Apparently I have already arrived at VERY OLD…NOT! 

At its core, The Blue Zone documentary is five episodes of pure inspiration. It is something of a travelogue as well as a show stuffed full of astounding human examples of centenarians who are thriving! I nearly swooned watching a 103 year old Costa Rican man on his tall white horse guiding an unruly herd of big horned steers into a corral. I couldn’t stop grinning as a Japanese woman past 100 shimmied and swayed in a dance for the camera while balancing a bottle on her head. I enjoyed the eighty-somethings on the pickle ball courts of Loma Linda, California. My husband, Ken, tells me that in his alumni class notes for Occidental College class of 1964, that 25% report playing pickleball with regularity!

It’s a new year. We are on Flight 2024. Maybe now is a good time to think about what more we can do to mobilize our strength and maintain our vitality so that when we arrive at the next destination we are prepared to meet its challenges. I for one am excited about the Centenarian Decathlon. Maybe we can do it together? Here is a list of some of my goals: 

Walk my dogs a half hour a day.

Lift up my future great grandchildren

Live in my two story home

Open jars

Bathe my dogs

Travel on an airplane

Walk up the hill to my home

Put on my bra!

I would love to hear what you have been up to, how you have been feeling, and what your plans are?