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Age Smart: Discovering the Fountain of Youth at Midlife and Beyond

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Aging well isn't about trying to appear young with plastic surgery and personal trainers. It's about living a physically and emotionally healthy life after midlife, and this chapter will help you get started on the path to aging well.
This chapter is from the book

A number of years ago, Donald Keough, president of Coca-Cola, retired. At 66, this garrulous, hard-charging, oft-described "people- person" executive was reluctant to leave, but he had reached the mandatory retirement age. Most of his friends and colleagues, as would be expected, thought he would walk into the sunset with his pockets full of cash to enjoy devoted family time. He would lead the retirement life so many people dream about—rich, abundant in energy, and free of worries. So, on a cool Friday morning in Spring, Don packed up his office, bade goodbye to his colleagues, and made his graceful exit.

But by Monday, much to the surprise of his friends, Don flew to New York to take a job chairing a boutique investment bank called Allen & Co. "Don, what are you doing?" his friends asked, perplexed. Don was a man with many millions of dollars who could do anything he wanted—join some boards, travel the world, and build his dream house or houses. But Don wanted to work again. Hard work. "You’ve been working all your life," another friend declared, who seemed more puzzled by the move than happy for him. "Why don’t you relax for a bit and then jump back in?"

"You kidding?" Don replied to each of the inquiring friends. "I’d end up like those guys in pink pants."

As Don later told us when we interviewed him, he’d been vacationing for many years at an exclusive coastal golf resort. The place was Palm Springs meets Southern hospitality. Most people were retirees from the upper echelons of society, spending their days enjoying the beaches and golf courses, dining at world-famous restaurants, and driving their yachts out onto the sapphire-blue water. To you and me, it would be Retiree Utopia. But for Don, it was Retiree Prison.

Over the years, he’d begun to realize this happy place was inhabited by some unhappy people. Every time he visited, invariably one or two friends or acquaintances would tug at his sleeve and take him aside. "Don," they’d breathe. "What’s it like out there in the real world?"

"What do you mean?"

"You know, the real world. The place where things happen, where you’ve got a place to be, people to meet. I’m going crazy here with all this time on my hands. I never thought I’d say it, but I need to get away from this." This, of course, meaning a permanent "dream" retirement.

The one thing Don noticed about these people was that many of them wore pink pants. Or pink shorts. Some pants were more of a pastel pink. Others wore salmon-colored pants. One sported generous flamingo pink neon. "There’s something about when you go into retirement and spend a few years in that phase of life, that suddenly all these perfectly well-dressed men start wearing these God-awful pink pants. I said to myself, I said to my wife, I will never be caught dead in those damn pink pants."

That was how Don decided his second act was going to be as far away from the golf resort as possible. At 79, he’s as energetic as ever, jetting across the globe to meetings, overseeing corporate mergers that you and I have probably read about in the newspapers, and mentoring the next generation of corporate leaders and CEOs. Rather than pink pants, he has stayed in his favorite business suits.

Don’s story describes a lot of what this book is about. It’s about throwing out all conceptions about the traditional retirement years. It’s about defying the conventions that say aging means a bland, low-excitement life. It’s about how to prepare now—financially, physically, mentally—for your second or even third act.

It’s about saying no to wearing pink pants.

Aging Is Not a Dirty Word

Age Smart is about aging well, not staying young.

Staying young is something Hollywood does, presenting ageless beauties and hunks who look better at age 45 than at 25. That’s not what we are talking about. We think that’s unhealthy for a variety of reasons, but mostly because to look the way Tom Cruise or Demi Moore does requires a lot of money and trainers.

You probably know of many people who personify the "no pink pants" ideal. Here are just a few:

  • Millionaire and extreme adventurer, Steve Fossett, who set a world record for flying solo nonstop across the globe at the age of 60.
  • President George Bush, Sr., who dove out of an airplane to celebrate his 80th birthday.
  • Soul legend, Tina Turner, who slid back into her high heels to start an exhausting world tour at the age of 65.
  • Clint Eastwood, who won his third Oscar for Million Dollar Baby, proving that he is amazingly doing his best work at the age of 74.
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is the last remaining woman on the powerful Supreme Court and who entered 2006 at age 72, having served 12 years on the top court.
  • Joe Paterno, who coached Penn State over Florida State in the Orange Bowl in January 2006 at age 79. (Interestingly, Florida State was coached by the "young" Bobby Bowden, age 76!)

Growing older is not what it used to be. It’s better. Newspaper and magazine articles loudly proclaim "Sixty is the new forty" or that "Seventy is the new fifty." Whatever you like. But the truth is that people really are living richer, fuller lives in their later years, thanks to all sorts of advances in the medical field—from blood pressure medications, to new knees, to better health monitoring. We’re eating healthier, despite the justified obesity concerns.

We’re smoking less. We’re more environmentally concerned. It’s all adding up to an improved quality of life. I bet if we asked you to name at least one or two people who are active, passionate, don’t-look-their-age seniors, you’d be able to name them in a second. Perhaps they are your own parents, grandparents, an aunt, or a friend’s father. These are people who appear to defy the odds—and surprisingly, there are plenty of people out there who are just like them.

What we’re proposing in this book isn’t a post-retirement life plan or a plan for what to do after you reach age 65. It’s a life plan that prepares you for your post-65 period. That’s a big difference. What can you do right now—in your 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond—to ensure your life is vibrant and dynamic up until the very end?

We show you that achieving this is not dumb luck. Clint Eastwood isn’t "lucky" to be working at 74—he most likely practiced for this vibrancy his whole life. He might not have done everything right, but we’re pretty sure that staying involved in directing movies—a huge intellectual undertaking—helps him age well by challenging his brain. That doing this comes to him naturally is a gift, but it’s certainly not exclusive to him. If we all mentally challenge ourselves throughout our lives, we’ll have a much better chance of aging well.

Luckily for Clint, he doesn’t need to worry about his finances. But chances are, you do. A goal of our life plan is to help you in all aspects. Aging well is not just about preserving your body, exercising your brain, or making sure your retirement nest egg is enough. It’s about integrating all those things. Just as exercising does wonders for your brain, plenty of savings can do wonders for your peace of mind and happiness. We don’t compartmentalize daily living—we are not file cabinets in which we can access each part of our lives when we feel like it.

Money, health, happiness—all these things come tumbling at us in waves, jumbled together like seaweed.

We take all this into account as we construct a guide for you to age well and age smart. We’ve also added in real-life stories from people who live like Clint—smart, savvy, and incredibly active at a time when most think they should be heading to the nursing home. People who age well and smart are true followers of "no pink pants." We hope you’ll learn a thing or two from them or just enjoy reading about their experiences.

First, we want to tell you a little more about the dirty little word—"aging"—and why it’s so important you know as much about it as possible.

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