Longevity: Key Ingredients

Frank Walsh on his daily jog
Frank Walsh on his daily jog

When someone is 91, has no arthritis and laughs easily, we naturally want to know more about how they rode through almost a century of life and be healthier than many who are a lot younger. A good diet and exercise are important, for sure, but there is more to it than meets the eye, as I found out last week when I joined Frank Walsh for his daily slow jog at the golf course he frequents most afternoons.

Frank will be 92 in four months. I snapped this photo of him as we went up the slow and steady incline that got my heart pumping. In addition, every morning, he works with free weight. It looks a little like kung fu as he holds 8-pound weights in a variety of moves with hundreds of repetitions. He works with the weights for about an hour before he has his oatmeal for breakfast.

Frank was not always this fit. He always golfed, but it was not until he was 40 that he “began to work out a little”. He and some friends would meet a couple of times a week at the Y to jog around the basketball court and then go for a swim. At the time, he was overweight, had aches and pains in his joints, and a nagging heartburn. He has none of these symptoms today.

That said, it was not until he turned 60 that he “really began to make health a priority”. I know this to be true, because he was living with us at the time. Frank is my father. At age 60, he started jogging a few miles a day and got a new job working in the pro shop at a golf course. In his 70s, he started working with free weights because he did not want to fall and break bones. Like his mother, my grandmother, an immigrant from Italy, he always eats three simple and balanced meals a day. He rarely needs to see a doctor.

It is clear that exercise and healthy eating play a big role in his vitality. However, when I ask him what his “secret” is, he does not mention exercise and diet. Instead, he said, “It’s a good thing to be able to laugh and not worry too much about what other people think”. He tells me its good to help people out when you can, and adds, “When I was working, I used to try to hire those who were down on their luck, needed a new start or a second chance. Now helping someone might be making the girl who I buy my coffee from, who looks a little down, smile.”

It got me thinking. I hope I have his genes, but mostly I want his attitude. It seems rather simple, making a difference in someone’s life each day. It does not have to be huge: maybe just a smile or making it a habit to buy something each week to donate to the local food pantry. If we are creative, the opportunities are endless. Not worrying what others think might be more of a challenge in our culture. As far as working out, my advice is always the same—find your fit. I like to go for brisk hikes in the woods and enjoy a good yoga or dance class.

What are your personal lifestyle and fitness needs? Everyone has a story.

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