Aging Expert: Don’t Obsess Over ‘Should’

Aging Expert: Don’t Obsess Over ‘Should’

By Patrice Worthy

Yoga, check. Red wine, check. Friends, check. Retirement, check.

For those who are letting the “shoulds” define life over 50, Sarah Kagan, a gerontological nurse and professor of gerontological nursing at the University of Pennsylvania, has some advice: Put down the checklist and live your life.

Kagan talked about avoiding the shoulds during a presentation at the William Breman Jewish Home on Sunday, April 17, as part of the London Family Age Smart lecture series. She used humor and chutzpah to dish on how to enjoy the process of aging.

“We need to have more conversations about aging because it begins to happen as soon as you’re born,” Kagan said as the room lighted up with laughter.

She addressed several issues facing those over age 50 and spoke candidly about the myths of aging and the importance of living authentically. Living life to the fullest often means doing away with the checklist, Kagan said.

LeAnne Rinzler, 46, said she was drawn to the event because learning to be fully present every day is a good lesson for anyone, regardless of age.

“I came for a multitude of reasons because I’m interested in the quality of my life today. I’m actually not thinking about 20 years from now,” Rinzler said. “I’m interested in what’s going to enhance and engage me in my day-to-day life and teach me how to let go of some of the pressure and stressors we all feel from society. I want to learn how can I minimize and reduce some of those stressors to enhance my well-being today.”

As technology evolves and more studies are conducted on the aging process, it can be tempting to follow the findings published in popular media. But Kagan said information disseminated through friends, family, the Internet and even doctors should be researched and confirmed before you accept it.

She used red wine as an example: Some people drink it more often because studies show that it is good for you, but next year studies could find something different.

“If you like to have a glass of red wine in the evening, have a glass of red wine — not because studies say it is good for you, but because you enjoy it,” Kagan said. “You should do what you enjoy. That’s more important than following a list of shoulds.”

Kagan followed up by giving her own short list of guaranteed ways to increase well-being, including exercise, a social network and happiness.

Of course, finding happiness should never interfere with your health, so don’t eat that piece of cake if you have diabetes. Kagan said it’s all about using common sense.

“I think most people don’t think about the constraints of living for the moment,” Kagan said. “There is freedom in making choices for the future.”

Preparing for the future inevitably includes the transition to retirement. Once people hit retirement age, Kagan said, they feel it’s a requirement to leave the workforce. But what about those people who enjoy their careers or find their work satisfying?

“Retirement should not be looked at as the end of life or activity, but more like ‘What am I going to do with the next phase of my life?’ ” Kagan said about the anxiety-inducing transition.

Kagan’s message resonated with Pat Balzar, 77, who said the talk validated how she lives her life. Balzar said more people should follow Kagan’s advice because getting older hasn’t slowed her down.

“I think in order to have a successful older age you have to live life to the fullest,” Balzar said. “It reaffirmed what I am already doing in my life. I have wonderful friends that I spend a lot of time with. I exercise. I play mahjong. I spend time with my grandchildren, and I travel. So my life is full doing interesting things. I think it’s very important.”

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