BROWARD COUNTY – Here we are in the Sunshine State, the same place the explorer Ponce de Leon once searched for the fountain of youth.
Florida can be considered a place where the elderly play. It ranks as the third largest state with people 65 years and older, with over 4 million seniors. Only California and Texas have larger senior populations.
The U.S. Census Bureau released projections on the U.S. population growth and, believe it or not, starting this year the population of 65 and older is growing faster than the total population in every single state.
Just 10 years ago each of the nation’s 50 states had more people 18 and under than 65 and older, but that trend has now been reversed as us baby boomers reach full retirement age.
People are not just getting older they are becoming more active and productive in those graying years as evidenced by those Floridians who are taking good care of themselves.
I recently had the opportunity to meet a group of seniors at the local gym in Broward County who are healthy and quick witted due to their regular physical exercises, mental stimulation and willingness to maintain a strong social network.
The group of five meets twice a week at the Tamarac Gardens West Clubhouse to play mahjong. Just as our bodies need physical exercise to keep them in the best possible shape as we age, our mental faculties also need exercise if they are to remain useful.
Adele Rosen, 81, Marilyn Ginsberg, 82, Lee Michaels, 82, Bobbi Horn, 76, and Doris Queen, 95 years young all look and act years younger than their actually age.
Rosen goes to the gym everyday but Saturday, the day reserved for her hairstylist. At the gym she will try a variety of machines from the treadmill to the elliptical and even uses light weights to tone her muscles.
Ginsberg is also a regular at the gym where she will walk on the treadmill machine for about an hour a day.
Michaels will also frequent the gym’s treadmill while the eldest of the group, Doris Queen enjoys doing laps in the pool.
The five ladies will also meet twice a week at the community center for a lively game of Mah Jong where some pocket change often exchange hands.
“We have a lot of fun and we enjoy life,” Rosen said. “It’s important to have friends and fun things to look forward to. Besides eating right and exercising, keeping the mind active by playing games helps. My favorite television show is Jeopardy.”
The eldest, Doris Queen, credits a portion of her longevity to playing games, such as Mah Jong. “I don’t know why I’ve lived this long,” Queen said. “Playing Mah Jong with the girls gives me something to look forward to and I’m sure that helps.”
On a trip to the Barber Shop in the city of Tamarac in Broward County while waiting to get my hair cut I initiated a conversation with Al Zeitzer, a retired Food Purveyor, from Brooklyn, New York.
Zeitzer was the 50 yard dash state champion in track when he was in the eighth grade, back in 1927. This 95 year old gentlemen most impressed me with his sharp mind and his ability to drive himself everywhere.
But I was here in Florida to find what Ponce de Leon failed to do five centuries earlier, discover secrets to the “Fountain of Youth.” So I popped the most important question of our 10 minute long conversation, “What is the key to your longevity,” I asked.
“I still like women,” Zeitzer said with a wide grin, “even though I can’t do much!”
Zeitzer also admitted to limiting his meat intake to twice a week and eating lots of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis.
“I moved to Florida in 1981 and I enjoy life on a daily basis,” Zeitzer said.
Some of the keys to living a healthy life well into our senior years are the ability to get a good night’s sleep, eating healthy with a well balanced diet and getting regular physical exercise.
Ponce de Leon was ahead of his time in his search for the Fountain of Youth in Florida. Had he lived in the present day he would have discovered what most of us seek all over the world, as we age – the secret to a long, happy and productive life.
But the secret can be found in most places where seniors are living well into their 90’s as productive citizens of each community. Florida doesn’t have the lock on the secret as we can learn much from the senior citizens of the Big Island too!