As a part of my counseling practice, I consult with a local physician. He assists me in treating some of my clients with medical background and practical advice. In response to a discussion about a particular client, he told me about one of his patients who is eighty-five years old. Aside from arthritis, this man is in pretty good shape and does everything that he should to remain that way. In addition, he fills his life with meaningful activities for others. For example, this octogenarian makes tapes of his singing and playing the guitar and then takes the recordings to shut-ins. He feels that it is important for him to reach out to others who can't get out.

One day, during a routine doctor's appointment, he told my friend that when he orders his vitamins, he always gets a year's supply at a time. His theory is that at his age, "I need to do all that I can to stay healthy; I'm not a youngster anymore." True, he isn't a youngster anymore, but his optimism about life is one of the reasons that he has lived this long. I wonder how many of his peers order their vitamins yearly. My guess is that most of them order their vitamins a month at a time; it is more prudent that way. The irony is that this type of prudence is one of the reasons he doesn't have many peers.

Before you read any further in this article, I want you to get a pencil. Now, subtract your present age from eighty-five. For me, I have thirty-one more years before I reach this octogenarian's present age. The question for you and I should be, what must we do to get to his venerable age? While there are some things that aren't under our control like hereditary factors, we do have control over much of our lives. There are some things over which we have complete control.

  1. Quit smoking or using illegal drugs. There is nothing that smoking or drugging will do to lengthen or enhance your life. So, stop. However, there is plenty to be said about drugs and cigarettes shortening your life and ruining the quality of it.
  2. If you drink, do so in moderation. If you have a problem with drinking, see your family doctor and then join AA. How many alcoholic octogenarians do you know?
  3. Exercise daily. A good rule of thumb about a cardiovascular exercise program is that you should exercise thirty minutes everyday at 80% of your heart's capacity. To find your capacity, subtract your age from 220 and multiply that number by 80%. That is your target pulse rate during your exercise program. Depending upon your age, the number of beats per minute will range from about 120 to 160. Make sure that you clear your exercise program with your doctor before you begin.
  4. Think positively about the future. Henry Ford once said, "You can believe you can or you can believe you can't; either way, you will be correct." In psychology, we call this phenomenon a self-fulfilling prophecy. You will add years to your life with a positive mental attitude.
  5. Get a hobby or recreational activity. Find something that you like to do that brings you joy and satisfaction. Look into adult education classes for photography, painting, writing, or woodworking. Perhaps, you might want to learn ballroom dancing or how to play racquetball.
  6. Plan ahead. Always have a list of projects in the pipeline on which you are presently working, developing plans, and about which you are dreaming. As you complete a project, move the planning stage projects to working level, and move the dreaming projects to the planning stage. Finally, come up with more projects about which to dream. The key to this is to keep the pipeline always full and moving.
  7. Do something for others. There are many people not far from where you live that could benefit from your help. Whether it is driving someone to the grocery store, helping a child with homework or baseball, or just spending time talking with someone who is lonely, do something for others. Both of you will benefit from your outreach.
  8. Buy your vitamins yearly. If you are conscientious about the above suggestions, you will have to buy your vitamins yearly. After all, you will need to stay healthy to accomplish all the things that you are doing.