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My mom recently turned 96. Until 93 she and my father were living in their own home. Dad is no longer with us but Mom is in independent living, not assisted living and not a nursing home. Since her father died at 67 and her mother at 74, almost exactly on target for the average life span at the time, much of this longevity cannot be attributed to genetics.

So what can I do – and what can you do – to have more happy birthdays?

The importance of exercise in daily life

My guess is that it begins with understanding more about what human beings are. These days we all seem to focus on the prefrontal cortex (judgment), the hippocampus (emotions) and other parts of the “third brain.” The cerebellum, primarily involved in movement, is dismissed as “the lizard brain.” But 80% of our neurons are in the cerebellum.

We are made to move.

Movement, today often segregated from daily life as a “workout” or “exercise,” was until recently an ordinary part of daily life. Even in the 1950s housewives (the unpaid job of most women) were said to walk eight miles each day just doing their work. Though we may be dressed in Lululemon and adorned with Fitbits, how many of us walk four, let alone eight, miles each day?

Article after article begs us to exercise, seemingly competing for the least amount of time.

Study after study compares aerobics, weight training and stretching.

The answer is simple: if you want your body to work, use it. Moving, and eating a healthy, Mediterranean diet, decreases our risk of most diseases of “old age”: Alzheimer’s, cancer, stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure, and diabetes. It ameliorates the effects on others. My daughter’s courtesy grandfather, a former gym owner and bodybuilder, and now, in his late 80s, a Parkinson’s sufferer, is still climbing the occasional mountain.

Surely something we were designed to do is pleasurable. Those of us who are couch potatoes or who have spent years chained to a desk may need to build up to it gradually. But if we are retired, there is plenty of time for that.

Movement is free.

Cutting down on meat cuts the grocery bill.

Prepare now for when energy or mental competency begins to decline

However well we preserve our health, at some point, we will likely lack the interest, if not the energy or mental competency, for some daily tasks, particularly those which do not seem important or which have negative connotations. This is a natural part of brain change. During the retirement years, we remember things which are important to us as well as younger people and know what that is: no need to clutter the mind with the rest. We actually need someone to call our attention to the negative: ordinarily, we haven’t got time for it. And our ability to manage our finances does decline – beginning at about age 53.

The Social Security Administration will let us appoint a representative payee in advance. Since Social Security does not honor Durable Powers of Attorney, appointing someone in advance can keep the lights on.

A Durable [Financial] Power of Attorney can give someone we trust access to our funds without cutting off our access and, in Texas, require them to report to us and provide an accounting. We can also require that they provide an accounting to other people – such as our tax preparer.

An additional document, IRS Form 2428, is required for the person we name to file our taxes.

The VA also has its own forms.

Getting these documents in place now can free us to enjoy the retirement years without the irritation of niggling, sometimes negative, details which our brains would rather ignore.

Call us today to schedule a consultation: 800-295-3449.


Elder law attorney, Terry Garrett, is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is an Approved Guardianship Attorney. She assists people in elder law, estate and special needs planning, guardianship and settling estates. She graduated with honors from Cornell University. She was on the Dean’s List at Wharton Business School. She earned her J.D. at Columbia Law School, receiving the Parker Award and a Mellon Fellowship.

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