When Mayor Muriel Bowser paid tribute April 30 to 48 of the District’s centenarian residents, she noted the city’s focus on providing affordable housing as well as vamped-up modes of public transportation and improved utility services for a sector of the D.C. population that’s not only increasing in numbers, but also in longevity.
According to Bowser and pages of documented research on aging, the number of people age 65 and older has increased tenfold over the past century, with many among them graced with better health, and living more comfortably now than ever before.
“It seems we have a bigger group here today than we did last year,” Bowser – referring to the huge cadre of elderly residents — told the luncheon audience at Gallaudet University’s Kellogg Conference Hotel. “But you know what that means — it means our seniors are getting older,” she said, adding however, that because D.C. can’t build enough housing fast enough for its growing number of older denizens, programs like her administration’s two-year-old “Safe at Home” initiative ensures more of them can continue getting “around [more] independently as long as possible.”
Noted children’s book author and Northeast resident Eloise Greenfield who celebrates her 89th birthday on May 17, lists among them.
She said that while she no longer ventures away from home as often as before, she adheres to a regular regimen for maintaining both her health and stamina.
“I go up and down the stairs a lot every day, as a way for getting in my exercise,” said Greenfield, who has remained living on her own. Overall, “I make an effort to keep up with all the information available [for the elderly] so that I can always make the best decisions for myself.”
Half-joking that she’s “an almost-vegetarian,” Greenfield said she’s a stickler for eating three healthy meals a day.
“Because good nutrition is important to me,” she said. “I eat plenty of vegetables, fruits and fish. I also take my vitamins,” she said, stressing she generally refrains from advising how her peers might manage their health.
Instead, “I concentrate on the things that are best for me,” Greenfield said.
While doctors and fitness experts embrace exercise as a sort of miracle drug that can extend one’s life span by as much as five years, they also note how a regular routine of healthy food choices along with positive attitudes and strong family ties can help boost the brain, ward off disease and keep senior and elderly people in their primes longer.
Kathleen Brooks, a retired Christian Methodist Episcopal church pastor, concurred.
At age 72, she cherishes the love of family, which includes her husband Harry, recognizing them as vital components to maintaining her health.
Having previously embraced a much healthier lifestyle that included daily walks and water aerobics, Brooks said with a hearty chuckle that she makes up for the inactivity by doing various tasks around her home and keeping up with her young grandchildren.
“They keep me going. They are the joys of my life,” said Brooks, who also looks forward to movie dates with her husband.
However, “for most people [my age] it’s extremely important to take our health seriously because of issues such as health insurance” said the Takoma Park, Md., resident, who alluded to lawmakers’ attempts at dismantling affordable health care programs. “Things can get so crazy at times with that, so you have to take care of yourself. You know, keeping alert with what’s going on, exercising and eating the right foods.”
Brooks, who used to walk three or four miles a day, suffers occasionally with knee pain. She places some of the blame on not always following her doctor’s instructions.
“I didn’t always take care of my health, and now I’m paying for it. I was too busy getting other things done and didn’t do what my doctor asked me to do,” she lamented.
Nevertheless, Brooks wants to see more senior-oriented health and fitness programs in her community.
“There are plenty available in Maryland, but you have to pay, and if you’re on a fixed income — as a lot of seniors are — that can limit participation,” said Brooks.
Eddie Radden, 65, of Midlothian, Va., a frequent visitor to D.C., also chimed in, sharing that he underwent radiation treatments a year ago for prostate cancer.
Now cancer-free, Radden said that in addition to keeping all doctor’s appointments, he sticks to a strict monotony of exercise and healthy meals that includes daily consumptions of fruit and vegetable smoothies and green tea.
“I take my medicine every day on schedule. I walk first thing in the mornings for 45 minutes and sometimes I’ll do 25 more minutes at the gym in strength training,” said the divorced grandfather of seven. “I also have to get in my half-hour nap during the day,” he said, adding that while he drinks occasionally, it’s been a struggle to quit smoking.
“I’m working on that, but it’s been easier said than done,” said Radden, noting that he stays on top of his health care insurance.
“I have just what I need for prescriptions, doctors’ visits and hospitalization if it comes to that,” he said. “As a senior citizen and retiree, I continue to have a zest for life. I love taking road trips and singing lead vocals with my church choir. My father is about to celebrate his 90th birthday soon, and he’s in pretty good health. I intend on doing the same thing — and living even longer.”