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Reeling in the years: How to stay young at heart

Most kids love to celebrate their birthdays—but then so does former President George H.W. Bush, who made two parachute jumps over his presidential library in Texas when he turned 80. “Just because you’re 80, that doesn’t mean you can’t do fun stuff or interesting things,” the former president said.

But you don’t have to jump out of a plane to be having fun or living a rich and satisfying life. Simply doing things that interest you and trying new things can help you feel young at heart and keep you healthy, too.

Stay connected

Studies show that maintaining social ties as you age may be just as beneficial as exercising. Healthy, positive relationships can help reduce your stress and keep love and laughter in your life. Seeing friends and getting to know new people can yield emotional support, physical affection, intellectual enjoyment and motivation to care for yourself.

As friends and family members move away or, sadly, die or become infirm, it can be especially important to get out in the world and be with others. You can stay connected and enthusiastic about life by joining a book club, a church group or a gym, or by volunteering or working part time.

Exercise your mind

“Use it or lose it,” the saying goes, and that seems to hold true for maintaining your brainpower. Studies show that regularly challenging your mind causes new brain cells to grow and helps keep you mentally sharp, which helps you feel young. Read, do crossword puzzles, keep up with current events, learn a new language or go back to that musical instrument you stopped playing. Take a class and you also get a social outlet. If classes are too costly, don’t despair. You may know someone who can teach you how to cross-stitch, handle simple home repairs or keep your computer running smoothly. Or you can teach yourself something new like reading the sports pages to learn all about your nearest pro team—the strategies, the politics and the players’ personalities. Your new background knowledge will make game watching much more interesting.

Have fun and enjoy life

What do you look forward to? Life seems more enjoyable and exciting when you have things to anticipate—anything from a trip to the shore or the mountains to a weekly swim class. Even better, find something you can enjoy daily, like a sunrise walk or a half-hour of reading time after dinner.

Try to minimize time when you’re fairly passive, such as when watching TV, and instead enjoy activities that enhance your health, enrich your mind or engage you socially. You’ll feel younger than your years just by being active and involved.

Stretch yourself

Are there things you always meant to try but then never bothered doing? What are you waiting for? Consider what might be fun—and don’t worry whether you’d be good at it. Who cares, really, if you’re not the greatest still-life painter, flower arranger or softball coach?

President Bush’s advice? “Get out there and realize that, at 80 years old, you have still got a life!”