By Warren Wolfe

I’m engaged in two projects that have me thinking about my aging.

Actually, I’ve been thinking about that for more than 30 years, ever since I started writing about aging for the Star Tribune. But for the past two months, I’ve actually been taking notes.

An artist/writer in one of my men’s groups is seeking contributions for a book about what has kept our group going since 1987, and that has me thinking about our transition from middle-age working guys to retirees now in our 70s to 90s.

Then last week my sister asked for thoughts from older subscribers to her monthly JourneyDancing newsletter, which examines the intersection of art, disability and spirituality. She asked for “advice or wisdom about getting older. What are the greatest aging-related challenges you have faced? What attitudes or information helped you.”

I used to say that being a journalist was like being a teacher, offering people information to help them make better decisions and lead better lives. But actually, I think being a reporter is a ticket to be a perpetual student – seeking and synthesizing information, questioning assumptions including my own, digging deeper into explanations, recognizing that there can be more than one right answer, and chronicling the lives of everyday people.

So as I approach age 80, here are some of my thoughts about getting older.

Older may not mean wiser

At any age, some people get better at making good decisions as they integrate the lessons of life and learn from new experiences. And at any age, some don’t. Curiosity matters more than age.

But what does happen as we age is that we tend to become more authentically our true selves. Some of “shoulds” and “should nots” of the past tend to fade. We may be more honest and forthright with ourselves and others, pursue our dreams, be more clearly on the surface who we are underneath (friendlier, more helpful, more joyful, more accepting of others – or just the opposite).

Especially in older age, how we respond to the world can be affected by our health and well-being.

My body and mind are changing

My body has been changing since conception. Often that’s seen as good because it represents increasing physical and mental abilities (Good Lord! I was fluent in English at age 4!). But diminishing capacities are often seen as bad – hence the growth in “anti-aging” potions.

The fact is, most of us will lose muscle mass, skin elasticity, bone density, joint flexibility, hearing and visual acuity, memory-retrieval speed, and lots more as we age. That comes with the territory.

Illness and worn-out organs eventually will be the end of me and all living creatures. It’s a fact, but it’s a tragedy only if I make it so.

That’s pretty easy for me to say now – relatively healthy, although helped by two new knees, a cornea donated from a cadaver and medications to manage glaucoma, hypertension and high cholesterol. My mental health is aided by having health insurance, a pension, Social Security and a country that may seem fractured but is not at war (and access to counseling, which I have used).

I like to think that I will age successfully: stay centered, optimistic, engaged with life and joyful as I face growing frailty, disability, and life-threatening illnesses as I age. Will I? Stay tuned.

So how do I get to “successful aging”?

My notions of successful aging and how to get there are based partly on my own experience, but also 20 years of conversations with hundreds of older people willing to share their insights.

Successful aging is more a life-long process than a goal. It is engaging fully with life, trying new things, building relationships in community, staying as mobile and healthy as you can, choosing joy but accepting sadness and grief as part of being human.

Here are what I think are the building block of living a full life – now and as I age:

–Accept change and loss: Our bodies, relationships, interests, joys sorrows will continue to change, just as they always have. Accept what is, and look for the delights that fill each day.

–Engage with people: Extravert or introvert, we each need others. We are communal animals, and our lives are enriched by those we choose to befriend. Find individuals, groups, activities, or communities that feed you.

–Feed and move your body: Good nutrition and exercise will improve your quality of life, your overall health, and help you avoid debilitating illnesses and falls.

–Exercise your brain: Be curious about the world. If you’re feeling bored, consider puzzles, games, learning a language or musical instrument. Join a cause, volunteer, take classes. All of those build your physical health and brain reserves that can delay dementia.

–Explore your spirituality: Spiritual practices and exploration have been part of the human journey ever since we started wondering why bad stuff happens, what makes it rain and what happens when we die. There’s plenty of research also showing that people in religious communities tend to be healthier and happier than others.

–Choose happiness: There is a lot we can’t change about the world, but we can choose how we respond. Like so much in life, choosing happiness is like a muscle that strengthens with use. And at this stage of our lives, we older folks are finally learning that we don’t have to sweat the small stuff.


I am filled with gratitude as I move through all stages and changes of my life.

Warren Wolfe is a retired journalist who co-facilitates groups for dementia caregivers and is a prayer chaplain for his church. He is also my brother. He is 79 years old.

The featured image is a mouth painting I did several years ago. You can read about its creation.