"Growing old is not a disease but an art, and for those who practice it well, it can bring extraordinary rewards," writes Sherwin Nuland in The Art of Aging: A Doctor’s Prescription for Well-Being (Random House).
Nuland is a Clinical Professor of Surgery at Yale University, and award-winning author of How We Die. Now in his mid 70s, the author draws on his nearly four decades of medical practice, as well as the lives of friends, to portray the astonishing variability of the aging experience.
Aging brings gains as well as losses. In the book, Nuland focuses on the capacity of human beings to continue developing later in life, and he argues that this should be considered a gift.
He offers the following suggestions:
Nurture curiosity: Nuland tells the story of 98-year-old cardiologist Michael DeBakery who goes to bed each night, looking forward to the morning. He anticipates with pleasure work to be done, plans to be made and things to learn. Indeed, this forward momentum is a powerful source of vitality.
It’s different for everybody. You may find pleasure in gardening, woodworking, studying a new language or spending time with your grandchildren. Better to discover these pleasures sooner than later. But, "It is never too late to find new tributaries that add vibrancy to our lives."
Deepen relationships: There is no fountain of youth, alas, but there are nourishing water fonts of a different sort. One such font is caritas. Those who age well develop a contentment with who they are and a sense of mutual caring and connectedness with others.
Build up emotional reserves: Invest in your later years now by building up emotional, intellectual and spiritual capital. As Leonardo da Vinci notes: "If you are mindful that old age has wisdom for its food, you will exert yourself in youth, that your old age will not lack sustenance."
Invest in maintenance: Aging is an art, and one way to prepare for it is to develop the exercise habit. First, physical exercise – aerobic activities – to keep your cardiovascular system in shape and resistance exercises to maintain your strength. Second, mental exercise to boost your brain, maintain cognitive abilities and enhance your creativity. You can work up a mental sweat by participating in educational courses, writing and arts programs and book discussions. Don’t forget to try something new. The brain needs novelty to exercise skills that are lying dormant.