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Aging demands adjustment

In deference to my back and knees, I now exercise by walking a couple of miles at a brisk pace rather than by jogging.

Because my eyesight is no longer 20-20, I avoid driving after dark even if it means using taxis or staying overnight at an airport hotel after an evening flight.

When playing in chess tournaments, a hobby I’ve enjoyed for 35 years, my limit now is five hours of play in one day so the experience brings pleasure rather than fatigue. (I used to play 12 hours a day without getting tired.)

And when researching and writing newspaper columns, I usually take a couple of breaks along the way rather than completing a piece all at one sitting, as I routinely did when I worked at a newspaper full-time.

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All of this is about “adjusting” and accepting that, while we can continue to be active as we get older, we often must make allowances for age. I’ve been pondering this topic since watching a thought-provoking and entertaining episode of “Life (Part 2),” a weekly television series on aging that began airing on PBS stations this summer (check local listings).

Hosted by actor Alan Rosenberg (from “The Guardian,” “Cybill,” “L.A. Law” and “ER”), this nationally syndicated half-hour show offers a frank discussion of aging on topics ranging from sex, the aging brain and the sandwich generation to subjects like aging with style.

“I never, ever thought I’d be hosting a show about getting older,” said Rosenberg, who will turn 57 in October. “But I have to go there,” he said of old age. “I want to know what to expect.” On the subject of growing older, “there are a lot of great ideas we need to harness and turn into action” that come out of the show.

Many such ideas came from a recent show focusing on Baby Boomers’ near-obsession with keeping fit and looking young, and whether many of them may actually be in denial about the inevitable consequences of growing older.

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The Baby Boom generation was raised to believe that everything is possible, that there are no limits to what we can achieve and do. While there are many positives to this attitude, “the notion there are no limits absolutely doesn’t work as you get older,” said Helen Kivnick, a clinical psychologist and University of Minnesota professor and one of Rosenberg’s guests on “Life (Part 2).”

That’s why so many aging Boomers are pulling muscles and hurting themselves while running or playing tennis or other sports, particularly because many do it too competitively and push themselves too hard.

“If play is going to become a chore, why bother?” asked Robert Lypsite, another guest on the program. Lypsite, a 69-year-old cancer survivor, award-winning author of books for young adults and self-described “codger,” said his several bouts with cancer were his “real practice for growing old” and making adjustments.

For those of us fortunate not to have major illnesses and who merely have to cope with the normal effects of aging, “there are things we can do to prepare ourselves, as simple as that bar in the bathtub” to grab onto, Lypsite said. It’s using “finesse instead of brute force” in the way we adjust to changes in life, he said.

A better alternative to trying to deny the effects of aging is simply to enjoy getting older, said Abigail Trafford, a journalist, author and public speaker on aging issues. One way that made sense to me was to remember the acronym NATO, as Rosenberg said a friend told him to do when he plays golf. Here, NATO means “not attached to outcome,” meaning you simply play to enjoy yourself, not be the next Tiger Woods.

“It’s a wonderful thing for golf and it’s a wonderful thing for life,” said Rosenberg. “If you let go of that (an unrealistic competitive goal) you really enjoy the process.”

Humberto and Georgina Cruz work together in this column. Send questions and comments to AskHumberto@aol.com or GVCruz@aol.com.