Why Do Some Boomers Act Much Older?

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Boomer writer Mike Petrie, who lives in Southern California, embodies the demographic of BoomerCafé’s readers: baby boomers with active lifestyles. But he wonders, why do some boomers act like they’re so much older?

In your fifties, maybe even your sixties, and feeling too old to do things you used to do? Oh come on people! Get real. For several years now when paddling my board out to go surfing, I’ve been noticing fewer and fewer guys my age out there on the waves with me. Hey, not that I mind all that much . . . fewer surfers means more waves all to myself. But there’s also noticeably fewer fellow boomer bike riders and joggers too. What gives?

Mike Petrie, acting his age and waiting for the big one.

Mike Petrie, acting his age and waiting for the big one.

The proverbial straw that broke this camel’s back was when I called a buddy -– age 58 -– to go sailing one sunny day and he told me, “Dude, I’d love to but I just don’t have the energy to be grinding winches, trimming sails, and all that rot.” This is a guy who used to absolutely live for being out on the ocean with a stiff breeze in his face. Is old age taking over the boomer generation? It shouldn’t be. Because when you think about it, we are not really all that old.

One only need look to an even older generation to discover that life does not need to slow down just because we hit a certain age. Some examples:

An article in the March 2011 Texas Bar Journal features 67-year-old attorney Larry Macon, who did not run his first 26.2 mile marathon until he was 55. The following year he ran two marathons. Each year he added more marathons and in the year 2009, at the age of 65, he finished an amazing 94 marathons in a single year! A busy lawyer with no plans to retire anytime soon, Macon actually took a conference call on his cell phone while running the Boston Marathon.

Closer to home, my mother-in-law, in her late 70s, regularly rides with her bike club, doing 50- and 100-mile road-bike trips and plays tennis several times a week. My 80-year-old uncle races Laser sailboats. Recently he won a second-place trophy against competitors 30 or more years younger.

John Garau, active in his 80s.

Speaking of older sailors, I wrote an article in SAIL Magazine entitled Still Sailing After All These Years. It’s about 84-year-old Johnny Garau, who regularly surfed until well into his 70s and lives today on his 27-foot sailboat. Johnny can often be seen out on the ocean, boat heeling, wind in his gray hair, and a broad smile on his weathered face. In spite of his age, he retains a very youthful presence, and talking to him is like talking with a 40-year-old.

But, even Johnny is a mere youngster when compared to Lou Batori of Michigan, who at the age of 100 spends his winters as a Nastar competitive snow skier. In summer, when winter snow is gone, Lou goes on daily 20-mile bike rides up the same steep hills that he skis down in winter. When he’s not skiing or bike riding, Lou likes to travel around the country on his motorcycle. Go Lou!

Listen … these folks are ALL older than the oldest of Baby Boomers. They are still active, healthy, and vibrant. The key is to make sure Father Time doesn’t get the best of you. Nobody can guarantee that living actively will cause you to live longer … but your life will surely be a lot more fun and you’ll definitely feel younger and healthier. The time for slowing down is many years from now, once you really ARE old … not now.

Happily, not all boomers are slowing down. Among my circle of boomer friends-– most in mid-50s to early 60s –-one is a pilot who enjoys bicycle racing, kayaking, and raising his 5-year-old twin daughters; another works 60-plus hours a week as a lawyer, yet finds time to climb mountains, scuba dive, and play a weekly game of tennis; a female friend sky dives, plays tennis, and bikes; another races sailboats competitively, when not practicing medicine. I’m still doing all the things I’ve always done: working full-time, surfing, sailing, playing tennis, mountain biking, running 10Ks … not to mention still being in the process of raising my two young children.

The plan is to be MORE like my mother-in-law, my uncle, or Johnny Garau, or Larry Macon, or Lou Batori. Check back with me in about 25 or 30 years to see how my plan is working out . . . hopefully you’ll find me jogging along the beach or paddling out into the surf.

34 Comments

  1. When I go somewhere there is going to be a herd of people my age, the first thing I often think is “where did all these old people come from?” If I look at a picture of myself in the group, chronologically, I don’t look any different? But so many people settle, fade into the background, and act older.
    MK

  2. “The time for slowing down is many years from now, once you really ARE old … not now.” Gee, I should tell my deteriorating spine and hips that they really need to get moving!

    Seriously, Mike, you have to be having second thoughts about this post. Not everybody ages the same way, and it’s not a sign of laziness, as your article implies. I’m happy for those who have youthful physical capability, but what if your body didn’t serve you as well as it does? Would you appreciate a friend suggesting you’re just getting old-minded (i.e. lazy)? Lots of us work out, watch our weight, eat right, keep our minds alert, etc., but have structural or other organic limitations. I’m sure you are right that some older people give up and get lazy (so do young peeps), but your assessment of your peers based on what you see physically is somewhat narrow-minded.

  3. Mike,
    I could not agree more with you on this article. Death will come soon enough to us so why sit around and wait for it. Hell, let it be a surprise.
    arnie

  4. Loved this article and it is absolutely true. Age is a number and if you are healthy– get out there and enjoy life. I have friends who talk about their aches and how they are “slowing down”. And they are not even 60 years old yet. Well, thanks be to God, my aches and pains come from falling off my bike (the chain disengaged while I was shifting going uphill), a finger I broke volleying a ball back, and a sore back from sledding this winter. I don’t mind aches and pains if they come from fun.

  5. Totally enjoyed this piece. Found myself smiling, then laughing out loud.
    Utterly amazing to me that someone has taken this completely upbeat, positive, uplifting story and interpreted it as something negative.
    Lynne Spreen above suggests this author is narrow minded or should have second thoughts? Hardly. This author has hit the nail directly on its head. In fact, I intend to print this story and hang it on my wall for my patients to read and enjoy. Thank you for this most enjoyable story.

  6. Loved this! This writer has given us words to live by. After 40 or 50 a lot of folk feel themselves slowing down. It takes real effort sometimes to stay active. The effort is worth it! This writer and the others he mentions are living life the way it is supposed to be lived. God bless!

  7. My point was that people who can’t embody (pun intended) the life Mike describes shouldn’t be dismissed as lazy or unmotivated. We should all try our hardest but appearances aren’t everything.

  8. Mike is absolutely right. Although I am not an athlete, I believe that you’ve got to use it or lose it. I cannot allow myself to become sedentary and unable to do the things I want to do. My brain is young, and I want to keep my body that way as well. It is sad to see people just giving up because it gets a little harder.

  9. Completely agree with this writer. The old saying is “If you have your health, you have everything.” And staying active is the best way to keep your health!

    I’m 61 and tomorrow will run my 4th LA marathon. It is because I stay fit that I do not have any of the aches, pains, arthritis, etc. that I’m already hearing about from some of my contemporaries.

    My advice to all boomers is keep moving!! Move it or lose it.

  10. One must stay fit both physically and mentally. Interestingly, this writer mentions several people who are both physically active and in jobs that require brain power: doctors, lawyers, pilots. Is there a correlation? Could it be that the same sort of person with the discipline and effort to obtain high level educations and jobs will also take better care of their health?

  11. By the way, tomorrow’s LA marathon is not just for runners. It has participants who just walk and even those in wheel chairs. Take note Lynne Spreen, staying active is not limited to just those who “embody” the perfect physical abilities. These participants, especially those with impairments, are extremely motivated and certainly not lazy.If they can do it, certainly most boomers can … and should …as well.

  12. Yes, Chris, they should if they can, but what if they can’t? What if the 58-year-old who won’t play on Mike’s boat has an enzyme deficiency, or some other difficulty that prevents him from joining in? Will anyone commenting on this post PLEASE acknowledge that physical prowess is not always possible?

  13. I think the point of this story was to point out that a growing number of otherwise healthy boomers are prematurly aging themselves by not being active. And I, for one, could not agree more. Too many of my friends and family are already overweight, inactive, and complaining of ailments that should belong to an older demographic. But it looks like Ms. Spreen will keep harping on the inability of some people to be active until someone agrees with her. So, ok. I’ll agree there are SOME human beings out there who are physically incapable of being active through no fault of their own. In fact, there are even people with bad hearts or whatever who probably should slow down and take it easy.
    Having said that, however, the VAST majority of baby boomers simply have no one to blame but themselves if they are feeling old, tired, sluggish before their time.

    I believe that people can pretty much accomplish any goal they set for themselves. I personally know a 67 year old blind skier who skis competitively and a 78 year old boater who sails his boat regularly … even though he lost a leg in a car crash 25 years ago. The marathon that Chris refers to also has runners with artificial limbs and sightless runners. It all depends on effort more than physical ability. The real issue here is, do you want life to slow you down, or are you willing to face whatever adversity may afflict you and pursue your goals in spite of them? Certainly the average healthy baby boomer has no true reason to be feeling old just yet.
    And from the comments here, many seem to agree.

  14. I’m one of those boomers who is feeling older than I should. In school I was a pretty good athlete but that was a long time ago. Like a lot of guys I fool myself into thinking I’m still athletic because I sit on the sofa and watch sports on tv. Truth is I’m 52 with a huge mound of blubber that hangs over my belt. I get exhausted just mowing the grass and sex drive has dwindled to almost nill. Had a full physical exam recently and my doc says I’m 40 pounds overweight. This comes as no surprise because my mother, father, siblings are ….lets call it what it is …. my whole family is fat! After the doctor visit I started looking around on the internet for info and found this sight about boomers feeling older than they should. After reading this and the comments I was inspired to watch the LA marathon this morning. All those runners really inspirational as I was laying in bed watching, eating breakfast of coffee and a slice of cold pizza. I put the pizza down and went to the kitchen looking for a piece of fruit. The winner of the marathon never ran a marathon before, this was his first one. He not only won, but set a new LA marathon record of 2hrs 6 minutes. That’s when I decided ….. next year I am going to run in that marathon! I might be slow but my goal is to run the entire 26 miles. There are web sights that can help train properly.

    This writer talks about not seing many joggers or bike riders in his area. In my neighborhood I don’t see any! For sure I’ll be the only one out there running. This writer talks about his motherinlaw riding a bike and playing tennis. My mom is almost the same age. She walks with a cane and needs help getting in and out of a car. Ive got those same fat genes but dont want to end up like that. I have 4 daughters and my youngest is only 6 and I’d like to live long enough to see her grow up and maybe be a grandpa someday. The time for excuses is over. Today is the first day of spring and will hopefully be the first day of my new life feeling my true age instead of like some old man.

  15. The way to gauge how “youthful” a person is does not depend in the least on how tech savvy he is. What matters is whether he can still move and groove or whether he has become a couch potatoe. Sitting down working a computer, or spending an hour doing useless Facebook time ultimately slows you down physically. Go out and jog, shoot some hoops, ride a bike. And for gosh sake, put that pizza down!

  16. Boomers are just like every other segment of the population…some are active in sports, some music, some square dancing….it doesnt matter what they do as long as they do something that keeps their minds active…and eat alot of prunes!

  17. Great article! Age is a number that we should not label ourselves with.

    I am 58 with two teenagers at home – that in itself equals any marathon. Love and happiness is how we all should live!!

  18. Great Article!Do not let age define you and limit your ability! It is all about attitude and being young at heart. I just turned 50 and still love to sail, race, fish, dive and in fact, I feel like I don’t have enough time to do all the things I love! Just do it!
    Life is short!

  19. I think those who act and feel “older” are those who don’t keep up with all the terrific scientific, technological and spiritual things happening around the world. For many social media and good computer skills present a steep learning curb. But the rewards are worth the effort. Many community colleges and adult schools attached to high schools offer basic computer classes. You can learn if you’re willing to put in the effort. My kids have taught me a lot about social networking, got me on Face Book and are proud of me. If we don’t keep up we’re left behind and that’s a sure way to feel old.

  20. Completely enjoyed this. And I’m extremely happy to read so many upbeat comments and so many thumbs down to the single derogatory comment.To Lynn Spreen who commented, “Gee, I should tell my deteriorating spine and hips that they really need to get moving!” My reply would be a resounding, YES! You probably should tell your spine and hips to get moving. You may find it helps. The best way to avoid degeneration is to keep moving. Our generation practically invented jogging. We need to keep at it, now more than ever.

  21. Why is there such a need to JOG? I think “not” growing old does require movement. but it is also an attitude! With that attitude will
    come “moving” as well as looking and acting as a younger person.

  22. Indeed, a colleague of mine and me often hang out with a bunch of much younger folks. He always makes jokes about “the old folks like me and Colleen.” Excuse me friend, but if you want to consider yourself “old” that’s fine, but don’t put me in that box. Age truly is a state of mind. And I’m not having any part of OLD until I can’t get up out of my chair and hopefully I’ll have the decency to die before that happens.

  23. Many thanks to all of you who read this article and left such motivational comments. As a writer, it is my greatest validation for readers to comment on what I’ve written. In return, I’ll address several of your comments directly.

    To Jerilyn … You are so right. I often hear from friends, many of them younger than me, about aches & pains. I almost feel guilty telling them that I feel no such aches and honestly feel pretty much the same as when I was 30. I think this is because I keep continuouly active. I still do all the same things and can still do them equally as well as ever (and some things I can actually do better now).

    To Alex … YES!! It DOES take effort to keep active and yes it is totally worth the effort. You are 100% correct.

    To Jennifer … You are totally correct, one need not be an athlete to remain active, but — as you said — if you don’t use it you will lose it … the “IT” is youthful vigor.

    To Chris … I wholeheartedly agree, the best way to maintain health is to maintain fitness. Congrats on running the marathon … a huge achievement!

    For me, running a marathon is a testament to a life lived actively. I ran my first 26 mile marathon when I was in my 30s & remember thinking, “Gee, I’m kinda old to just now be running my first marathon.” But, at mile 18 a much older man passed me like I was standing still. I later learned he was 72!! I talked to him after the race and he said he’d run about a dozen or so marathons in his life, that he tries to run one every few years. I was so impressed that I decided to set a goal for myself: To run at least one marathon per each decade of my life. So, in my 30s I ran the Honolulu Marathon; 40s L.A. Marathon; 50s Run Thru the Vines & San Diego Rock & Roll Marathons. In my 60s I’d luv to do one in Europe. When I hit my 70s, I’m hoping to pass a thirty-something runner at around mile 18 … God willing.

    To Cheryl … You have captured the exact point I was trying to make with this article. Thank you. And I, too, firmly believe that people can pretty much accomplish any goal they set for themselves.

    To Bluto … Wow!! I’m excited and impressed by your goals. Perhaps you might re-visit BoomerCafe a year from now and let us know how you do in the marathon, leave a comment updating your progress and how your life has changed. I’d be really interested in knowing how you’re doing.

    To Max … I think your rebuttal to Ms. Spreen was probably right on target. Though, with all due respect to her, I have no idea what the state of her health may be, and this article was directed at “healthy” boomers who are feeling old prematurely.

    To Carol … I see this as being sort of like the chicken & the egg: which came first? While I agree that attitude is important, it would be difficult to have a youthful attitude without actually “feeling” youthful … and the only way to truly feel youthful is to stay fit … whether by jogging, bicycling, hiking, whatever.

    To Colleen … Seems like you have the exact right attitude, as Carol described: attitude is essential.

    And to all the rest, my collective thank you. Your comments are all very much appreciated. This article for Boomer Cafe was a follow-up to my article in SAIL Magazine about an older sailor who I found inspirational. You can read that article online at:
    http://calwriter.net/sm/sm200912-1.htm

    I hope readers will continue to follow me at Boomer Cafe, SAIL, and the other publications for which I write. Thanks for reading.

    1. Hi Mike, it was a nice surprise to come across your article the other day. My father was Johnny Garau. He passed away last Friday at 88 years old. I always considered him 1/2 EverReady Bunny and 1/2 Waldo (of the Where’s Waldo cartoon).

      Here is the tribute letter sent off to the papers on his behalf. Hope you enjoy it!

      Jaime Garau (Johnny’s Son)

      RIP John A. Garau Jan. 8, 1925 – Aug. 23, 2013

      On Friday August 23rd, 2013 we lost our father and our community lost one of its most unique characters and longtime citizens, John Aurelio Garau. When Dos Equis XX created the “Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign they could have easily taken from Johnny’s Adventures because in many ways… he was the Most Interesting Man in the World!
      Dad (aka Junior) was born in Los Angeles, CA on January 8, 1925. The son of Aurelio Garau Sr., an immigrant from Sardinia, Italy, and Salome’ Blanchard from San Antonio, New Mexico. His father owned the world renowned Delmonico’s Restaurant and Cotton Club in Los Angeles. Dad was always extremely proud of his heritage including his Great, Great Grandfather Albino Perez, the appointed Mexican Governor of New Mexico in 1835, and Carlos Blanchard a famous Wagon Train Master on the Santa Fe Trail.

      John was an original in Laguna, at least as original as they come. He was brought to Laguna soon after birth in the late 20’s. He grew up on the beaches of Laguna and in Carlsbad where he attended Army and Navy Academy graduating in ’43 where he was given the nick name of Frenchie. Upon graduation John was off into WWII serving in the Army Air Corp and was stationed at the Santa Ana Air Base prior to going to flight training on the B24 bomber where he served as a navigator.

      After WWII he returned to Laguna and worked as a lifeguard both for the City of Laguna and in Avalon on Catalina Island and attended USC – Fight On! Johnny was the oldest surviving Laguna Beach Lifeguard. From all the stories I have heard from him and his close friends… he was a Hell raiser! He danced many a night away at the Casino in Avalon and partied hard on the beaches of Laguna. His fond memories included lifeguard parties at Bette Davis’ house on Wood Cove and when he was terminated from the LB Lifeguards for waterskiing while on duty during a busy 4th of July weekend. His stories, as most of us know, were endless. He seemed to have been everywhere, done everything and met the most interesting people on the planet. His experiences could have set stage for his own TV adventure series.
      In the mid 50’s he met and married Priscilla (Sally) Conley and they opened the Reef Liquor Store on Coast Hwy in Laguna. They had 4 wonderful Children. Jean-Pierre who, married to his wife Susan, living in Oregon, and has 2 beautiful twin daughters (23), Aria and Ashlee both living in Oregon. Jean-Francois (Jaime), married to Kathy, living in Laguna Niguel with 2 children (Nicole 19 – Sophomore at NYU, Chris 17 – Senior at San Juan Hills HS). Maria-Christina (Salome’), married to Aaron, living in Hailey, ID with two beautiful girls (Isabelle 21 – a dramatic artist and Annette 19 – Sophomore at USF) and Jean-Paul who lives in Sun City, CA.

      After selling the liquor store business in the early 70’s he opened Reef Realty on PCH and Thailia Street. Many will remember the Surfing Santa on the office window at Christmas time. John spent a lot of time with the local surfers at Thalia and Saint Ann’s and use to anchor his Sailboat off Thailia Beach during the summer and commute to and from work on his surf board. The Thalia beach crew loved the office location and stored their surfboards under the building and took advantage of the outdoor shower after a surf session.

      In the mid-1980s Johnny started the first of many of his world adventures that he would do over the next twenty years including sailing the Western Pacific and Caribbean aboard the Sailboat Celerity with his longtime friends Bob Anderson and Herb Nolan. He then sailed off traveling through Europe, New Zealand and Australia in camper vans, expeditions throughout Central and South America, Tahiti, Easter Island, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, China and a number of other places that slip my mind at this time. But I think he loved being in Hawaii the most and spent considerable time there with many friends, learning the Hawaiian culture and language.

      Johnny, Frenchie, Junior, Dad or whatever the nickname was that you had for him (some good and some bad), left on his last great adventure and passed away peacefully on Friday August 23, 2013. John A. Garau is survived by his 4 children and 6 grandchildren. As a small tribute to Dad we have renamed his sailboat, his home for over 35 years, as the O’Johnny of Laguna Beach.

      Memorial Services will be held on Saturday September 21st at 8:00am starting with a Paddle Out at The Main Beach Lifeguard Tower at 8am. Church Services will follow at San Felipe De Jesus Catholic Church in Capo Beach at approximately 11:00. A Bon Voyage party for Johnny will be held at Lucy’s El Patio following the services. Later in the day the family and friends will depart Dana Point Harbor on the O’Johnny and Johnny’s remains will be spread off the coast of the community that he lived, loved and will eternally be a part of. My brother reminded me that the 21st is the Solstice. A great day to begin a new journey. If you have a boat you are welcome to join the flotilla!

      For more information check out his Facebook Site at https://www.facebook.com/john.garau.1?fref=ts. In lieu of donations… Please If you have a great picture or interesting story about Johnny I encourage you to post it for all to enjoy.
      We will miss you and always remember you and share our family history with all future generations. Bon Voyage from your children, grandchildren and your many friends all around the world! You truly were The Most Interesting Man in the World! Rest in Peace.

  24. Love this article. My husband is an avid sailor and he battles with rheumatoid arthritis each day. But he would never give up sailing. Here’s my take on aging:
    1.Live from vision. Vision has no age limit.
    2.Stay as physically active as you possibly can. If anything happens that impairs that ability, get creative. Switch, or adapt.
    3.Nurture your creative abilities. They explode at this age. Hang on for the ride.
    4.Love your life and the people in it.
    5.Celebrate each birthday.
    6.Keep up with technology as best as you can. If you need help, ask your grandchildren.

  25. Thoroughly enjoyed this! Clicked on the other articles included here by
    this same author and must say that I love his style of writing. Every
    single one is uplifting, happy, well written and has a very real sense
    of joie de vivre. If I’m ever having a bad day I just may come back
    here and read them again.

  26. Exactly! You really struck a nerve here. I was blown away when the organizers of our 40th class reunion said that dancing wasn’t going to be part of the evening because they didn’t want to make all our classmates who could no longer physically dance feel bad! We were only 58!

  27. Loved this and totally agree with this author … WHY do some people my own age look like they could be my parents? Genes may have something to do with it, but exercise and taking care of yourself is the real fountain of youth.

  28. Mike, I enjoyed this article a lot but I have to correct you. You said that your 80 year old uncle took second place trophy on Laser sailboats: it was first place!
    And I’m still racing … and still scuba diving too. Did that recently down in Tortola BVI. I was down for about forty five minutes as it was so amazing, but my girlfriend, who was her first time diving, thought I had drowned cause I was gone so long. Ha ha. I was certified about forty years ago when Lloyd Bridges was doing his television series.
    You are so right that you need to keep pushing yourself, lest father time catches you. Life is good … even after 80. I have a picture of a sailboat on the water and the caption is EVERY DAY IS A GIFT. Keep up the great writing I really enjoy reading it all.

  29. Thanks for reading … and thanks for the correction. I should have known my Uncle Jim would never settle for second place!

    My wife & I dive a little. Fun sport. We mostly dive from our sailboat when we are at Catalina Island. I’ve never been to BVI but would really like to bareboat charter a sailboat there one of these days & cruise around. You interested in going with us?

  30. This is fantastic, so encouraging! I’m not alone in working like mad at my books and paintings…and cooking (love to eat well…)! AND promoting Boomer lit, the kind of books, novels, memoirs and more that boomers would want to read (I do that on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter: watch for Boomer Lit!)

    But then I should know: one is only as old as one feels. My mother who’s 99 only stopped painting (she is a professional painter and portraitist) 3 years ago, complaining she couldn’t see well enough to paint anymore (which alas is true but at her age, perhaps not too surprising)….Old age caught up with her when she was 95, so I guess that gives plenty of time to ALL boomers!

  31. Thank you Claude, glad you enjoyed the Cafe article. Similar sentiments of healthy, active Boomerdom can be found in my book, a murder mystery novel titled YOU’RE THE ONLY ONE I CAN TRUST, by Michael E. Petrie

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