Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
“Get at least eight hours of beauty sleep, nine if you’re ugly,” jokes Betty White.
Mel Brooks promotes outrageous humor. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)
“I’ve never been particularly aware of my age,” says actress Angela Lansbury, age 95. “It’s like being on a bicycle — I just put my foot down and keep going.” (Photo by Richard Shotwell, Invision/AP)
“I actually look for things to smile about,” says Dr. Ruth Westheimer. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
For a long and good life, Dick Van Dyke suggests that you “sing, dance and laugh everyday.” (Photo by John Salangsang/Invision/AP, File)
Iris Apfel, age 99, is a businesswoman, interior designer, model and considered the world’s oldest fashion icon. (Magnolia Pictures)
In 2017, HBO presented a documentary entitled “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast” that confronted stereotypes about life after age 90. In the film, Carl Reiner has a conversation with several of his friends from show business, challenging what it means to really live in your 90s.
Reiner, the legendary comedian, director and screenwriter, offers himself as Exhibit A at age 95. (Reiner died in June 2020 at age 98.) He spoke with other legendary comedians: Filmmaker and funnyman Mel Brooks, age 90; TV icon Norman Lear, age 95; and beloved performer Dick van Dyke, age 91.
Comedy is part of these men’s work. Humor can be used as a teaching tool, although it is unlikely that is the intention of these notables. Yet, here are some messages we can extract from these talented funny men, taken from the HBO documentary, and some wisdom from four dynamic women in their 90s.
Carl Reiner celebrates humor. Reiner had a running quip about being in his nineties. “Every morning, I pick up my newspaper, get the obituary section and see if I’m listed,” he said. “If I’m not, I have my breakfast.”
What we know: A sense of humor is related to longevity. Adults with an average sense of humor live longer than those who don’t find humor in life, according to researchers. Benefits include decreased blood pressure while laughter boosts the immune system by decreasing the stress hormone cortisol and minimizing inflammation.
Norman Lear talks about culture and flexibility. “I think the culture stereotypes everything,” said Lear. “Because I’m 93, I’m supposed to behave in a certain way. The fact I can touch my toes shouldn’t be so amazing to people.”
What we know: Society seems to have some unrealistic expectations about one’s age and respective appearance, activities and capabilities. Not to be overlooked is Lear’s ability to touch his toes, demonstrating flexibility typically achieved with physical activity. Such activity improves our ability to perform daily physical activities, improves our range of motion and increases our sense of balance, helping us avoid falling and injuries.
Dick Van Dyke
Dick Van Dyke suggests dance and song. For a long and good life, Van Dyke suggests that you “sing, dance and laugh everyday.” Without knowing his daily routine, we do know in 2018 Van Dyke played the older cantankerous banker, Mr. Dawes in the movie “Mary Poppins Returns.” He not only danced and sang but jumped on a desk, did a tap dance number and jumped down with a spring and a bounce. Dancing has been found to have results comparable to formal exercise improving emotional, psychological and physical well-being. And it’s fun!
Mel Brooks promotes outrageous humor. During the HBO show, Brooks stood up and told the crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest cat sound in the world,” as he broke out into the loudest yowl. As the audience howled, he said,” What the hell do you want? You’re not paying a penny here.”
Reiner refers to him as “the funniest human being in the world.” Age and outrageous are terms typically not paired together., but there is a book titled, “Be an Outrageous Older Woman” by Ruth Harriet Jacobs. Sometimes outrage is needed to get attention.
At the time of this HBO program, all four men continued to work at a craft and art they loved. And herein lies a message. Having a sense of purpose is a lifesaver; humor is a healer helping us keep a perspective. And laughing is healthy. So, think about ways to do something you love to do, keep your sense of humor, have a good laugh and even do a little dance — while taking a break from the news.
Age doesn’t matter according to Angela Lansbury. Lansbury, age 95, has been on stage, television and in films for more than 70 years, never permitting her chronological age to hold her back. She has said, “I’ve never been particularly aware of my age. It’s like being on a bicycle — I just put my foot down and keep going.”
What we know. During childhood, there are expected age-related milestones in a child’s development, such as when the child walks, talks and can read. That’s not the case for older adults. Expectations about how older adults look, behave and think are not based on developmental stages but on social expectations which often is an excuse for ageism. Most older adults keep going regardless of their age.
Betty White advocates getting enough sleep. As a 98-year old actress and comedian, White has a television career spanning 80 years and has worked longer in the industry than anyone else. In promoting sleep, she says, “Get at least eight hours of beauty sleep, nine if you’re ugly.”
What we know: Sleep is considered an important part of our routine and is essential for survival as is food and water. Recent research suggests that sleep has a housekeeping role by removing toxins in our brain that accumulate when we are awake. For older adults, less than seven hours of sleep a night generally is considered insufficient.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine refers to a study by UCLA researchers who discovered that “just a single night of insufficient sleep can make older adult’s cells age quicker.” For a good read on sleep, see “The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life One Night at a Time” by Arianna Huffington (Harmony Books, 2017).
Iris Apfel believes in authenticity. Apfel, age 99, is a businesswoman, interior designer, model and considered the world’s oldest fashion icon. She describes herself as a “geriatric starlet,” known for her brightly colored clothing, layered jewelry and oversized glasses. There is even a Barbie doll modeled after her. She says, “When you don’t dress like everyone else then you don’t have to think like everyone else.” She adds, “ I always dressed for myself and don’t care what anybody thinks.”
What we know: With age we have the opportunity to become more of ourselves and less reliant on fulfilling expectations of others. Authenticity refers to the characteristics, roles or attributes that define who we are, even if they are different from how we may act. With age there is a tendency to see ourselves as more authentic, according to researchers Elizabeth Seto and Rebecca J. Schlegel.
Dr. Ruth views life in a positive way. Ruth Westheimer, age 92, is a sex therapist, author, media personality and talk-show host. She says, “I actually look for things to smile about.” In a 2019 interview she indicated as a Holocaust survivor, she defused anxiety and shame by focusing on the present and using humor and charm.
What we know: Having a positive attitude not only makes us feel good, it effects our longevity. A study from the Boston University School of Medicine found that after decades of research, those who were more optimistic about life lived longer, often to age 85 and older. Researchers suggest several reasons. More optimistic people may be able to regulate their emotions and behavior more effectively as well as their ability to bounce back from difficult situations. Furthermore, they may have healthier lifestyle habits.
These men and women in their 90s have lived and seen a lot. During the current climate, some of their tips might be useful: Don’t let age hold you back, stay positive and authentic and of course, get enough sleep. Above all, stay safe and be well and kind to yourself and others.
Original posted at www.marinij.com