As most of us have witnessed with our own eyes, our annual Senior Survey reveals with statistical data, seniors, more than at any time in history, are living longer, healthier, more productive lives.
They are shaping some of our most important legislation (Senator Saxby Chambliss), making us laugh (Lorraine Seymourian), getting us in the movie theaters (Harrison Ford), helping us find our groove (Tina Turner) and keeping us fit (Jack LaLanne).
We could have picked any number of folks from the 60-plus-set – there are beaucoup of them out there – to serve as our Super Seniors.
But we like the list we wound up with – an eclectic mix of the famous, stately, and, in the case of Seymourian, someone who, at 75, is just now reaching her peak.
So, turn the pages and read on about these folks who have seemingly found the fountain of youth. All of them are inspiring in their own way.
People of a certain generation – those growing up in the ’50s and ’60s – remember a familiar figure greeting them from their early morning television sets. Wearing a jumpsuit, sporting a physique carved like a Greek statue, he jumped, lunged and flexed muscles that most people didn’t know existed, all the while barking commands at the audience to get off the couch and join him in this foreign activity called exercise.
Jack LaLanne was way, way ahead of his time on the exercise front. Known as the Godfather of Fitness, LaLanne was building up his body at a time when most people only ran when they were being chased. If you’ve ever worked out at a gym, you’ve probably used a machine that is based on a design created and developed by LaLanne. He designed the first leg extension machines and pulley machines using cables, which are now standard in the fitness industry. He was also an early proponent for women and fitness and encouraged the fairer sex to get into the gym at a time when most thought it would make them bulky and masculine.
Now 93, LaLanne continues to work out up to two hours each day, doing a series of lifts and lunges that leave people half his age (or even a third) huffing and puffing and crying for mercy. In fact, he seems mercurial for any age with his various projects in the pipeline.
LaLanne appears in a national ad campaign for Target; hawks his popular Juicer on late-night infomercials and makes numerous public appearances. (In May, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver announced that LaLanne will be inducted into the California Hall of Fame later this year.)
He also has a weekly radio show on the VoiceAmerica Health & Wellness Radio Network and earlier this year wrote a book, “Fiscal Fitness: 8 Steps to Wealth and Health from America’s Leaders of Fitness and Finance.” The book was coauthored with Matthew J. Rettick of Nashville’s Covenant Reliance Producers.
So what keeps LaLanne motivated?
“I like helping people have a wonderful, healthy life,” he says. “I’ve been in this profession for over 75 years and I’ve learned there’s so much junk and lies in my profession – `people should do this, people should eat that; do two minutes of this, do two minutes of that;’ it’s a bunch of garbage.
“We have (roughly) 640 muscles in our bodies and they all need their share of work. Exercise is king, nutrition is queen; put them together and you have a kingdom.”
According to LaLanne, there is no secret or short-cut behind staying fit. “You have to work at it. Dying is easy. Living is an athletic event. You need to have goals and challenges. You need to eat right. Exercise. That’s what it’s all about it. God helps them who help themselves. God gives you the power, but you have to `do’ it. A lot of people say, `I’m fat because my mother was fat, or my father was fat.’ They’re fat because they exceed the feed limit. You didn’t inherit anything. You just inherited their appetite.”
LaLanne sees excess when he looks at Americans today. “Say you’re a multimillionaire, but you’ve got a big belly, health problems, your sex life is gone, you have aches and pains – what good is your money?” While exercise is his specialty, in writing “Fiscal Fitness,” he’s witnessed the similarities to being healthy financially and physically. “In both cases, you need to have a plan. So many people are financially bankrupt. It makes you sick. They spend money on this and that, with no plan of what they’re doing. They get to 30 or 40 years old, in debt up to their ears. They need a plan and part of that plan is going to an expert to get out of a financial rut.”
LaLanne was in a physical rut as a teenager. He feasted on junk food, was frail and often missed school due to various illnesses. A lecture at a local YMCA turned that around. It inspired him to eat better, work out and to inspire others to do the same. As much as he exercises, he admits that eating right, by cutting out sugar and other bad foods, has kept him healthy into his 90s. He says he drinks up to seven glasses of water a day as well as vegetable juice. He also has up to six pieces of fresh fruit and 10 raw vegetables daily.
“You know how many fat people there are? Over 60 percent of Americans are overweight. I just bought a new Corvette – would I put water in the gas tank? No! It’s the wrong fuel. It wouldn’t run. What about the human machine? If you put the wrong fuel in the human machine it wouldn’t run either. You’ll run it right into the grave.”
The novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “there are no second acts in American lives.” Try telling that to Lorraine Seymourian.
The 73-year-old, who is often recognized by her assortment of fun and exotic hats, is finding more doors opening now than at any stage in her long career. Last year alone she penned her first book, “Sexy Food for Seniors;” wrote articles for “Upscale Living” magazine; and hosted “Sexy Seniors with Lorraine” on the National Radio Network. Now she is embarking on her most ambitious project to date – a social networking organization for seniors called The International Sexy Senior Society.
“It’s going to be called TISSS,” says Seymourian, in her theatrical way of speaking. “I took it off of, or `stole’ it a little bit from Gershwin’s song “‘S Wonderful, ‘S Marvelous,” so I thought ’tis marvelous for us too because I want to prove that seniors are vital, terrific and marvelous. We are fashionable and fun, just like anybody else.”
A few minutes of talking with the New England-based Seymourian is akin to taking a few sips from the fountain of youth. She has an energy and a joy for life that defies her age, which is a just a number as far as Seymourian is concerned. She often says: “I may not look like I’m 35 years old, but I feel like it.”
As for TISSS, Seymourian has big plans for the organization. “I want the members to feel a sense of ownership.” The organization will bring seniors together for a range of events including “dinner parties, galas, charity events, sporting events, talents shows, anything they want to do. It’s their club and I want them to enjoy it and have fun and meet other people and network with other people for social or business opportunities. And who knows, we might even have a marriage on our hands.”
The group has been meeting monthly at a Border’s in Massachusetts, and will expand nationally this summer.
On a personal level, Seymourian keeps active. “I love to swim about two hours; I never want to stop.” She also plays tennis and dances. “Also, I never take a pill. I don’t get sick and I rarely, rarely get a cold. I haven’t had one for years.”
When asked what advice she gives to seniors, Seymourian says the key is laughter. “Believe it or not, I think the first step to being healthy is to giggle. I find that people who laugh and giggle and have fun and have a positive attitude, they are the ones who are healthy and they are the ones that tell other people how wonderful life is and exciting it is and don’t complain all the time. The minute you start complaining, you are within yourself; you’re introverted; you’re tight inside.
“I say loosen up and don’t be afraid to speak out and do things in your life. That’s the whole point. Think of other people as well. Don’t just think about yourself. Go out and help other people and make other people giggle.”
Seymourian finds these moments in all places. “On the subway, when I go in to a Red Sox game, I make everybody giggle with me. All ages talk to me. We all have a wonderful time riding in instead of just standing there or just sitting there waiting for the train to go to each stop, if you know what I mean. That’s the life I want, where everybody wants to get involved.”
She writes about that in her book. Her advice for dinner parties is that no one person is the host, doing all the work. “When I give a party, I never `give’ a party. I never say `hello, it’s nice of you to come. Oh take off your coat, meet other people, have a drink.’ Huh-uh. I say `you, go put on your apron, go in the kitchen and start working.’ They love it because they are involved in making the dish they brought.”
Seymourian says this wide-open attitude about life began in childhood and never left. “When I was three years old, my father and mother held big picnics. One time, they couldn’t find me. They were looking all over; they were frantic. When they found me, I was in the middle of a crowd of people with dollar bills all over me, dancing all around. When they like you, they put dollar bills on you. That was my first experience in the theater, I guess.”
Later, when she was an actress in New York City, she studied with Stella Adler and had a lead in an off-Broadway show. She also had stints in television. “All of that proved that I could play many roles. I’ve always said my favorite line is from Shakespeare: `All the world is a stage and all the men and women merely players.’ One man in his time plays many parts. I want to prove to them that you can play many roles and have fun doing it and put on many hats that you can wear instead of just being one personality, you are several personalities.”
Senator Saxby Chambliss
Agriculture may not seem like a direct link to helping seniors, but the connection becomes clearer once you dig into the legislation of the latest Farm Bill. No one knows that legislation better than U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the Ranking Republican Member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
Agriculture supports one in every six jobs in his native state, so aligning himself with shaping legislation on the issue was a natural for the 65-year-old Chambliss. “We have an awful lot of seniors on food stamps and the food bank program,” he says. “(Under the bill) they would get an increased benefit under this farm bill. It will be easier for them to qualify. Also, those that own property will be able to take advantage of the perpetual lease taxation provision, which says if you want to lease property, you can get a nice tax deduction.”
Taxes come up often in conversation with the Senator; they are at the forefront of much of Chambliss’ political philosophy. “We’ve got an income tax that is not fair and equitable.” When he began his political career as a member of the class of ’94 Republicans who took over control of the House and Senate in landslide elections, Chambliss stood for a flat tax. “I’ve moved away from that because the flat tax would still require that the Internal Revenue Service stay in place and the flat tax still wouldn’t capture all the income transacted on a cash basis.”
Since then, Chambliss’ tax belief has moved to the FairTax plan. In effect, the FairTax would abolish all federal personal and corporate income taxes (as well as gift, estate, capital gains, alternative minimum, Social Security, Medicare and self-employment taxes) and replace them with a federal retail sales tax. “Seniors would benefit,” he says. “It’s more fair and would eliminate the IRS. In this plan, you’d only pay taxes on what you bought. If anyone has a better idea, I would love to hear it,” Chambliss says in his matter-of-fact way.
The “death” tax is another major problem, according to the Senator. “A lot of your readers have worked hard all their life and accumulated deserved savings. It’s not fair for the federal government to say, `you’ve worked hard all your life, but when you die, give Uncle Sam 55 percent.’”
Another issue that will impact seniors is Social Security. The system is currently generating surplus tax revenues, but that spigot is quickly drying up, Chambliss says. “The people now receiving Social Security don’t need to be concerned. But the bipartisan trust fund committee reported this year that by 2017 there will be cash flow problems with the fund.”
He says with this being a political year, he doesn’t expect much noise on the issue. “But I hope after the first of the year, the new president will put some ideas out there that will allow us to discuss the issue, how to solve it, and what we need to do to insure that social security is here for future generations.”
Medicare is another hot topic he says must be addressed sooner rather than later. “Like Social Security, Medicare is not a bottomless pit. It has served the senior community well, and, as policymakers we need to make sure it’s here forever. Currently, we’re paying out more short term than what we’re receiving in Medicare taxes.”
Chambliss, a prostate cancer survivor who now has a clean bill of health, says much must be done “to insure that people can choose doctors they want to see and have doctors participate in the program because unfortunately we’re seeing a lot of physicians are not taking Medicare patients. We’ll also try to figure out where the waste, fraud and abuse is and try to make reforms in the program that will not diminish doctors and benefits and make sure the program is financially sound.”
He says Medicare Part D is one example of a program that’s working. “It was confusing initially, but we have seen that by injecting competition into the program, we’re experiencing better services. In Georgia, we have 54 Part D plans, allowing seniors to choose the coverage that best suits their individual needs. Competitive bidding between Part D providers has resulted in average premiums of about $25 for 2008, which is about 40 percent lower than estimates.”
One thing that concerns Chambliss regarding seniors is that “a lot of people try to take advantage” of them. “As my father told me, `if somebody offers you an idea that sounds too good to be true, it probably is,’ so be very leery of it, and seek the advice of your children, a lawyer, or a financial advisor.”
Chambliss understands that many seniors already have financial advisors, but if they don’t already, they need to be sure and talk to somebody about financial matters. “Even if it’s your banker or lawyer, be sure and talk to someone and make sure you’re getting competitive rates. I’d say to talk to a couple of different advisors to make sure there’s competition in the marketplace and you’re getting the best return you can get.”
Indiana Jones is 65. That’s hard to believe – and sort of hard to write, with a straight face. At least for now, Indy’s real-life incarnation, actor Harrison Ford, holds the mantle as our oldest action hero. Not only that, he remains one of our biggest box office draws. In theaters this summer with the fourth installment of the “Indiana Jones” series, Ford continues to get folks in the seats. As of June 1, the film has raked in $253 million domestically and $450 million worldwide.
Another celluloid tough guy, Clint Eastwood, 78, was recently asked if he’d ever reprise his most famous film role, “Dirty” Harry Callahan. “What would I do – play Harry as a retiree and chase bad guys with my walker?”
In his pre-AARP days, Ford was a mere 46 the last time he donned the khakis and handled the bullwhip as the globetrotting archaeologist. To get in shape for the role, Ford worked out up to three hours a day and stuck to a strict, high-protein diet. But even Ford admits the clock was ticking on his making the film, if he wanted to make it his way, which meant doing most of the stunts himself. “We need to move on for artistic reasons and obvious physical reasons but I feel fit to continue and bring the same physical action,” he said as production began last year.
One thing that has always separated Ford from many of the other action heroes is a self-deprecating sense of humor. “I’m like old shoes. I’ve never been hip,” he’s said. “I think the reason I’m still here is that I was never enough in fashion that I had to be replaced by something new.”
So, what does Indiana Jones/Han Solo do on his time off? Fly, of course. He owns an 800-acre ranch in Jackson, Wyo. and on occasion has provided emergency helicopter services when hikers have become lost or disoriented in the nearby wilderness. He also owns a small fleet of private planes he likes to jet around in, which has led to his appointment as chairman of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles program, taking over after Chuck Yeager retired.
When you hear the name Tina Turner, what thought comes to mind first? For some, it’s the big ’80s hair she wore long after the decade closed; for others it’s the unmistakeable voice that seems like it could break any glass within range. But for me, it’s the legs – long dancer’s legs that look more fitting on a 20-year-old than someone 68.
I saw Tina Tuner in 1982 at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis, Tenn. She was “washed up” by music standards, a nostalgic opening act for Lionel Richie. She strutted onstage, wearing a dress barely there and platform shoes most people couldn’t walk in.
For the next hour, she kicked and clawed the air like a caged animal attempting to break free, a woman fighting back the same way she’d fought back her whole life – surviving.
At 42, she had more energy than the twenty-something backup dancers or the teenyboppers gyrating along with her in the audience. She left us breathless in her wake as she took the first steps toward her big comeback, one that’s placed her back in the spotlight for the past quarter century.
She’s now sold more than 180 million records and, just four years after being the opening act in Memphis, landed in the Guinness Book of World Records by performing as a headliner in front of 184,000 fans at the Maracan? Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Born Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tenn., Turner grew up in a two-room shack, but now has homes on the French Riviera and Switzerland. She has said one way she relaxes is “to sit up and have breakfast as I look out over Nice from the top of the mountain.”
When someone is as fit and vibrant as Turner, others want to know the secrets as to how she does it. Interestingly enough, one of her keys to longevity is not as much through traditional exercise as it is through dancing, meditating and working in her garden. Favorite foods are “pasta and prawns and loads of salads.”
Just when she thinks she’s had enough with touring, and is ready to spend the rest of her life gazing at the Alps and pruning veggies, the lure of the stage pulls her back in: Turner will kick off a major tour this October in Kansas City.