The Third Third

Boomer Regrets

My dad turned to me a few months ago, after particularly discouraging visits to heart and lung doctors, and said with considerable regret, “I really should have quit smoking when I tried to at 35.”

The doctors had confirmed what we all knew, that Dad was in late stage heart failure and has late stage lung disease and that his days are numbered.  (And aren’t they all?!)


But Dad is 88 years old.  Just how many coulda-woulda-shoulda’s can you take seriously when you’ve already beaten the longevity odds?  And that’s what I said to him:  “Actually, Dad, you got away with smoking for 68 years; you’re 88 years old and still kicking!”  He flashed me a rare smile, albeit a guilty one.


I read in USA Today  recently that baby boomers are beginning to express some regrets about their younger selves and behaviors that might have been injurious to their health and/or well-being now that said behaviors and the ravages of time -- and the economy -- are taking their toll.  “Who knew?” they seem to be saying, “that we should have watched our weight, exercised, stayed out of the sun, and saved?”  And then, rather sheepishly, they admit, “We knew; we just didn’t think. . .(it would ever happen to us.)”


I know the feeling.  In defense of the sunspots on my skin, I say I didn’t know how damaging the sun’s rays could be when, as a teenager, I slathered myself with baby oil and burned, baby, burned.  And I didn’t know how many chemical substances and random particles were polluting the air I breathed, the food I ate, and the water I drank.  And it’s only recently, say in the last 15 years, that I got the memo about exercise (though with four children, I was never all that sedentary).  I did know not to smoke.  And I did know not to drink too much. And I did know I had to save, if only because I was raised in a home that considered saving a moral imperative (and taking money out of the local savings bank a sin akin to sexual impropriety).  I took birth control pills without knowing, really, what they might do to my body or my offspring longterm, and I took hormones even in the face of evidence they might do more harm than good (though who’s to say what harm I might have done dealing on my own with the sweating and the mood swings?). I did drugs, too: I have taken antibiotics about which I know nothing, pain pills because it hurt so much I didn’t care what they might do to me, and anti-depressants because they so improved my emotional equilibrium -- but nothing illegal because I was too worried about (1) getting caught and (2) what the so-called recreational drugs might do to my mind (handily ignoring the fact that pain pills and anti-depressants do something to one’s mind, too).  


So, standing here at 63 relatively strong and healthy -- and currently solvent -- I have fewer regrets than I have concerns about what I might not know today that could keep me from enjoying -- or, on the other hand,  enhance my capacity to enjoy -- the years ahead.  And I think many of my peers could, like me, use some advice about thriving rather than merely surviving, going forward, and are in a frame of mind (now that reality has bitten us all) to welcome and heed the counsel.


What would that advice be?  Across the board, experts say we must eat right, exercise, and live within our (financial) means. (Duh.) A more helpful article on is more expansive: “Healthy aging is about much more than staying physically healthy—it’s about maintaining your sense of purpose and your zest for life.”  And again, “Healthy aging means continually reinventing yourself, finding new things you enjoy, learning to adapt to change, staying physically and socially active, and feeling connected to your community and loved ones.” 


If you’re coming off retirement, if the kids are all grown, if you have new responsibilities for your parents, or if you’ve lost your parents, if you have grandchildren, if you’re dealing with declining health or physical abilities or just an over-sized belly or waistline, if the age-old images of aging are polluting your spirit as our parents’ cigarette smoke polluted our childhood homes, listen up -- there are changes we need to embrace out there, investments we can make in relationships, and future regrets we can avoid.

If you are so inclined, you can check out these additional resources:

The American Geriatric Society’s Aging in the Know

The National Institutes of Health’s Healthy Aging

The Healthy Aging Partnership’s Tips for Healthy Living

The site’s Staying Healthy as a Senior

As for your personal regrets, I welcome you to air them -- and share them -- here.  

And, should you already have resolutions for a future without further regrets -- advice you’ve listened to, or advice you’d like to give -- please post that here, too, in the Comments section below.

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