Active living is the key to successful aging

Dr. Roger Landry wishes senior citizens would stop acting their age. Landry, president of Masterpiece Living, LLC, a consulting firm for senior communities that emphasize healthy aging, observes, “Nothing in our DNA dictates that we can’t stay vital into old age. We need to adopt a ‘use it or lose it’ approach to our minds, bodies and spirit.”

After all, Landry points out, Grandma Moses began her illustrious artistic career in her late 70s and lived to 101, painting more than 20 canvases in her last year of life. “I hear inspiring stories like this every day,” he said. “Recently, I met a woman who parachuted down to her 90th birthday party.”

You don’t need to parachute into active senior living, but modest exercise is essential. Not only does exercise build muscle tone and strength, it also creates a feeling of confidence and competence. “When you are physically engaged in life, you’re more ready to try other activities,” Landry says.

Ed Abramson may be living proof. Now 86, the L.A. resident is a highly decorated World War II veteran whose bravery earned him a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Presidential Citation, Combat Infantry Badge and numerous other medals. As a member of the Army’s 90th Division, Abramson participated in the landing at Normandy on Omaha Beach.

Abramson retired 17 years ago, having run a sales company specializing in high-end furniture for architects and designers. In that time, he’s developed new interests, taking up oil painting, studying the Torah and exercise — all avidly. His seascapes and still lifes grace the homes of friends who admire his work, and one of his granddaughters has asked him to paint Jerusalem’s Western Wall for her apartment.

He enjoys spending quiet evenings with his wife of 40 years, June, as well as playing with his four great-grandchildren. And, barely one month after surgery to remove a cancerous tumor on his lung, Abramson still hits the gym three times a week, where he does an eye-popping 125 sit-ups each time, 45 minutes in a combined walk/jog on the treadmill and a variety of other exercises.

“Sometimes I don’t feel like working out, if I’m tired or have aches and pains,” he admits, “but I force myself to go, since I know I’ll feel a lot better afterward. Working out is a key to feeling good,” he says.

A combination of mental stimulation, social connections and physical challenge is a perfect example of what Landry calls successful aging.

“Research has smashed the stereotype that aging means automatic feebleness or crankiness. People who remain physically, mentally and socially active can maintain high levels of functioning well into their 80s and 90s,” he said.

Landry points to exciting research in the last few years that has focused on the importance of “social connectivity” and its connection to overall brain fitness.

“We’ve always known that it’s good to be with people, but there is a physiological basis for it,” Landry says. “The DNA looks different in those who are socially connected than in those who are not.”

For example, the telomere, which is the end of the strand of DNA, gets shorter and shorter as people age. However, Landry says telomeres shorten more slowly in people who stay socially connected, appearing as a younger cell.

People who maintain strong connections with friends, loved ones and confidants also have lower risks of just about every type of illness, including cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Left unchecked, older adults who lose meaningful engagement with people and activities can become depressed, marginalized by society, losing their physical and mental vitality and becoming at greater risk for assisted living.

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” Landry said. “Older people can not only continue to have meaning, purpose and activity in their post-retirement years, they may even find a new purpose, unencumbered by work and parenting obligations.”

Landry recommends that older people do the following each day: exercise for at least 30 minutes (though sedentary individuals should check with their doctors before beginning an exercise program), learn something new to stimulate brain function, meet with or call friends, and do anything they find meaningful, such as joining a book or other special-interest club, doing volunteer work or picking up an old hobby.

“Think back to things you may have enjoyed earlier in life, whether it was stamp collecting, crafts, gardening or politics. Whatever you’re interested in, there’s a group out there for you,” he said.

Judy Gruen’s most recent book is “The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement.”

Golan Under Development

What is the safest place in Israel?

The answer, according to Ronnie Lotan, is the Golan, which hasn’t had a single terrorist incident since the Heights, captured in 1967, were formally annexed to Israel 20 years ago.

Lotan, an avuncular looking man of 55, was in town to help organize Monday’s tribute dinner to Jerry Weintraub, the first major fundraiser for the year-old Golan Fund. Lotan, the fund’s president, says that his relatively modest goal for the next three years is to raise $3 million, with three projects topping the list.

Natura Village, a residential and social home for some100 adults with mental and behavioral problems, due to open in July.

Ohalo College in Qatzrin, capital of the Golan Heights,and the only college in Israel’s far North. Scholarships will help trainteachers in physical education and fitness.

Fellowships and scholarships for the Golan ResearchInstitute, which promotes knowledge and economic development of the region.

Cost of these and all other development projects are split — with the Israeli government paying two-thirds, and the Golan Fund providing the remainder.

A native of Tel Aviv, Lotan moved to the Golan in 1968 and now lives in Kibbutz Mevo Hama, one of 32 communities on the Golan. The region now has a population of 18,000, of whom some 7,000 live in Qatzrin. About 45 percent of Qatzrin’s residents are Russian emigrants. The Golan, which has no Arab residents, is an integral part of Israel, in contrast to the Jewish towns and settlements in the territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Fortunately, the region has been able to avoid the sharp ideological and religious confrontations plaguing much of the rest of Israel.

About one-third of the residents are observant Jews (though there are no enclaves of fervently Orthodox) and two-thirds are secular. There is one unified school system and kibbutzim and moshavim operate under a joint governing council. Lotan cites as the Golan’s biggest concern a slow drain of young people to the cities, where job opportunities are more varied and plentiful. One of his main goals is to create more good jobs in the region to staunch the drain and attract newcomers.

The father of seven children, Lotan declares proudly that five have remained on the Golan — the other two couldn’t find the right jobs.

For more information on the Golan Fund, check its Website at

A Study in Betrayal

When David Mamet, the son of brilliant but emotionally abusive parents, was growing up in Chicago, his mother told him, according to The New Yorker profile of the playwright, “I love you, but I don’t like you.”

The devastating line recurs in “The Cryptogram,” and to understand the frankly autobiograph-ical play, it helps to know something about Mamet’s childhood.

In his parents’ household, “the virtues expounded were not creative but remedial: Let’s stop being Jewish; let’s stop being poor,” Mamet’s sister, Lynn, says. “There was no room for us to make mistakes.”

The fierce resentment that marked the boy’s adolescence is reflected in most of the man’s plays, in which betrayal of one form or another is a central motif.

So it is in “Cryptogram,” a short play of almost unrelieved mental and emotional combat. Donny, the mother, is betrayed first by her husband, and then by the gay family friend, Del. And both, in their way, betray Donny’s 10-year old son, John.

In turn, John, a terribly complex and potentially suicidal boy, retaliates, intentionally or not, by making his mother’s life miserable.

This synopsis sounds grimmer than it is. Mamet’s uncanny ear for the rhythm of everyday speech and domestic infighting lends a sense of familiarity, and even occasional humor, and rescue the play from potential morbidity.

We read the play before seeing the show at the Geffen Playhouse, which was probably a mistake. Mamet’s typically fragmented, overlapping, staccato dialogue can be awkward and confusing on the printed page, but it comes alive in the speech pattern and split-second timing of a well-integrated ensemble.

Under the direction of Michael Bloom, actors Ed Begley Jr. as Del, Christine Dunford as Donny, and 12-year-old Will Rothhaar as John keep the dialogue at a sharp edge and the tension unbroken throughout the 70-minute play.

It is not an easy play to confront, but its intensity and honesty carries the day.

“The Cryptogram” plays in repertory with Mamet’s “The Old Neighborhood” through Feb. 14, at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood. For tickets, call the box office at (310) 208-5454, or Ticketmaster at (213) 365-3500.
You Can Go Home AgainBut in David Mamet’s ‘The Old Neighborhood,’ it’s a place marked by open wounds and unanswered longingBy Diane Arieff, Contributing Editor