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Successful Aging: How men are adjusting to life in the time of COVID-19

Several weeks ago, I wrote a column about retired women and their adjustment to the early phase of COVID-19. It seems timely to get a sense how men in later life are dealing with this unprecedented time. To get a snapshot of what is happening on the ground, I spoke to 10 men about their experiences, feelings, intentions as well as flickers of a silver lining.

Staying connected: A common theme in many of the conversations was the importance of staying connected to others — to an aunt, niece, business associate, college friend or a previous work buddy. A retired business executive stays in touch with others in an organized way. He creates a list of people he wants to reach; then each day he goes down his list, selects two names and contacts the two individuals for a telephone visit, often for over an hour. I didn’t ask how far down the list he has gotten.

Relationships: They matter. A business executive said, “I discovered how much I care for my wife and that we really are compatible.” Another noted that this extra time with his wife without an agenda, expectations or outside commitments has provided an opportunity to connect with her in new ways.

A retired business man discovered new dimensions of social relationships. He and his wife are staying connected to several couples by having three virtual dinners a week, with a different couple each week. Before COVID-19, the couples would meet in person which often ended up with the two men having a side conversation while the two women did the same. Now, with Zoom all faces are on the screen at the same time; there is just one inclusive conversation with no gender side-bar chats. This man is thoroughly enjoying the changing dynamic and appreciates the enhanced relationships.

Nature: Another discovered new trails around his home and for the first time, found himself looking at the trees, foliage and flowers he had not noticed. Another who has taken up photography discovered exceptional beauty in photographing a snowy area, giving him a new appreciation of scenic wonders with opportunities to reflect and experience feelings of peace.

Intentions: A retired business consultant identified his daily challenge: to live according to the creed of the noted UCLA basketball coach John Wooden who said, “Create each day as a masterpiece,” focusing on what you are doing right now to the best of your ability. Routinely, this individual asks himself before he sleeps, “Did I create a masterpiece today? And what will I create tomorrow?” In the previous day his masterpiece was providing two hours of pro bono consulting to an entrepreneur who is refocusing her business due to the economic downturn.

Remaining fit and trim: Most all of the men were trying to maintain their fitness by doing one or more of the following: Bike riding, running on a treadmill, doing at-home exercises with weights and bands prescribed by a fitness coach, going for short runs and taking a yoga class on line. Many were engaged in more fitness activities than usual because of their increased discretionary time. Before sheltering one man was taking a yoga class once a week; now it is three times a week. To keep his weight down, a manufacturing executive and his wife are having their main meal at lunch, followed by a light dinner with a walk during the day. He says he lost six pounds, which was needed.

Reflection: A common theme in these conversations was using this time for reflection and deciding what is important in life. “I have time to think about life’s priorities with less distraction,” commented a teacher.

Frustrations: A big frustration was not being able to be physically close with family, particularly grandchildren. “I miss my family immensely,” said one. Several found it frustrating not to be able to go anywhere — for a cappuccino or just to another place for change in scenery. Perhaps the greatest frustration expressed was the uncertainty; not knowing when this sheltering will end and how this pandemic will eventually play out.

Grateful: All were grateful for their health, family and having more than the basics of life. They acknowledged with compassion the losses of life, income and the suffering of others while recognizing the heroic work of our health-care workers.

Here are just a few takeaways from these conversations that can help us through this period: Relationships matter, nature can heal, priorities are worth reviewing and fitness counts. Consider taking advantage of this pause. At the least, it helps pass the time.

Stay safe and well.

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