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Successful Aging: 4 ways to thrive and be healthy during the pandemic

Dear Readers,

This past week I had the opportunity to speak at the Healthy Living Virtual Expo sponsored by the Southern California News Group. When I was asked for the title of my talk, I said, “Aging and Thriving during the Pandemic: Are You Kidding?” As I was sitting in front of my computer, faced with a blank screen, I said to myself, “What in the world was I thinking?” We are in the middle of a pandemic, high unemployment, economic disaster for so many businesses and individuals, mental health issues, climate change, California fires and an occasional earthquake. And I want to talk about aging and thriving?

And then I thought about a note I received several years ago from the late James E. Birren, founder of USC’s Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center and the first dean of the Davis School of Gerontology. At the time Birren was in his 90s. He did not sign his note with the traditional “regards,” or “best wishes.” He signed it, “have good days.” That resonated with me, particularly now.

It was a reminder about the importance of living a single day at a time while continuing to recognize the realities around us. That day can be more than just surviving; it can be about thriving.

The term “thriving” has been defined as getting better at something, being good at something, feeling fortunate or grateful and feeling good about life and ourselves. This approach to thriving encouraged me to think about the silver linings or at least the glimmers that can be part of our lives during the pandemic. In a sense these glimmers are discoveries.

Here are some examples based on numerous conversations I’ve had with older men and women:

Discovering the importance of exercise: One older woman found the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg an inspiration. Justice Ginsburg hired a fitness coach, Bryant Johnson, as her trainer in 1999 after being treated for colon cancer. She hired him again in 2009 after being treated for pancreatic cancer. The book “The RBG Workout: How She Stays Strong…and You Can Too” by Johnson consists of line drawings of Ginsberg exercising with instructions on how to safely implement them. Ginsburg is an inspiration in so many ways.

Learning something new: Examples include painting as one person is taking plein-air art classes held at several botanical gardens. Another embarked on singing lessons while another is figuring out his new iPhone and how to sync it with his tablet. Then there were the online classes, Ted talks, cooking and online yoga classes. One man decided it was time to get Netflix and Amazon Prime, which meant figuring out how to subscribe to them.

The Zoom discovery: This video-conferencing platform has gone beyond discovery. It has become almost normative, becoming the most popular way people of all age groups are connecting during the pandemic. A grandmother is reading a story to her young granddaughter just before bedtime. Longtime friends are connecting. Family members are discovering one another. Adults of all ages are attending conferences they typically would not attend, often because of finances. Although not perfect, Zoom helps fight social isolation and loneliness, particularly for older adults. However, Zoom does not take the place of hugging a grandchild or holding a baby in our arms. Then there is Zoom fatigue, which is another conversation.

Discovering a neighborhood: A woman in her 60s whose work required global travel was at home during the quarantine and realized she did not know her neighbors. In a creative moment, she took some chalk and wrote welcoming messages on the sidewalk. She wrote personal notes and placed them in her neighbors’ mailboxes. The response was overwhelming. Others are discovering their neighbors by walking their dog which has become so popular that some shelters are reporting running out of dogs for fostering or adoption.

These are just a few examples of glimmers during the pandemic. They are indicators of more than just surviving; these are examples of how to thrive. We all have the capacity; it’s a mindset, an intention.

So dear readers, consider doing something that makes you thrive, look for the glimmers…and have good days.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Visit Helen at and follow her on 


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