70 Is The New 50

Not long after sunrise in a glorious, red-rock corner of southern Utah, the natives start to get restless, reports CBS News Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin.

In small groups and large, the oldest citizens of St. George shake off sleep by acting like, well, a bunch of kids!!

"We woke up this morning -- so we feel great," said one senior citizen.

Take this softball practice. To these guys, age is just a number.

"I'm 75 and a half," said one player.

"I'm 69," said another.

"I'm 73."

"I'm 67."

"First of all, you're all lying!! I don't believe it for a minute!" Kaeldin exclaimed.

But it's true. -- many of these gentlemen say they feel better now than they've felt in years.

"And how old do you feel?" she asked.

"About 60, 58 and a half," replied Gene Carney.

"You don't feel 73 at all?"

"Oh, no. No. No. No. No!" he replied emphatically

Even Gene Carney, who's running the bases after not one, but two hip replacements, says he's ready for action!

Is it something in the water? Something in the air? Or maybe just...

"Clean living!!! Never smoked, never drank, never chased women," he said.

In fact, the secret according to this crew, is attitude! And attitudes about aging in America are changing dramatically.

A New Yorker cartoon says it all: "70 is the new 50," and no one in this community would argue.

"Hey, coming out here is what keeps us young," said one ball player.

St George, Utah is one of the fastest growing retirement communities in the country, but the truth is there's nothing "retiring" about the folks who live here. They're staying fit and active well into their seventies and even eighties: part of a trend that's "redefining" old age.

"How would you describe the aging population in America today?" Kaledin asked Dr. Robert Butler.

"Well, it certainly is a lot healthier, more robust and vigorous than it used to be. And in some ways it defines a kind of new old age," replied the president of the International Longevity Center.

Butler himself fits the bill -- a 78-year-old who puts in an 80-hour-work week and works out with a physical trainer.

He says medical advances have been crucial in helping Americans age better: drugs to combat old killers like high blood pressure and high cholesterol have made a huge difference.

"I think health is the central issue," Butler said. "People define the beginning of old age when they feel a decline in function: a decline in physical function, a decline in cognitive function. So function and health are at the heart of it."

And large scale surveys of America's seniors suggest they feel pretty good about themselves.

49 percent aged 65 to 69 said they were living the best years of their lives.

44 percent in their 70's said the same thing.

And, here's one to make you blush:

"The majority of people asked found that a 75 year old man or woman can still be considered sexy?" Kaleldin wanted to know.

"Absolutely," answered Butler.

"Is that a surprise to people?"

"Well, not a surprise to me," he said.

Butler is cautious not to paint too rosy a picture. 1.6 million Americans live lonely, dependent lives in nursing homes and are badly in need of care.

But more and more people like Anita Painter are surfacing as the model for how the golden years can be lived.

Just a few blocks away from that softball game in St. George, she's just showing up for her daily swim.

In fact, her day is so action packed we could barely keep up. From the pool, it was on to art class, then home to visit her beloved horse Goldie. She practiced the piano, serenading her 90-year-old husband Al, and finally fixed dinner.

Not quite the portrait of a 72-year-old some of us had in mind.

"Are you old?" Kaledin asked her.

"Absolutely not," Painter said. "As a matter of fact I have to tell you a funny reaction. When I was 65 and that thing called a Medicare card came in the mail. And I can remember being absolutely furious, wondering why this 35-year-old woman inside me was getting a Medicare card, you know?

That attitude has kept Anita going strong.

She has full blown heart disease, and has even broken her back, but she's determined to show that getting older means getting better.

"Well, I'm here to, by my life, prove that you are as young as you choose to be," she said.

Anita has even competed in the Huntsman World Senior Games-St. George's version of the Olympics for athletes 50 and older. All around the country there are similar stories.

"So this notion that once you turn 65 you're all of a sudden elderly -- that's a myth?" wondered Kaledin.

"I think it's a myth."

Meet Jack and Marie O'Marra. He's 84. She's 76 -- going on 40!

"I still have the same energy levels now that I had 40 years ago. I think if you feel old you're going to behave like a very old person. But if you think young, and you're in relatively good health, that's very important," Marie O'Hara said.

They go ballroom dancing three nights a week in their home town of Little Rock Arkansas, and have been twirling each other around on the dance floor since they met at New York's Roseland Ballroom back in 1946.

"That's really the way I exercise, but it's a delightful way to exercise," Jack O'Hara said..

The physical realities of aging do creep in. Some of their friends have died, and Jack has a history of heart problems and is a little frail. He admits he struggles to keep up with Marie.

But he also says one of the best decisions he's made in recent years was to become a patient of Dr. David Lipschitz.

Lipschitz is something of a celebrity among the geriatric set.

As director of the geriatrics department at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, he's spreading the word in print, and on a TV show seen on many PBS stations.

He's all about busting myths.

Who says older folks can't exercise? Who says they can't have active sex lives?

"The myth is that as we grow older our marriages are going to fall apart, we're not going to have love, we're not gonna have sex. In fact, love is one of the single most important predictors of a long and independent life," said Lipschitz.

"Dr. David" as he's known to his many devoted patients practices a unique blend of medicine and ministry, taking patients' aches and pains very seriously, while telling each and every one:

"I love you. You're gorgeous."

Lipschitz fervently believes that high self-esteem, love, spirituality, regular visits to the doctor, and lots of good old fashioned exercise -- hard exercise -- can make almost any 70-year-old feel 50.

"You need to crack a sweat, in other words," said Kaledin.

"You really do," he replied.

"You really need to…"

"Absolutely…"

"…to make it count."

"And if you can run a marathon, all the better," he added.

And if there is one common thread linking all the senior citizens living healthy, full lives -- it is that they stay physically active.

Many were fit as young people and they've stayed fit well into the sunset of their lives. --like 72-year-old cyclist Jerry Mcaffee.

"My goal is to ride up here clear to the top. That's 17 miles," he said.

Studies even show that physical activity helps ward off another leading fear we all have about old age: mental decline.

"I always like to say that exercise -- if we could put it into a pill -- would be our first longevity medicine --'cause it really is fantastic what aerobic activity will do," Dr. Butler said.

Back at the softball diamond, the guys put Kaledin to the test. They're a pretty tough crowd.

"STRIKE!"

"Aaaawwwww, come on!!

Eventually they lobbed her something she could hit -- barely. But any stereotypes she had about 70-year-olds got knocked right out of the park!!

And Dr. Lipschitz says that's exactly how it should be.

"And the idea that 65 or 70 is elderly is quite preposterous. You can assume that the best is yet to come," he said.

  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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