tv Religion Ethics Newsweekly WHUT August 2, 2009 9:00am-9:30am EDT
coming up on "life (part 2)," we exercise to stay healthy, but the aches and pains keep piling up. there's a name for this ironic syndrome that afflicts the baby boom generation; they call it "boomeritis." and later, richard cohen won 3 emmys as a tv news producer, he's married to meredith vieira and they have 3 kids, and since the age of 25, he's hung tough in the face of a debilitating illness. plus, comedy writing legend larry gelbart with 1/2 dozen lessons learned over the years-- all next on "life (part 2)." (woman) major funding for "life (part 2)" was provided by: the atlantic philanthropies-- supporting older adults in living lives of purpose; and by metlife foundation-- celebrating the wisdom, talent, and experience of older adults.
metlife foundation proudly supports "life (part 2)" [bass & percussion instruments play in syncopated rhythm] ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ welcome to "life (part 2)." i'm alan rosenberg. have you been to the doctor lately because you pulled something or because what used to hurt a little now hurts a lot? well, you're not alone. baby boomers are falling apart, but we can't stop exercising, right, because that's bad for us? and modern medicine can fix anything, right? well, maybe not. here's how one dedicated runner is dealing with the baffling contradictions. my name is john hobby. i'm an attorney in brooklyn, new york, and i'm 50 years old.
(man laughs) how does that make you feel? ooold! growing up, i played lots of different sports. i played a lot of basketball. i played baseball and football. for the most part now, i run long distances, usually 2 or 3 times a week, i do some weight training 3 or 4 times a week, and whenever i can, i get out on my bicycle. when i can't get to working out, whether it be weight training, running; i feel bloated, i feel grumpy, and i feel like i'm missing something. there is a sort of broad cultural trend to feeling that you shouldn't be held back by limits and this can lead to a number of problems, one of which is a hard time accepting the reality of aging. (robert cotlin) we sometimes have a catch-22. how much is too much? we have a problem with our body breaking down and trying to keep our body going forward.
well the boomer population is at a shortfall because they don't recover as quickly as a younger person. their muscles aren't as strong as they used to be, they're not as flexible as they were, and their bones and ligaments don't hold them up as they used to. they don't see that. (john) i've had numerous injuries, but i've had a lot of injuries from probably getting older and overdoing it. i had some knee problems. i thought i might need surgery at one point, but luckily, i didn't have to do that. i've had a foot problem that kept me off running for about 6 months and that was, that was very rough. there's something that keeps coming back to running 'cause it's not gleeful. it's not something you do and you know, joyful while you're doing it, but at the end of a run, particularly a long run, which is why i think i like longer runs, you feel a sense of euphoria. you know, everything is cool. whatever that problem was you had when you started running, it somehow, it's gonna work out. it's a really good feeling and the fact that
you get it naturally [laughs] makes it all the better. there are some of those who just come in and say fix it. i wanna do this next week--fix it. i've had patients 3 times a day that just tell me, if there's a broken piece, take it out and give me a new one. so you can ask whether baby boomers are kind of in denial about the long-term consequences of the choices they make now about not recognizing the implications of their actions for their bodies over time, for their health over time. and denial's a bit of a tricky word because on one hand, to say i'm not gonna be limited, it does open up opportunities, but the downside is it can be flat out denial to say that there aren't consequences and my kind of refusing to be frustrated in the short-term isn't going to hurt me in the long-term. i don't want anybody to think that we're saying you should not be a boomer and be motivated and dedicated to work out and to to work out and to go to the next level.
we want you to, but use common sense. if something hurts for more than a few days, it's probably injured, and not sore. if you can't walk for a week or 2, there's an injury; it's not just a limp. if your back hurts and you have leg pain, it's not just a pull. it could be a nerve problem. just use common sense and be smart and then go see a physician, a clinician, a trainer, a therapist, somebody to help you work this out and keep you going, because if not, you will get injured and will suffer. that's the thing--it just doesn't make any sense to me. if for some reason, and i don't know if i'm alone in this generation, but being 50 is not something that happens to people like me. [hearty laugh] ♪ ♪ exercise-- you can't live with it and you can't live without it. i guess it's a question of accepting limits and what used to be called "growing up," which some of us just refuse to do. but don't worry; we have a panel of grown-ups standing by.
as a reporter for the new york times, robert lipsyte has written about everything from the ali-liston fight to coping with modern life. his novels for young adults earn raves and win prizes. and, oh yeah, he won an emmy for his work as a television host. abigail trafford is close to militant in her view that the best years are ahead for the baby boomer generation. it's the idea behind her book, "my time: making the most of the bonus decades." my good friend anne-marie johnson is a fine actress, the daughter of a police officer, the wife of an exercise addicted baby boomer, and my colleague at the screen actors guild where i think we make a great team. helen kvinick is a psychologist and professor at the university of minnesota, and clearly, helen, we all desperately need your help. now, it's odd, i feel bloated and grouchy while i'm exercising. let me poll the rest of you. so why do you look so good, alan? i don't eat much because i'm allergic to exercise. let me ask the rest of you; do we relate to the gentleman, the attorney in the piece?
not yet. not entirely, no. i had a liberating experience. i ride a bike for exercise and i try to get up hills that i didn't get up before, screaming "lance armstrong, lance armstrong," and measuring myself on the speedometer and odometer on my bike, which broke and i didn't fix it right away. and at first it was a real sense of loss, but then there there was a real sense of freedom from it and i really enjoyed riding much more than i had, which had become like that guy-- a duty, a chore. i mean, if play is gonna become a chore, why bother? and i think that i am riding more and further, but i don't know. i think that's the key to many things in life. i played golf and i used to get so upset with myself when i wasn't playing well, and then a friend of mine gave me a phrase, nato-- "not attached to outcome." if you let go, if you let go of that goal that you set for yourself, that you have to achieve something,
you can really enjoy the process. i don't know what it is. i work out 7 days a week... (alan) you're a freak. >> ...i'm a freak! [laughs] no, because this is our temple. well, you know, whatever, and... a lot of us pray to it, anne. ...and i want you all to pray to this temple. but i mean, i love working out. i turn it into something that is my friend and not my enemy. my husband, who used to be a football player in college and was always very athletic, but the problem is, in the '70s, he had really botched knee surgery and so as the years progressed, his knees have gotten worse and when he exercises, there's no joy because there is a lot of pain. no, i think it has to be pleasure. i exercise. i love to go to the gym. i get on a machine and i listen to rock music and i zone out and i'm a happy creature. but i am not a fitness fascist. i think that's dangerous to be so caught up in fitness and running and jogging, thinking if you don't exercise, you know, then you're gonna have a bad outcome. what do you think, dr. kvinick? go ahead. being a fitness fascist in later life,
and by "later life" i mean anything really over 50 or 55 is a real problem. so absolutely, what you said at the beginning about exercise-- you can't live without it and you can't live with it-- that's really true. we have to live with it, and ideally, if we're gonna live with it to some extent, we live with it in a way that makes us feel really good. yeah, but there's a part of all of this is, as we lose control of our lives, you know, it certainly even happens to younger people in a society that's out of control, the one thing that you can control is the shape of your body... the one thing you think you can control! but you can. you can when you're young. as you get older and you can control even less in the world, you're still trying to compete in this very false way. but is that a bad thing? i don't know. i don't know. is that a bad thing? not necessarily. i mean, i fully agree with you that as there's less and less that you can control, we try very hard to control what it is that we can control
and we're used to being able to control our own bodies. at what point does it become neurotic? that's a great question and the answer is it differs for every person, it also differs for every circumstance. it becomes neurotic when it interferes with your living your real life. it becomes neurotic when it really radically constrains what you do and it interferes with everything else. i agree with helen, and i would add that it becomes neurotic when competition really becomes a factor, i mean, too many people are playing tennis and hurting themselves, but also when you're in competition with yourself. i'm gonna be a little better next time. but that's a motivator. i'm gonna run further, run faster. i'm gonna do a 5k and leave somebody in the dust. (alan) nato. nato. i love that. is this all about trying to be healthy or is it about about vanity and trying to hold on to our sex appeal? for me it's vanity and, and health is a consequence. i've gotta compete with women 20 years younger than me. it's vanity, purely, pure and simple.
and my husband likes it. are we ageist against ourselves? is this a denial, a refusal to grow up gracefully, in part? yes, we don't want to. we don't want to go there and so we think if we do all this fitness that we will never get older, and the fact is, we're gonna have to learn how to enjoy it, enjoy getting older because we, you know, that's the better alternative. but getting older doesn't mean being totally unfit. it's possible to be as fit as you can be as an elder. are we less mature as a generation than the generations that preceded us? well, wait a minute. let's talk about generation. i'm not a boomer; i'm a codger, [laughter] and abigail, my much younger sister... i'm a codgerette. ...is a codgerette and her theory is that we made the boomers possible. absolutely. i won't go that far, but i think that boomer is a generation that's never been tested... oh no! no. ...in any kind of real way
and i think that this kind of exercise, the competition, some of the things they do is in a way to test themselves. helen is shaking her head. tell us... i really disagree with you. [alan laughs] as the codger says. as the codger says. well, boomers have not been tested in the same way that codgers have been tested and boomers have also been raised to believe that the world need have no limits and that anything is possible if you work hard enough, are smart enough, try hard enough, and are motivated enough. that's denial. that's how boomers were raised to live. there are many outcomes of that, which have been very positive and there are ways that that can be a very very effective message for one time in the life cycle. the notion that there are no limits absolutely doesn't work as you get older. by definition, death is a limit! by definition, chronic conditions,
chronic physical conditions are limits. do i hear you saying also that maybe boomers are less fitted for old age than other generations? (alan) are we in for a rude awakening? i think we're in for a very rude awakening and i do think that boomers are less fitted to aging than people in their 50s and 60s in other cultures that believe in a more interdependent way of living throughout the life cycle. but maybe it's a good thing that boomers are not falling into the trap of, oh, this must be what it's like to be old. maybe there's something positive about not falling into the stereotypes of being old. i think that boomers wanna go against the limits of the stereotype, the stereotype of getting older, getting... (ann-marie) retirement. >> ...pushed on the sidelines not having a vital part in the community. (ann-marie) being disenfranchised. you know, i've had cancer several times, which i see as my real practice for growing old. i was infirmed for short periods of time
and i knew i would get past it, so i didn't didn't have quite the feeling of death that dying people have. but i see that what it is is adjustments, that there are things that we can do to prepare ourselves. something as simple as that bar in the bathtub. just ways that we can use finesse instead of the brute force that we used to have, and i think that's the way exercise should go. that's the way our thinking should go. the idea that instead of competing, we're reaching out and mentoring; that our competition now are the younger people that we are helping, that we're giving our knowledge to. for you, you're describing cancer as being a circumstance to which you need to adjust, or chemotherapy. there are other kinds of major life changes like losing a job or an industry ceasing to exist.
another way to look at that is to say those are all limits that get imposed. that doesn't say that we can't live more vitally than elders in previous generations did. it is to say we can't be 20 when we're 80. thanks very much, dr. kvinick. thank you so much for being here. appreciate all the information. at the age of 25, richard cohen was going strong with a flourishing career as a tv news producer when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. he went on to work with the likes of cronkite and rather, win emmys, and cover war zones in beirut and el salvador. he married meredith vieira and they have 3 children. richard told the story of his battle with ms and later colon cancer in his tough-minded memoir, "blindsided." he is now at work on a new book, "strong at the broken places." richard cohen, it's good to see you again. you know, i was terribly moved and inspired by "blindsided." what parallels do you draw between the struggles
that you had dealing with ms and the struggles that older people go through? well, there's one very important parallel that i think is relevant to everything that we're doing on this program, which is that 90 million americans suffer from chronic illnesses, but chronic illnesses are tied to aging. seventy percent of people who are over 65 suffer from at least one chronic illness, as many as 50% have 2 chronic illnesses, so there's a real welcome to your future quality to this issue. you know, we live in a culture that doesn't want to see illness. we celebrate beauty. popular culture is all about physical perfection. that's not our future, and i think that we have got to come to grips with that and we've gotta look at illness and look at our human frailties and realize that this is not the other person's issue.
this is gonna be our issue. you've face so much in your life, but i've heard you say that you don't have the "depression gene." how have you stopped from succumbing to depression throughout your life? you know, i wrote about making instant decisions when i heard the diagnosis, and i don't know whether people tend to do that or not, but one of the decisions i made was that i was gonna keep going. that i knew what i wantedin my life and i didn't know enough about the illness to freak out, so why bother? and that's worked for me. you do let yourself get angry. you talk about that quite a bit in your book, and it's righteous anger. does that help kind of fend off depression, the fact that you're in touch with your anger and can express it? yeah, i get angry. i get angry at myself, i get angry at my situation,
but the key is not to take it out on other people, not to let it get in the way of leading a normal, productive life. so to me, anger is fuel, you know? it just keeps me going. you talk a lot about your family, and in your book you really bring the characters in your family to life. you really get the feeling that you know them. how do you avoid making it all about you, you know, within the context of your family? well, it's very hard and when you're really sick, it's a trap you can fall into very easily. when i had colon cancer for the second time, i was very dark, dark, very angry, and in retrospect, i have to say was very difficult and very tough on the kids, and meredith said to me, "don't do this. don't do this to your family."
you know, illness is a family affair. illness is not ours alone. our families are in the hospital bed with us. and meredith is fond of saying, this is not your ms, this is our ms, and i think that's really true and the trick is to keep your eyes open and to be sensitive enough to see what you're doing. for a while, i didn't do it, and i think my kids paid a price. your good friend bob lipsyte is here. bob, you're a cancer survivor. yeah. one of the powers of "blindsided" for me was the way you channeled your own personal strengths as a producer, as a human being into the disease itself, which leads us to always that danger of what they used to call the "supercrip" syndrome, 'cause not everybody is going to be as powerful as you were.
or i suspect, the people in "strong at the broken places." do you have any thoughts about that? i believe that people are much stronger than they think they are. we all hear people saying, oh, i could never deal with that, i couldn't cope with that. you know, people who have not been tested sort of assume that they would fold the second anything happened. i don't think that's true. i think that there's a reservoir of strength that many or most of us carry around that's really deeper than we think. i think the most important thing in a person's life when they get sick is not to become a victim, not to become a professional victim, not to go into, to fall into the "poor me" syndrome, because that's the kiss of death. i think what you've gotta do is grab hold of it, you've got to appreciate your own resilience, your own strength and just keep going.
you know, i'm not talking-- there are no medals for coping. there are no merit badges for getting up and going to work another day. it's a highly personal process. there's no reward system to it except, except the possibility of leading a normal and happy life, and that's the objective. you talk about the role of denial. perhaps it's selective denial. can you talk a little bit more about that? yeah, i mean, actually one of the reasons that i began "blindsided" was i was really sick of people; family, friends, people who were close to me saying "ah, you're in denial." i had a doctor who had medical students by his side and he said this guy is in denial. i said, "i deny that!" [all laugh] but i think denial is very much misunderstood.
you know, if you're standing in the middle of the tracks and there's a train coming at you and you go "no problem," that's foolish denial. but if you're denying the inevitability of possible outcomes, that makes sense. anne-marie, you have a question for richard? when i was caring for my mother, she had a terminal illness, and the disconnect between the doctors and patient, and i went to all of my mother's appointments, so we could understand what the doctors were saying. i found that something happens when we're sitting with a doctor. maybe it's a fear, maybe it's whatever, that we're just not speaking the same language. the problem is that we are living in an era of managed care. everything in the system's working against us. you know, there are limitations on how long doctors can spend with us. medicine has turned into very high tech, impersonal medicine and what i've recommended in a number of places is
to institute programs for first year, second year medical students where their pores are still open. where they're still interested, where they haven't decided that they know everything, and get them to see us for what we really are and who we really are and see if you can start the change at the beginning of the process, because if you go down the road too far, you don't stand a chance. well, thanks again for being here, richard. thank you all. i've really enjoyed the conversation. thank you all very much. how's this for a list of credits for a comedy writer: "your show of shows", "mash", and a tony award for "a funny thing happened on the way to the forum"? and that list only represents a few inches on larry gelbart's mile long comedy resume. he's also one of the great gentlemen of show business, which is why we are so pleased he sat down to give us 6 concise lessons learned about getting old. "a few lessons learned" as they say in the pentagon
where incidentally, they never seem to learn any at all. regrets are fattening. just think of how we stuff our faces because we're so unhappy about them. given your life to live all over again, chances are you'd just have a different set of regrets. if you're married, i think there's nothing wrong with going to bed angry. what you must avoid is waking up that way. it's not truly essential that you love your neighbor. fact is, if you live in los angeles, you've probably never even met them. try to find yourself in the company of people who don't find it difficult to forgive you for your success. unwarranted optimism is foreplay for denial. never mistake longevity for wisdom. well, that's it for "life (part 2)" for now.
thanks to robert lipsyte, abigail trafford, and anne-marie johnson. i'm alan rosenberg. see you next time on the only tv show that faces the facts. even if you're incredibly cool, you're still getting old, so there's no point in denying it. thanks for watching. ♪ ♪ (woman) to order this episode or other episodes of "life (part 2)" on dvd, call pbs home video at... "life (part 2)" continues on pbs.org. for more about how to live life as you age visit pbs.org. ♪ ♪
♪ ♪ cc-- armour captioning & tpt [orchestra plays] (woman) major funding for "life (part 2)" was provided by the atlantic philanthropies-- supporting older adults in living lives of purpose, and by metlife foundation-- celebrating the wisdom, talent, and experience of older adults. metlife foundation proudly supports "life (part 2)" (woman) i am pbs.