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Time flies. Wring the most out of every day.

Good choices combined with good luck have propelled me to ripe old age. Here’s what’s worked well for me so far.


You will never again be as young as you are in this moment.

Therefore, make each day count.

It was while making a bright spring day in 2009 count that I was taken aback by the following question from my 3-year-old grandson: “Grammy, why is your neck wrinkled like a skeleton?” His 5-year-old brother chimed in with “I think my mother has a cream for that.”

As an erstwhile sun worshipper who used to spend lunch hours on a park bench, just asking for wrinkles, I’m OK, although regretful, with the results of my poor judgment. (But: Didn’t we all look better with a tan?)


Now I don’t step out of the house on a sunny day without sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat. This is just one of the measures I take to postpone further deterioration of my whole body.

Despite the inevitable challenges along the way — the indignities of having grandchildren point out loose, crepe-paper skin are the least of them — most of us aspire to reach a ripe old age. I’ve succeeded thanks to very good luck but also good, deliberate choices.

Nothing is a fail-safe against dire diagnoses, accidents, and unfortunate genetics. But resigning ourselves to the specter of the worst-case scenario is no way to live, either. Here are four fundamentals for staying well, present, and purposeful that have worked for 85-year-old me.

Eat healthfully.

Because celiac disease took gluten out of my life more than 20 years ago, I have experience giving up things I love to eat. I still yearn for a perfect flaky croissant, but, alas, it’s out of the question. Of late, I have also learned to live with very little red meat, and I don’t miss it — except when there is a steak sizzling on a charcoal grill.

I also drink much less wine and have let a bottle of good Scotch gather dust on my limited liquor shelf. Gin and tonics with a huge wedge of lime on a hot summer day are still in my life — I’m not a masochist!


At my breakfast table, each day begins with a handful of fresh antioxidant-rich blueberries and a banana. (Isabel Allende revealed to Julia Louis-Dreyfus on the actress’s “Wiser Than Me” podcast that blueberries dusted with cocoa powder and marijuana have been a great addition to her diet — and her sex life.)

I wouldn’t go within 50 feet of a can of black beans as a child, and I still can’t stand lima beans. But now, other varieties of legumes are often a part of a meal, like salad with a scoop of protein-packed hummus. (As we age, sufficient protein is critical to maintaining healthy muscle and bone.) I have tried and failed, however, to like tofu.

I am not as good as I should be about drinking water. As we grow older, we are likely to become dehydrated and not realize it, so I am working on this one. I start to feel ill unless I am well hydrated, and by the time I feel ill, I’m already dehydrated.

Exercise like your life depends on it. It does.

No question about it, taking on and keeping up with a regular program of exercise can be torture, depending on what shape you are in when you begin. Be realistic — neither Rome nor marathon readiness was built in a day. The important thing is to just start moving.


The author's son Jeremy and the author, right, run the Wellfleet Road Race in the late 1970s. Judy Kugel

I am a fanatic about daily exercise, which does not mean that I like it all that much. (My two total knee replacements attest, I think, to my dedication.) I don’t run anymore, but when I started running in the 1970s, there weren’t many female joggers, so I had to buy my running shoes in the men’s department. They were a pukey green color, made by Adidas. My go-to running outfit was a yellow Disney World T-shirt featuring Donald Duck and blue Bill Rogers running shorts. If that didn’t get me attention, my awkward gait did. It was on one of those early runs that my late husband, Peter, and I had about the worst argument of our almost argument-free marriage. I have no idea what it was about, but I can’t forget that it happened.

I once ran the 5-mile Wellfleet Road Race with my son Jeremy when he was about 6. We came in last, but we finished.

I am an avid cyclist and never met a bicycling vacation I didn’t like, except the time my bicycle flew off the back of our car and was run over by a truck. I rode my bike to work every day, weather permitting, before there were bike lanes and was hit by a car only once in all the years I rode. (I was fine. The bike, not so good.)

I walk an average of 2 miles a day, and I have a standing early Monday morning 4-mile walk that happens come rain or shine, unless it’s below 20 degrees. (I just figured out that the hall of my apartment building is one-tenth of a mile long, so there is no excuse for not walking the halls when the weather is really bad.)


I do not like lifting weights but have been doing so ever since I stopped running. It’s part of the deal of staying as strong as I can. I try to do it every other day, but sometimes I don’t. As a result, when I’m offered help, say, carrying my grocery bags, I politely decline and carry them myself.

Train your brain.

It’s easier to pick up a good novel or switch on the TV than it is to study something new, but we must. When I retired 10 years ago, I joined a learning-in-retirement group and from there moved on to auditing classes at the prestigious university up the block from me. I have sat in on everything from music literature to economics classes. The beauty of that is I can do the assignments — or not. I don’t take exams. It is a gift.

This past January, I sat in on an intensive five-day class about Indian Nations’ contemporary challenges. It was a complete eye-opener, and I loved it. I even did most of the assigned readings.

At the moment, I am enrolled in a beginners’ Brazilian Portuguese class at the local adult education center. This is not a walk in the park. Portuguese is very difficult to pronounce. But my son Seth lives half the time in São Paulo, and although many of his friends there speak English, I feel that I should at least make an effort to speak a few words when I visit him there. In my class of eight, I am decades older than the other students. Não me importa.


Be grateful.

At this time of life, loss is inevitable. Losing Peter, my partner of 56 years, in 2021 was devastating. Everyone grieves in their own way. For me, for a few months the tears flowed at around 5 o’clock each evening as I thought about supper without him. But later I was able to focus on how lucky I was to have had that much time with him.

There is much to say about the role of gratitude throughout our lives, and especially as we age. I’ll elaborate on its many pluses in a future column.

For now, I am grateful for the opportunity to remind us all to celebrate our past and make the most of every single minute of our present.


Judy Kugel, a Globe contributing opinion writer, blogs twice weekly at and is the author of “70-Something: Life, Love and Limits in the Bonus Years.”