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Growing old no longer a great feat, but staying old and healthy is

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Group of men laughing. Photo: David Bergin/Flickr

This is part one of a two-part series in which journalist Ed Finn offers up advice for leading a long and healthy life.

As I approach my 93rd birthday while still remaining in good health, the requests increase that I divulge the "secret" of my longevity.

My flippant response is usually that it takes patience -- that all you have to do is wait long enough.

But of course one's longevity is determined by a host of different factors. Inherited genes, lifestyle, physical and mental activity, and even luck are all decisive factors. Every human being is different. We all have different parents, different upbringings, different qualities of life, different incomes, diets, strains and stresses. So the determinants of good health that helped prolong my life span don't necessarily apply to others.

But there are two vital prerequisites that I think do apply to most people.

One is to maintain as much as possible a good sense of humour.

The other is to maintain as much as possible a strong immune system.  

A lively sense of humour

Admittedly, a jocular disposition is sometimes hard to preserve, especially during the rough periods that we all have to go through; but whenever it is normal and natural to laugh, let's not stifle our mirth. Exuberance can be amazingly beneficial to our health -- and a lot cheaper than anti-depressant drugs. As Dr. Patch Adams always claimed, "laughter is the best medicine."

Readers who have seen the movie Patch Adams, a real-life physician played by Robin Williams, know that he wasn't a traditional doctor. Although many of his patients were seriously or chronically ill, he often showed them funny movies. The antics of comedians such as Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, and the Three Stooges made them laugh. Even the sickest of them chuckled.

Patch Adams didn't believe that laughter could cure these patients, but he was convinced that it had a marvelously salubrious effect. It alleviated their distress and often stimulated their recovery.

I confess to having a predilection for making puns, to which my relatives and friends usually respond with groans. But the pun has been indulged in by writers, poets and playwrights for at least the past six centuries. Shakespeare's plays are riddled with hundreds of puns, much more than the books of other famous authors who punned a lot, including Lewis Carrol and James Joyce.

Even Jane Austen got in the occasional pun, as when one of her heroines complained that "My home at my uncle's brought me acquainted with a circle of admirals. I saw enough of Rears and Vices."

My latest pun was prompted by the prominent stoop that I've developed. It's a legacy of the more than 80 years I spent bending over typewriters and computers. I assure everyone, however, that I have not become a full-fledged hunchback -- just a quarterback.

If you groaned at that one, too, here are a couple of others that I consider practically groan-proof:

During my time as a reporter for the Montreal Gazette, I was assigned to do a story on the perennial problem of persuading passengers to move to the back of the bus or streetcar. I put the problem in a historical perspective, noting that Noah even had trouble getting the animals to move to the back of the Ark.

And when the Greeks rolled their wooden horse to the gates of Troy, the soldiers jammed inside balked at moving to the rear. The crush became so bad that one of the soldiers was accidently stabbed by another warrior's spear.

When the Brigadier saw how badly the soldier was bleeding, he yelled out: "Is there a doctor in the horse?"

*     *     *

While a few friends and I were visiting New York, we strolled past the city's magnificent public library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. We were puzzled to see, at each side of the entrance, the huge statue of a lion.

"What have lions got to do with a library?" one of my friends wondered.

The answer suddenly came to me. "Why, it should be obvious. The statues were put there for the benefit of library patrons who like to read between the lions."

*    *    *

While I was editor of the quarterly newsletter of the condominium of garden homes where I live, we had a problem with several residents who walked their dogs, but failed to scoop their poop. Our board of directors was bombarded by complaints from other residents who inadvertently stepped in piles of excrement.

I rebuked the culpable dog owners in the next newsletter, urging them to pick up after their pets. It seemed to have the desired effect, but maybe it was at least partly because of the heading I put on the editorial: "We're having too many close encounters of the turd kind."

I don't have room to include any more of the puns I consider among my best (or least punishing), but I remain as convinced as Patch Adams that humour in all of its whimsical forms is a significant promoter of longevity.  

Ed Finn grew up in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, where he worked as a printer’s apprentice, reporter, columnist, and editor of that city’s daily newspaper, the Western Star. His career as a journalist included 14 years as a labour relations columnist for the Toronto Star. He was part of the world of politics between 1959 and 1962, serving as the first provincial leader of the NDP in Newfoundland. He worked closely with Tommy Douglas for some years and helped defend and promote medicare legislation in Saskatchewan.

Photo: David Bergin/Flickr

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