Mindful Aging by Andrea Brandt

I’ve been thinking a lot about topics related to what I’d call “Healthy Living for Seniors,” which includes nutrition, exercise, positive attitude, and mindfulness. Frankly, I was spinning in circles, so I was particularly pleased to receive a copy of the new book Mindful Aging from PESI Publishing & Media and NetGalley in return for my honest review. The author, Andrea Brandt, a therapist in the Los Angeles area, says she has “… discovered that body-oriented therapy is the most effective treatment available today for people who seek to bring their inner world and external world into harmony…” I expected the book to expand on her thoughts about how a mindset she calls ‘realistic positivity can help the reader interested in incorporating mindfulness to their aging process.

The blurb for the book promised to help me “throw out the old stereotypes about getting older and move toward the welcoming new evidence that your future is alive with possibility, providing steps to thrive today and into your golden years…” with “…tools to help …embrace a new mindset and blaze a new trail …fueled by passion, purpose, and creativity.” Since it also said it was full of tools and exercises, I was hooked, but wary with high expectations.

Some of the chapter headings were particularly intriguing, including topics such as “letting go” (of things that aren’t working), “finding joy,” “expressing your creativity,” and “developing your spiritual side.” Each of the chapters includes the personal life stories of real people to expand on the topic, and then (best of all!) she provides strategies and worksheet exercises to help guide the reader toward a more mindful aging process.

Included along the way are ways to cope with loss, embrace our mortality, deal with anger and/or negative thinking (all of which resonated with me), and become more positive in general.

I found that including the stories and the exercises in each chapter was especially helpful. I’ve read a fair amount on the various topics covered in Mindful Aging, and some of the people wrote in a very “woo-woo” way (too much even for someone from Santa Cruz). This isn’t the case with Dr. Brandt – her style is accessible and the readability is excellent. Five stars.

 

Opening Up by Writing It Down by James Pennebaker and Joshua Smyth

 

Cover Pennebaker Opening Up by Writing down

I was somewhat familiar with Dr. Pennebaker’s work through his 2014 title Expressive Writing: Words That Heal, and as a lifelong journal keeper, his ideas have always resonated with me. So I was pleased to receive an advance copy of Opening Up by Writing It Down, Third Edition: How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain from NetGalley and Guilford Publications in exchange for my honest review.

As I read it, I kept thinking I should check with my therapist to be sure she has this book – as it is packed with what might be considered technical/academic data. It actually wan’t until I go to the final chapter that I found what was, for me, the most helpful information. This chapter includes an overall summary and specific instructions for therapeutic writing exercises. Although some of the earlier chapters do include various exercises, my own preference is for writing exercises to be included at the end of corresponding so I can easily go back and find the exercises related to a particular topic. But, that’s just a personal preference.

Writing comes easily to me, so it doesn’t seem like a stretch to think that making it a habit would be easily accomplished. As noted above, this concept isn’t new to me, so I was somewhat predisposed to like this! I plan to recommend it to people I KNOW are not writers, but who I think might benefit from reading this book. Overall, I gave Opening Up by Writing It Down a rating of 4 stars.
 

Older & Bolder: Life After 60 by Renata Singer

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This book, focused on women past the ago of 60, is a combination of stories told by the women themselves, interspersed with the latest research.When I was young, women in their 60s were…OLD. Not many of the ones I ever saw were vibrant – they were mostly sedentary and seemed resigned to being…old. Ms. Singer’s message is that “change is not just for the young, you can do something new at any age.”

For the stories, the author interviewed women (in-depth interviews, with follow-ups), and her subjects included women of various education levels, marital statuses, etc.

Considerable research is discussed and cited. One of the awesome findings discussed is brain plasticity, meaning that the anatomical composition of the brain actually responds to learning, thought and action. Researchers such as Dr. Michael Merzenich of UCSF believe that brain “fitness programs” can “help prevent, arrest or even reverse the effects of cognitive decline.” WOW!

While I enjoyed the stories and the research, I found myself bothered by the emphasis on the idea that retirement is a bad thing. The author suggests that women should stay ten years past when they thing about retirement. WTF? She suggests that “retirement can damage your health, and the longer you’re retired the greater the health disadvantages.” She also discusses the increasing numbers of women past the age of 60 who are returning to work as if it is totally because they WANT to be there. I am opposed to a mandatory retirement age, and if someone wants to work til they drop, fine. But I totally believe that the vast majority of older women who are working (paid employment) are there because they HAVE to, and not because they want to. To be honest, I don’t recall reading anything in the book that made me think otherwise.

Chapter 4 (“Money Matters”) was full of cautionary tales that tended to reinforce my feeling about women needing to work as they get older. The book is focused on Australian women, and there is discussion of the various pensions, etc. that women might get – but not much about the leading cause of bankruptcy in the US, which is financial ruin due to health costs. Likely that is due to the fact that Australian women live in a country that is enlightened enough to provide health care, and that’s a very minor quibble about the book.

I enjoyed Chapter 5, focusing on appearance, and the way women get past a certain age and suddenly they are invisible/ignored. I liked the way she advises women not be ashamed or feel guilty about caring how they look, and her advice that “if people aren’t seeing you or listening to you, drop them. Find a more appreciative crowd to hang out with.”

So many negative stereotypes are attached to aging! I appreciated the way both the stories and the research address them, and REALLY like they was the book highlights the place of friendship in the lives of women and the value of participation in the community.

It’s a valuable (and enjoyable) book, and is full of practical suggestions, inspirational stories and wise words. I give it four stars (would likely be five if it had more US focus and if the thing about retirement being unhealthy for you was more fully explained. In any case, I appreciate the opportunity to provide a review in exchange for my NetGalley review.