My father died at 69 of a heart attack. Rumor has it his father also died at 69 of a heart attack. When I turned 69, I worried each time I had the slightest chest pain.
When I turned 70 and didn’t die, I celebrated by getting a tattoo and have gotten another each year since. The tattoo themes are a combination of yoga images and symbols along with comic characters. They include Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny, Laurel & Hardy, Bozo, Popeye and more.
I turned 88 on November 4, 2023 with my latest tattoo of Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice and a broomstick carrying buckets of water.
It’s hard for me to describe myself as dynamically aging. I see myself as a normal, aging human being who has been lucky to be on the planet this long, who has done and continues to do everything I can to stay healthy, active and productive.
I have aged through setbacks, including a heart attack with triple bypass surgery at 75, intermittent claudication in both legs, and two rotator cuff surgeries 10 years apart. I have macular degeneration and have lost most of the sight in one eye.
When I was 80, I took a year of ballet lessons. I was the oldest and only male in the class. As graceful as I thought I was, every time I looked in the mirror as I was performing the various movements, I had to laugh at the clumsy old guy staring back.
Despite the fact that I had never sprinted in my life, at 82 and again the following year, I participated in the Washington State Senior Games in that event. Sure, I didn’t come in first, but as far as I was concerned, I won just by competing.
Maybe my definition of dynamic aging is just simply not giving up. My overall philosophy is something to the effect of ‘if it isn’t fun, don’t do it.’ I volunteer at a local blood bank a couple of times a month. There I talk to those who have just donated, making sure they are okay before they leave.
I grew up in the Bronx and might have been considered what in those days would have been called a “weakling.” At 14 I discovered the body builder, Charles Atlas, and began working out. I never looked back. I still go to the gym several times a week.
I became a pharmacist at 20 and pursued that career in Los Angeles, until I was fired at age 60. I remember coming home and telling my wife I was fired and she said “Great!” She knew I was burned out and had come to hate that work. I stayed in that profession for 40 years even though I felt I was not making people healthier. I made a good living but from my perspective, it was to the detriment of the health of my patients.
We moved to Seattle, Washington where my wife was from. For 11 years I was one of a number of Poison Information Specialists. We answered up to 400 calls a day at the Washington Poison Center. It was a great job helping people and challenged by the many life-and-death situations presented. I chose to retire at 70 before I might burn out.
I stayed retired for about a month before I noticed I was getting depressed. My wife pointed out that I always loved doing yoga – why not become a yoga teacher? I trained for a year and began teaching classes – another job I loved as I was helping people of all ages while keeping myself in good condition. After about 10 years, at age 80, I decided to retire again.
In the meantime, I had started dragon boat paddling at 71 with the Seattle Flying Dragons. We practice all year on Lake Union. I’m the oldest guy in the club. It’s the fresh air and the camaraderie that I love. I paddle three times a week, race a few times a year and coach new paddlers.
I know without a doubt I would not be where I am today –– physically, mentally and emotionally without my 14 years of participation in est starting in 1982. It truly transformed my life. I have always seen myself as a leader and have held many leadership positions. Feeling like a leader is part of what motivates me to encourage others to choose more active lifestyles. When I taught yoga, it felt good to be sharing my knowledge in a way that was helping others. By being older than anyone else in the class, I could model what my physical lifestyle has done for me.
My wife and I celebrated our 39th wedding anniversary in 2023. That morning I baked bread for Community Loaves, a non-profit that donates healthy bread to food banks throughout the Pacific Northwest. Since I began volunteering I have baked about 1,000 loaves of bread.
It’s important to me to stay engaged in life to stay physically and mentally healthy. I don’t know if that can be called dynamic aging, but what motivates me is FEAR – fear of what’s called the slippery slope. I have watched too many people go down that slippery slope – sometimes through no fault of their own due to illness. Sometimes it seems as if it’s because they have chosen a more sedentary lifestyle as they aged.
I know what is working for me and that is the joy I get from being physically and mentally active, spending time sharing time with others, volunteering and having fun.
Matt was born in the Bronx in 1935 where he attended public schools. He went to Fordham University College of Pharmacy, then moved to Los Angeles, California where he practiced pharmacy for 40 years. He earned a Master’s Degree in Gerontology from the University of Southern California. Married three times, he has one biological and three adopted daughters. He moved to Seattle at 60 where he was a Poison Specialist for 10 years, then a yoga teacher for 10 years. He is now retired.