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Turning 80: The Day I Got Old

That's not how I feel. Having an active lifestyle and a purpose keeps me going.

By Larry Hayes

I remember when I got old. The day I turned 80. It was three years ago on the tennis court playing with friends.

Casually, I mentioned that it was my birthday.

"How old?" a friend asked. "80," my reply. "Wow. You are old!" he said.

A group of people cheering. Next Avenue
The author and his teammates after a recent league playoff win  |  Credit: Larry Hayes

Just like that I suddenly got old. 24 hours earlier, I was 79. Old for sure but not "old, old." But once I hit 80, I became old, old in the minds of my friends. It was a "transformative" moment.

Turning 80 was not a big deal to me but my longtime tennis friend thought otherwise and started kidding me about my age. In jest, of course, since he himself was 79.

Once I hit 80, I became old, old in the minds of my friends. It was a "transformative" moment.

So, is 80 old? Yeah, "it's up there." But I know 50- and 60-year-olds who can barely move or think straight. How old you are depends on many things. Your lifestyle. Your health. Your physical activity. Your attitude and your DNA, although DNA accounts for only 20% or less toward longevity. Because your parents or grandparents lived into their 90s doesn't mean that you will.

What Counts?

Exercise for sure. What you've heard a thousand times is true. Doctors and health gurus have been preaching the benefits of exercise for years. Why? Because it works. Maybe the only thing that wellness experts agree on.

I don't consider myself an exercise fanatic but believe my playing USTA tennis two to three times a week for the past 40 years has helped keep me alive and out of the hospital. Some say that playing tennis can add 10 years to your life. Not sure that's true but sounds good to me.

Equally important is lifestyle. Not a health nut, but I do watch what I eat and drink. I love In-N-Out "protein" burgers, my favorite fast food. But there's nothing wrong with eating potato chips and fries now and then. Everything in moderation.

For me, the glass is always "half-full" and people are basically good and kind.

Having a positive attitude helps, too. My high school teacher often reminded me — "Smile, Larry." This is a lesson learned from 66 years ago. For me, the glass is always "half-full" and people are basically good and kind.

The late Dr. Walter M. Bortz, who died in August 2023 at 93, was one of my idols.He was an expert in wellness and longevity, ran marathons in his late 80s and wrote many books including my favorite "Dare to Be 100." Several years ago, when I asked what kept him going, this was his reply:

"Look yourself in the mirror and ask, 'Am I Still Necessary?' If the answer is yes, then life goes on and is worth living."


Finding My Purpose

After shutting down my advertising agency at age 65, I knew exactly what I wanted to do — publish a magazine for boomers and older adults in the San Francisco Bay Area. Being a publisher has been my "dream job" since graduating from Syracuse University in 1970. It only took 35 years to get there.

Along the way, I worked as a newspaper reporter for the San Jose Mercury News and as a marketing manager for high tech companies. Fed up with corporate life and its politics, I launched an advertising agency in Silicon Valley at age 43 which lasted for 20 years.

Publishing AO50 (Active Over 50) remains my passion, keeping me young at heart and giving me a reason to get up in the morning.

Recently, my financial advisor said (about my publishing company):

"Why do you do it?"

"It's hard work."

"You're not getting any younger."

"And you're not getting rich."

It ain't about the money. That's for sure. Publishing and writing have been a labor of love of mine for the past 18 years. What keeps me going? I love what I do. And I believe in providing useful information to dispel the myth that "life is over at 65."

Studies show that a lot of happy 80-year-olds are still working in some capacity and many are active on social media. What people are doing in their 80s and 90s is amazing. Some work part-time while others volunteer in their communities helping out at a church, hospital or senior center. Many are active and healthy thanks to modern medicine and technology.

Benjamin Franklin was a newspaper columnist at 16 and a framer of the United States Constitution at 81. Grandma Moses, an American folk artist, didn't begin painting until she was 78. She was still painting at 101. Leonid Hurwicz was actively publishing when he received the Nobel Prize in economics at 90.

How Much Longer Can I Go?

Good question that only time will tell. I'm mortal and have my share of aches and pains. But grateful every day that I'm able to play USTA tennis, walk two to three miles daily and lawn bowl with my wife.

The definition of aging is changing and it's time to flush the words "old and elderly" from our vocabulary.

As an octogenarian (hate the word), "lifespan statistics" are not in my favor. I should have kicked the bucket at age 79 which is the life expectancy for a male my age. So, I'm living on borrowed time but loving every minute.

The good news is that many 80-year-olds are living longer, healthier and leading meaningful lives. Several players on my USTA tennis teams are 80+. Many in their late 70s.

My 85-year-old partner plays on two knee and two hip replacements. Pretty inspiring, so I shouldn't complain about a few aches and pains.

Having a "purpose" helps keep me going. It's a myth that older adults are frail and washed up. While most of us can expect to live to around 80, some people defy expectations and live to be over 100. It's not all "doom and gloom." (In America, the number of 80-year olds is projected to grow faster than those under 18 for the next 40 years.)

The definition of aging is changing and it's time to flush the words "old and elderly" from our vocabulary.

My motto? Continue to do what you love as long as you can and make yourself useful. Keep moving and doing.

Larry Hayes
Larry Hayes At age 65 in 2005, Larry Hayes founded his second company — ActiveOver50 (A050), a magazine and website for boomers and seniors in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1983, he launched an advertising/marketing agency in Silicon Valley which he ran for 20 years. He worked as a newspaper reporter for the San Jose Mercury News and marketing manager for several high-tech companies including Memorex and Ampex. He holds a MA from Syracuse University and BA from Wichita State University. Read More
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