Sit Down and You Die
Twenty-one years have passed since George Foreman claimed the title of oldest heavyweight champion of the world at age 45 by defeating Michael Moore. However, my fascination with his comeback predates that fight.
A couple years earlier, half a dozen other men and I gathered at the home of a friend who has since passed on. Each of us kicked in $7 to watch the closed-circuit telecast of Foreman’s 12-round match with Evander Holyfield, cheering “Old George” all the way. While Holyfield won the bout, Foreman won respect.
Memories of that gathering came back recently when Sports Illustrated ran an update on Foreman, still swinging away at 66.
Instead of looking for an armchair, the retired champ is preparing to open George Foreman’s Butcher Shop. A mail order meat company, it will aim at quality and healthfulness by relying on Midwestern family farm sources for its products.
Not only do I like his emphasis on healthy food, I particularly admire his attitude. In addition to his multi-faceted business interests, he preaches three times a week and teaches Sunday school.
“The best thing that can ever happen to a human being is a job,” Foreman told SI. “You don’t have a job, you’re going to die.”
The Secret of Longevity
That last statement is no joke. It reminded me of the study I once read about, of people between the ages of 65 and 75.
Researchers followed seniors over a decade-long period and divided them into two groups. The first followed the standard American retirement dream of laying on your behind and doing as little as possible. The other remained active, either by working or engaging in productive pursuits such as mentoring or community volunteer projects.
The results: by age 75, an average of eight of 10 people who retired and did nothing were dead. Eight of every 10 active people were still alive.
I read the story on Foreman shortly before celebrating my 64th birthday (or as I told friends, “One year to Medicare!”) And now entering what I feel is some of the most productive, rewarding work of my life, I wholeheartedly echo his sentiments.
Ironically, shortly after I saw the SI article, I led my weekly men’s group in the next-to-last session of our foray through Leonard Sweet’s fascinating book, The Well-Played Life.
Sweet divides life into three categories: First Agers (0 to 30), Second Agers (30-60) and Third Agers, those over 60. He applauds Third Agers for their ability to inspire younger folks and lead them to better days.
“Third Age disciples have re-learned how to play,” Sweet says. “And they don’t just play; they play hard. Having spent two-thirds of their lives playing, they now become masters at showing others how to play and how the game of life is well played out.”
Those aren’t empty words, either. Sweet rounded up a fascinating series of facts about the productivity of Third Agers. Just a sampling:
- A recent study by the Kauffman Foundation found that Americans ages 55 to 64 have started more businesses than those 20 to 34 every year since 1966.
- The average of a Harley Davidson owner is 52, and rising.
- Architect I.M. Pei designed Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the age of 78.
- British historian Gertrude Himmelfarb is still publishing blockbuster books and essays in her ninth decade of life.
As Sweet says, “I can’t throw a football as far or a baseball as fast as my twenty-two-year-old son. But I can throw truth further…you tell me which is more important.”
Observations like these inspire me and give me the determination to keep going despite the pressures of the hectic world in which we live. No sense in checking out early.
Ken, I believe this is true. I have been debating with myself as to the wisdom of beginning a new course of study and starting a business at my ‘over-55’ age and I feel such a drive to do so that it can’t be a mistake. All the years of life lessons learned have to count for something. Why lay down and give it up when one has just reached a point of maturity? Thanks for the encouraging post!
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