Saturday, February 9, 2013

Want to age well? Check Out My Friend Shirley

I wanted to give a shout out to my friend Shirley Joel, the leading light of the Active Aging group I sometimes work with as a videographer. We interview people who do not let age get in the way of doing amazing things and these get turned into a regular show on Manhattan Neighborhood Network. The people in the group are mostly retired media people with an amazing array of skills and experiences. What a wonderful group of people to be associated with.

Shirley was married to one of the premiere Life Magazine photographers, Yael Joel, who had an awesome career.

Initially, Shirley asked me and my friend Mark for help with editing. Mark really knows Final Cut Pro and Shirley would shlep from Manhattan to Rockville Center on the LIR where I would pick her up and head over to Mark's place where he and Shirley would edit while I watched. Of course we broke for lunch. Finally, Shirley decided the shlep didn't make sense if the only learned Final Cut Pro on her own -- something that has eluded me due I'm sure to my short attention span and unwillingness to jump into something full force.

Shirley, who ran her own ad agency, is focused. So lunch with Mark when she was there was short. (When Mark and go alone that becomes our main focus.) She exerts amazing leadership skills in the Active Aging group and makes sure things get done. I am always attuned to people with her management skills (like my wife) because I am so deficient in this area. And I should mention that one of the things that initially attracted me to Julie Cavanagh when we first met were these same kind of skills.

Some excerpts from a Salt Lake City newspaper.

Want to age well? Research suggests benefits to trying a new challenge

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 5 2013 2:17 p.m. MST

Shirley Joel edits video in her Manhattan apartment. The active 84-year-old learned to use Final Cut Pro editing software during her eighties.
Elizabeth Stuart
On a recent winter morning, sunlight spills over the paintings, books and mementos that fill Shirley Joel's New York apartment, where she sits editing video on her iMac computer. There's nothing remarkable about this scene — tens of thousands of people use Apple's Final Cut Pro software every day in America — except for one thing: Joel is 84 years old.

At an age when some of her peers adamantly resist the march of technology, Joel taught herself to use the software program so she could edit digital video.

Every week she produces and edits a television show about active aging for a neighborhood station, and that's what keeps Joel seated before the iMac for many hours each week.

"I don't have it 100 percent mastered, but I'm pretty good," she said. "My grandson is amazed."

Immersing herself in challenging projects ensures that Joel continues to exercise her brain, muscles and social skills during a life stage that sees many senior adults grow lonely and slip into mental and physical decline.
To those over 65, the mantra "Use it or lose it," applies, according to numerous studies. Gradual decline in overall health and cognitive function is inevitable with advancing age. However, seniors who challenge their brains, keep moving and maintain social connections reap benefits that go far beyond the enjoyment that comes from their active lifestyles

Embrace challenge
A born go-getter, Joel hasn't needed such counsel. Besides rearing three children with her husband, she pursued a career in advertising and retailing that included a stint as ad manager for Saks Fifth Avenue. Late in her career, she had to make the crossover from manual to computerized layout and design, as her whole industry did.

"I went enthusiastically," she said, with a zest that begins to seem typical as she talks about her television show, “Active Aging.”

“Our goal is to counter the image of aging and portray a vibrant approach to all aspects of living, whether you are retired or not,” Joel said about her show, which airs on the Manhattan Neighborhood Network, a public access television station. “We show older people embracing new challenges and participating dynamically in all aspects of society.”

Joel's husband, one of the original photographers for "Life" magazine, died six years ago, and she lives alone in Midtown Manhattan. She's determined never to stop learning — the latest iteration of that is her new goal to learn the Spanish language. Attending live theater is another passion for Joel, but the television show is the one that really stretches her.

“Telling a story is extremely creative,” Joel says of her volunteer job. “I interview the person, then develop a narrative around that person. It’s very challenging and extraordinarily interesting. Editing at the computer is labor-intensive and requires a lot of patience. I will sometimes say to myself, ‘What am I doing, spending hours at the computer?’ ”

Producing her show keeps Joel out in her community. She likes living in a city that has good public transportation and recommends it. Walking to and from the subway as she goes about her activities is good exercise, a key factor in maintaining cognitive function in senior adults.

Those aging boomers would do well to stay active. A 2011 Japanese study showed that mice that exercise daily had higher levels of glycogen — “brain fuel” — in their brains’ cortex and hippocampus, the areas responsible for learning and forming memories.

Williams advises that senior adults continue physical activities to the degree their health will allow, suggesting walking and swimming. Continuing scholarly work and reading will stimulate cognition, and staying involved socially with family, friends and community is important to optimal aging, she said.

So why not take steps to avoid those declines by taking a word of advice from Shirley Joel?

“You find a passion,” she said, “maybe one you haven’t been able to develop. You tap different resources maybe you weren’t aware of. One really has to be willing to adventure, be flexible and try new things.”
Joel said she has never forgotten words uttered by one of her interview subjects, a woman who retired from life as a reporter for NBC, then joined the Peace Corps at age 63:

“Retiring? You retire a boat. You retire a debt. You don’t retire a person.”

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