Are fencing and riding bicycles the secret to enjoying old age?

Google “oldest person who ever lived” and you’ll find Jeanne Louise Calment.  She passed away in 1997 at the age of 122 years.   According to Wikipedia,

[Jeanne Louise Calment] led an extremely active life, taking up fencing at 85-years-old and still riding a bicycle at 100. Jean played herself at the age of 114 in the film Vincent and Me (Can 1990) – becoming the oldest actress to appear in a film. Her keys to long life were olive oil, port, chocolate and although she enjoyed smoking, she gave up in 1995…

What does that mean about happiness in old age?  Are fencing and riding bicycles the secret to enjoying our final years?

Let me put this in context.  Most of my patients are over 80 years of age.  Few of them fence, and none of them ride bicycles.  In fact, all of my patients are homebound.  Amidst the wheelchairs, Attend briefs, patronizing kids, and growing caddy of medications, where is there room for happiness?  Yet many are happy.  Funny thing is my happy patients are just as disabled and medically ill as my unhappy patients.

So what is the secret to happiness?  Truth is I have no idea.  But I do have a captive audience of happy patients, as well as unhappy ones, and I ask them lots of questions.  The answer: they have more questions than I do.  And many of them are happy without answers.


Alex Natalian, Psychiatrist and Author     Alex Natalian is a penname for psychiatrist KRR.

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