Richard Derwald leads the Erie County senior fitness program, so it should come as no surprise that the 81-year-old has a pretty good window on the attitudes of those 65 and older.
Sometimes, when he hears seniors think too hard on the past, he’ll take them way back to Buffalo’s heady days of 1901, when the city hosted the Pan American Exposition, the air was cleaner, and the postcard-pretty times seemingly so much more tranquil.
“It was wonderful if you didn’t mind dying when you were 43,” Derwald will tell them.
“People today are living longer than ever,” he said one day last week, after leading a fitness class at the North Buffalo Community Center because the 94-year-old volunteer fitness instructor was out sick. “Since I was born,” he said, “we’ve been given another 20 years of life. Still, a lot of people don’t know what to do with it.”
Derwald sports long, wavy hair. He likes to flex his muscles like he did as a teen. He works out three or four times a week and watches what he eats. During his lifetime, he’s lost a fortune, many friends and a daughter. The sting lingers, but he chooses to live in the present, and in the process has become a shining example of what the Golden Years can mean.
WNY Refresh asked Derwald and two others who embrace aging to share some of the strategies they bring to their later years. All three talked about making good daily choices, the importance of faith, friends and family, and a desire to live in the here and now.
Most Americans born in 1900 may not have lived past 50, but baby boomers in the years to come will continue to stretch the aging curve. The Census Bureau estimates that 20 percent of the U.S. population will be 65 and older by 2030, up from 13 percent at the start of this decade and 10 percent in 1970.
“One of the key goals is not so much to extend lifespan but to extend the health span,” said Dr. Bruce R. Troen, chief of the University at Buffalo Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine.
If he could write a prescription for healthy aging, Troen would recommend keeping a healthy weight to prevent disease, doctor-approved exercise and the ability to recognize that resilience can often keep frailty at bay.
“When it comes to healthy aging,” he said, “we geriatricians think not just about the medical domain but we think about the psychological, social and spiritual domains when we talk about living a life as fulfilling as possible.”
Faith, family, friendship
“Sixty is the new 40; forget about the new 50,” Robbie Raugh said this week before a workout at the BAC for Women in Williamsville.
Raugh, of East Amherst, who will turn 60 in late May, is a registered nurse, group fitness instructor, integrative health and nutrition instructor and author of “The Raw Truth Recharge: 7 Truths for Total Health and Fitness.” She and her six-pack abs thrive in a lifestyle that includes six weekly workouts that mix cardiovascular exercise, weight training, and mind-body flexibility. She eats an organic, low-glycemic diet “with an emphasis on foods of the earth that God created” – plants, nuts, grains and legumes that don’t need food labels.
Her husband, Jeff, and best friend Valerie Bielmeier have joined Raugh in her healthy lifestyle. Bielmeier called Raugh her “friend and encourager.” They met 35 years ago when Raugh worked at European Health Spa. They have since raised their children and socialized together. Each has lost a sister to breast cancer. Bielmeier, 66, also is sharing empty nesting lessons as Raugh prepares to bid daughters Shanelle and Raquelle goodbye in the fall for medical school and college, respectively. “When you’re older,” Raugh said, “you lean on your friends a lot as you’re going through things. We try to give more than we take but sometimes we have to take because we’re more in need.”
Healthy aging tips: “Exercise and eating right are important at any age,” Raugh said, “and the older you get, the more you realize you need to start now – because yesterday you said tomorrow.” She also recommends seniors – and everyone – drink half their body weight in ounces of water and avoid junk food. “It ages you,” she said. So does stress. “We all have it,” she said. “We just have to manage it.”
Best piece of advice you’ve been given: “My mother always used to say, ‘Robbie, if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else.’ ”
Best piece of advice you give: “People tell me all the time, ‘I can’t work out because I don’t have the time and I can’t buy organic because it’s too expensive.’ I tell them, ‘You’re either going to spend the time and the money eating right and exercising and preventing disease or you’re going to spend the time and the money taking medications, going to doctor’s appointments and for diagnostic tests, and treating disease.’ ”
Rules you live by: “Put God first – pray about everything and recognize the sovereignty of God. Be honest. Love everyone. Get your sleep. Don’t sweat the small stuff. When it comes down to it, faith, family and friends are what sustains you. I’ve learned to count my blessings.”
Volunteering keeps you young at heart
Alan Bartlett has held a series of teaching, retail and management jobs during the past 40 years on Cape Cod and in Jacksonville, Fla. He has spent his free time helping kids in the U.S. learn how to read, teaching a small Caribbean community to grow and sell produce and small animals, and, since moving to Buffalo three years ago, volunteering to help sixth-graders with their studies at Drew Science Magnet School and customers in the Habitat for Humanity ReStore North building at 501 Amherst St.
Bartlett, 70, of the Town of Tonawanda, is one of 13 Habitat volunteers who helps get donated appliances, furniture and other goods into the hands of those with modest means. “We couldn’t do what we do without them,” general manager Dan Buchner said.
Life hasn’t always been easy for Bartlett, who has lost a daughter-in-law to cancer and is a single grandfather raising his 17-year-old granddaughter, Kaylah. Life holds greater meaning when he’s giving to others, he said.
Healthy aging tips: Bartlett doesn’t eat red meat and sticks to a largely vegetarian diet. “One thing I truly believe in,” he said, “is no matter how hard it is, take that first step and don’t ever stop. ... I’m not gregarious. If I had my way, I’d probably sit in front of the fireplace with a bottle of wine and a book and never leave the house. I can’t allow myself to do that because if I do, my life is over. So I get up, shower, shave and take my first step every day, and it’s toward charity or it’s going out with friends for breakfast or it’s going to a show.”
Best piece of advice you’ve been given: “Never go to bed angry.”
Best piece of advice you give: “Find your passion. There’s nothing more important than having a reason to get up in the morning.”
Rules you live by: “Maria Shriver said it to her son at one point: ‘I’m not cooked yet.’ I do the most good as often as I can, and I try to do no harm to anybody. I want to leave this world knowing that I tried to do what was right.”
Life has never been better
Richard Derwald – affectionately known as Mr. Fitness – can best be described as the Jack LaLanne of Western New York.
Derwald, 81, of East Amherst, has been a bodybuilder, professional wrestler and, at age 53, one of the region’s first licensed massage therapists.
He’s also known hard times. He was laid off twice from computer data-driven manufacturing jobs, in 1975 and 1986. He lost six figures in the stock market in the 1990s. But the biggest blow of his life came eight years ago, when his daughter Kathy died unexpectedly from a brain aneurysm at age 39. It was hard to go on after that, he said. Exercise helped. So did his determination to comfort his wife, Maureen, and continue to play a meaningful role in the lives of his son Richie, daughter-in-law Debbie, and their four children.
The financial calamity figured in to the full-time job Derwald has held for more than 15 years as coordinator of the Erie County Department of Senior Services fitness program. He spends workdays coordinating the Club 99 program at 25 senior nutrition sites across the county, filling in for volunteer group fitness leaders as needed.
Derwald took up bodybuilding as a teen because he couldn’t make the sports teams at Bishop Fallon High School, and in early adulthood wrestled the Mighty Atlas, Fritz von Erich and Ilio DiPaolo – but he relishes his time now.
“We are the largest, most successful, county-sponsored senior fitness program in New York State,” Derwald said with a smile. “On any given week, we have more than 1,000 participants. I think this is probably the most enjoying, satisfying time of my life.”
Top healthy aging tips: “I never stopped working out,” he said. “It became part of my life. I used to be more avid – a five-day-a-weeker – but I’m 81 and I’ve learned if I’m going to last, I need to give myself one or two day’s rest between resistance exercises. Everything starts in our mind. I think to a great degree we are who we think we are. I’m a big believer in supplements. Jack LaLanne took 150 a day. Of course, it finally killed him. He keeled right over at 96.”
Best piece of advice you’ve been given and you give: “You’ve got to stay in the present,” he said. “When you get older, it gets harder to do. When you’re younger, everybody looks to the future but at a certain point, we have to stay in the present. It’s not good for young people to dwell too long on the future, either, because the future’s never known.”
Rules you live by: “The universe is not against you. I’ve been married to the same woman for almost 50 years, and I really did live for her and the kids. ... I’m not a worrier. I sleep like a baby.”
Donate household items to Habitat for Humanity ReStore by calling 852-6607, Ext. 203.