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Health & Fitness

Tampa physician, professor writes guide to 'Successful Aging'

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Published:   |   Updated: April 27, 2013 at 02:49 PM

Write what you know, aspiring authors are told.

So Eric Pfeiffer did just that, using his decades of medical expertise in gerontology and psychiatry to write a book on how to grow old gracefully.

And he was very smart on how he went about it.

Instead of writing in that dreaded “doctorspeak,” he made his points in a conversational, approachable way. For the eyesight-challenged crowd, he convinced his publisher, Yale University Press, to upsize the print, making it very easy to read.

One could say that “Winning Strategies for Successful Aging” is like a house call from your friendly family physician, a throwback to days long gone.

“I've learned so much from elderly people I've seen throughout my career, and wanted to put that knowledge out there for the general public,” says the retired professor and founding director of the Eric Pfeiffer Suncoast Alzheimer's Center at the University of South Florida College of Medicine. “Every day we're alive, we grow a day older. This is a guide on helping you do it right.”

What's the one main thing he can tell you about aging successfully? That there isn't just one thing.

He offers solid advice across a broad spectrum of issues. Among them: how to maintain your sex life, hold on to your money so you don't outlive it; plan for a good goodbye; care for your brain to keep your memory sharp; and exercise every day and make it fun. He's included some of his poetry throughout the book, and writes a summary at the end of every chapter to simplify the most important points.

And speaking of fun, having a good sense of humor and positive attitude are definitely “plus” factors in improving longevity.

The multi-step approach is essential, Pfeiffer says, as there are so many aspects to keeping on top of your game. He also stresses that you can't be inflexible.

“You have to be willing to make adjustments. You can't just coast and slide,” he notes. “Aging is a process that forces you to re-evaluate as time goes on. Bodies change, circumstances change.”

He acknowledges that good genes can determine a longer life, but they don't guarantee it. It still takes a proactive approach – one that should be started early on, instead of after retirement. By then, the damage may already be done.

In his case, the 77-year-old Pfeiffer feels fortunate in so many ways. His grandmother lived to 91; his mother lived to 92. He and his wife, Natasha, the mother of their three grown sons, like to say they've been married “98 years – 49 for her, 49 for me.”

To keep the odds in his favor, Pfeiffer follows his Ten Commandments of Wellness (see box). He devotes two to four hours a day to his post-retirement writing career, typically with his dog-like cat, Welly, at his side. Besides several medical textbooks and his current book on successful aging, he's also written “The Art of Caregiving in Alzheimer's Disease” and a book of poems.

Up next: A novel he's penning about a Tampa man who loses everything in the 2008 recession and how he battles back. He really hasn't a clue how it will end, because characters and storylines develop along the way.

He also loves to garden, Skypes with his two grandchildren, accepts speaking engagements, serves on the board of directors of the USF Health Johnnie Byrd Sr. Alzheimer's Institute and maintains a blog on his website, DoctorEricKnows.com

As important as physical health is, Pfeiffer says keeping mentally sharp is essential. He recommends that every senior who is fearful of the Internet or even computers “needs to get over that right now.”

Growing old doesn't have to be downer, he says. The best part is all the freedom that comes with it.

“You're not raising kids, you're not going to work,” he says. “If you managed your money well, then you can experience things you never had the chance to do before, because others always came first.”

And not reporting to an office doesn't mean you have to drift aimlessly without a schedule. He writes down a few goals every day, and at the end of the day, he checks them off and reviews his progress. It gives him some structure and accountability.

Back to that attitude thing. Pfeiffer says there is no magic bullet for the aging process. The magic bullet, he says, is you.

“You've been given a special gift – the gift of life,” he says. “It's in your hands to make the most of it.”


mbearden@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7614

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