I Wanna Be Just Like Her When I Grow Up

by Frank Kaiser

At the AARP convention last month, Rita Moreno tells this joke.

A man visits his doctor for a routine checkup. The doc says, "Hard to believe that you're 65, not 50 the way you look."

"Hey Doc,"the fellow says, "I'm 74. My father's 93, and would you believe? He still goes to the office every day."

"Incredible!" exclaims the physician. "How old was your grandfather when he died?"

"Did I say he was dead?" asks the man. "matter of fact, next week he's marrying a beautiful 25-year-old."

The doctor is shocked. "Why would he want to do that?" he asks.

"Did I say he wanted to?"

Rita Moreno is what I want to be when I grow up.

Forget about her starring roles in Singing in the Rain, The Kind and I, The Four Seasons and West Side Story. At an age when the rest of us would be resting on our Oscar-Emmy-Tony-Grammy laurels, she's out front preaching that seniors are valuable, and we should treat ourselves that way.

This 68-year-old babe is nothing more or less than a great living example that life doesn't end at 50. Or 60. "We should be like fine wine," says Moreno. "This should be the best third of our lives."

Some 30 years ago, Moreno's husband suffered a heart attack. Stunned, she immersed herself in research about disease and aging. And she came across an odd fact: Men in their 70s, 80s, even 90s, actively conduct symphony orchestras. Even a century ago, when life expectancy was in the 40s, octogenarian conductors were not unusual.

From this, she realized that enjoyable physical exercise leads to healthy longevity. Her husband recovered, and Moreno has been practicing and preaching Your body, use it or lose it ever since.

"Listen to your favorite music," she instructs, "then conduct it." Even sitting down, all that arm waving and torso swaying provides a good workout for your body and heart. "Exercise is crucial to preventing disease. It helps reduce the onset of adult diabetes. It increases bone density, without which you prematurely age. And it fights depression."

Of course, most of us couch potatoes in the audience already knew this. As Moreno pointed out, we've become a nation of non-movers. We play golf with electric cars, even pay valets ten bucks to avoid walking a half block.

Suddenly Trivia: George Burns smoked 10 to 15 cigars a day, drank three or four martinis. When asked what his doctor said about this, he said, "My doctor's dead." How old was Burns when he died? a) 85 b) 100 c) 115

"The best way to feel really good about yourself is to exercise." And the worst part of this, in my opinion, it's never too late to start. She works out every other day, and suggests walking a mile or two at least four times a week. And just between you and me, even I feel better after a good walk or swim, or hard chase by an irate husband.

"Why bother?" some may ask. Rita Moreno answers that we're valuable, even necessary.

"You're the link that ties the past to the present and future," she says. "You are a repository of history that can be passed on to your children, their children, and their children. You are truly a national treasure. Think of yourself that way. I know I do"

Just think, me, a national treasure.

Though she must have been talking about someone else, I still think Rita Moreno's the best. If exercise can make me anything like she is, bring on the baton!

© 2000—Frank Kaiser

Suddenly Trivia Answer: b) 100

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