The Wall Street Journal: 6 top books on healthy aging

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The best prescription for healthy aging: Keep on moving. That message runs through this year’s best books for the years ahead, with recommended pathways that actively engage mind, body, spirit or any combination thereof.

AgeProof: Living Longer Without Running Out of Money or Breaking a Hip”  By Jean Chatzky, Michael F. Roizen, M.D., and Ted Spiker; Grand Central Publishing

In a style both chatty and accessible, financial journalist Jean Chatzky, physician-author Michael F. Roizen and co-author Ted Spiker explore strategies to maintain your health and boost your wealth. Regardless of your age, the authors emphasize the importance of regular medical and financial checkups to assess where you are and what you may need to change.

They suggest metrics for your wallet and physical fitness; and rather than fear those numbers, the authors say, welcome a signal that it’s time to switch to a healthier lifestyle or make financial course corrections. They advise building personal and professional teams to help in good times and bad, and counsel how to make sure your home is both a secure investment and a safe environment. It is never too late to recover from setbacks, say the authors, who offer specific help for troubles ranging from post-divorce finances to addictions.

Just Move! A New Approach to Fitness After 50”  by James P. Owen; National Geographic

By the time he turned 70, former Wall Street executive and admitted couch potato James P. Owen was suffering from severe lower back pain, two bum knees, a faulty rotator cuff and a shuffling walk that made him look like a “poster child for looming old age.” Rather than feel defeated, though, he set about getting fit. In this direct, practical and inspiring book, he shares his lessons. “Getting fit is nowhere near as hard as dealing with the infirmities of old age,” he writes.

He urges readers to set realistic goals that focus on functional fitness: the mobility, strength, balance and flexibility to comfortably go about your daily life. He provides tips for starting a fitness routine that suits your needs and abilities, checklists for finding personal trainers, and clear instructions and illustrations for exercises that he suggests become core parts of your fitness program.

“Four Seasons in a Day: Travel, Transitions and Letting Go of the Place We Call Home”  by Deborah L. Jacobs; DJWorking Unlimited Inc.

Whether enticed by the lure of adventure, or the possibility and sometimes the necessity of lower-cost living, many couples on the cusp of retirement dream of living abroad. All of these motivations led financial journalist and lawyer Deborah L. Jacobs and her husband to rent out their Brooklyn townhouse to strangers for three months while they decamped to France to live in temporary digs leased from other strangers.

Deftly combining travelogue with how-to practicalities, Jacobs chronicles each stage of their journey, starting with repairing and decluttering their own home to make it attractive to tenants. She walks readers through the nitty-gritty of websites for short-term stays, tips on vetting renters of your home, and how to evaluate advertisements for places you might wish to rent. She candidly describes how she learned the hard way, after booking a rental that looked ideal in the ad but turned out to be an alarmingly musty dud. Jacobs and her spouse found a quirky yet pleasing alternative, also through the internet. For Jacobs, the pleasures of food markets, out-of-the-way villages, enduring friendships and absorbing French customs outweighed all of the frustrations—even discovering the crayoned walls, furniture tears, and chips and cracks her tenants left behind in Brooklyn. This book is invaluable preparation for anyone thinking about long-term travel options.

“National Parks of Europe”  Lonely Planet

This sumptuously illustrated volume profiles 60 parks ranging from the bucolic to the rugged, including England’s Lake District, coastal Italy’s Cinque Terre, the French Pyrenees, Sicily’s Mount Etna and the Swiss Alps. Other destinations are lesser known but no less inviting: The Italian Dolomites sport monumental peaks, charming lakeside villages, rare flowers and trails that range from easy strolls to strenuous climbs. In Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales, the moors and hills are dotted with ancient stone circles, castle ruins and historic forts; there are caves ready to be explored, and trails for mountain-biking and hiking. Iceland’s Snaefellsjokull teems with fiords, sea cliffs, volcanic peaks, lava fields, glaciers and waterfalls; outdoor activities from bird- and seal-watching to horseback riding and hot-spring bathing are available, too. Each park profile suggests where to stay, plots itineraries with must-do activities and must-see places, and gives advice on when to go and how to get there. Browse with Post-it Notes at hand.

Ageless Soul: The Lifelong Journey Toward Meaning and Joy” By Thomas Moore; St. Martin’s Press

For psychotherapist and best-selling author Thomas Moore, aging isn’t just a biological process but a spiritual passage. To him, aging positively means allowing yourself to be affected by even the most melancholy losses. “You have to have reflected on life, including its downside, before you can start crafting a life that is subtle and wise,” he writes. By contrast, refusing to grapple with and reframe powerful emotions that arise as we grow older risks a brittle, one-dimensional view of life, either forcibly upbeat and sentimental, or curmudgeonly and sour.

He includes lessons learned from his patients over a 40-year career, and cites a wide range of writers from ancient philosophers to psychologist Carl G. Jung as he leads readers through what he sees as five phases of aging: “feeling immortal; first taste of aging; settling into maturity; shifting toward old age; and letting things take their course.” Throughout, he calls on readers to discover, realize and act on their untapped resources for creativity, expression, building community and forging a meaningful legacy for future generations. “As you get older, if you’re not moving beyond your earlier understanding of life, you’re not expanding,” he writes. Though his tone will strike some as touchy-feely, Moore’s message is resonant.

“Witness Tree: Seasons of Change with a Century-Old Oak”  By Lynda V. Mapes; Bloomsbury

Forest trees reveal much about the passage of time, writes Seattle Times environmental reporter Lynda V. Mapes. The trick is to decode the stories in their roots, buds, leaves and ring cores, the tales told by the birds, bugs, mice and mushrooms who make their homes in the surrounding area. The red oak at the center of the book, part of the Harvard Forest of Massachusetts, is “a living timeline of cultural and economic change,” Mapes writes. It has survived storms, fires, birds nipping at its buds, insects attacking its bark, and tree-cutting humans in search of cordwood. The author makes a strong case for why the future depends on the health of the tree’s intricate ecological system and the larger environment of which it is part. She incorporates conversations with scientists and woodland specialists and ably weaves their research into her larger chronicle of change and adaptation.

 Diane Cole is a writer in New York City. Email reports@wsj.com

The article “The Best Books of 2017 About Healthy Aging” first appeared in The Wall Street Journal.