Looking for some inspiration to make the most of your life? Check out the new HBO documentary, “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast.” The title comes from Carl Reiner’s daily habit of getting the paper and going straight to the obituaries to see if he’s in them. If not, he has his breakfast. At age 95, he wondered about the secret to longevity. “Is it luck? Genes? Modern medicine? Or are we doing something right?”
The film explores some encouraging ideas from people over 90 who have wisdom and wit to offer. “Being old is like a whole new adventure.” Says Stan Lee, 90, of comic book fame. “You can’t describe it to young people.”
Reiner writes every day, as he has most of his life. He’s written five books since he turned 90, including What I Forgot to Remember. When he’s not walking around the block, he usually can be found at his computer working on something.
Ray Olivere, 90, keeps painting portraits after a career as an illustrator for an advertising agency. “What motivates me is the desire to continuously create new things.” He shared what gets him out of bed each day. “Just don’t lose your curiosity.”
Iris Apfel, 94, is a fashion icon. She loves her work and says: “If you have friends and if you have interests and you do things, you’re going to be much more vital than if you just sit around and mope and say ‘Oh, I’m getting old’.“ She resents the anti-aging pressure that advertising puts on women. “So many people are so worried about getting old. I never think about getting old… I think people should just take advantage of being alive.”
Norman Lear, 93, says living in the moment is critical. He continues to drive and works regularly. And he defies expectations due to his age. “In a way, I’m the age of whoever I’m talking to. If I’m talking to a 50-year-old, I’m 50. When I talk to a 12-year-old, I’m 12.”
Mel Brooks, 90, says laughter is key to a longer life. Remembering a funny event with Reiner, Brooks says: “You can’t laugh that hard without it adding some time.” Reiner adds: “If you can’t laugh, your life can be pretty empty.”
Betty White, 94, talked with Reiner about the blessing of good health. She joked that she didn’t want to be a burden to anybody, “…except possibly Robert Redford.” Full of wit and warmth, she’s still acting and writing books and doing her animal rights advocacy work.
Exercise was a repeated theme.
Dick Van Dyke, 90, wrote a book called Keep Moving and offered that as a prescription to staying youthful. “At 30, I exercised to look good. In my 50s, I exercised to stay fit. In my 70s, I exercised to stay ambulatory. In my 80s, I exercised to avoid assisted living. And in my 90s, it’s just going to be out of defiance!” It probably also helps that he married a woman more than 40 years his junior. He recommends “Look your age, but don’t act it.”
Tao Porchon-Lynch, 97, still teaches yoga classes and dances the tango. When people ask her about getting old, she says “Don’t sit there thinking about what you can’t do. When you get up in the morning, think this will be the best day of your life.” The film shows her contorting her body into a number of difficult positions. “Within us is the power to do anything.”
Ida Keeling, 100, says “I never considered myself old.” After losing two sons to murder, she fell into a deep depression. At the age of 67, with the encouragement of her daughter, she started running. Her first event was a 5K run and after finishing the race, she felt like a great burden had been lifted. That compelled her to keep competing and she’s been running ever since. “Rather than go to a doctor, I’d rather exercise.”
Blue Zones author Dan Buettner wrote about the lifestyle habits of those living in regions with the longest-lived people. Staying active, engaged, and interested are common themes both in his book and among the people featured in this film. “Having a reason to get up in the morning,” Buettner says, is important. “Do what you love and do it every day.”
Even if you aren’t in the best health, getting older can be a rich experience. Kirk Douglas, 99, did a one-man show after a stroke made it difficult to talk. “What does an actor do who can’t talk?” he quips on stage. “Wait for silent pictures to come back!”
Being active, engaged, and interested. These seem to lead to living a long and fulfilling life. If you want a humorous and uplifting shot-in-the-arm, watch “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast.”