We’ve all met those seemingly ageless people who just keep on keeping on – often at a pace few of us ever maintained, let alone later in life -- and wonder what the secret is. Ann Richards, the spunky septuagenarian, former Governor of Texas and San Diego resident, is one of those breeds, who shared her insights while in town recently to speak at a women’s health conference.

It’s likely Richards has been a fireball most of her life. She’s a woman on a mission and although her missions change as she journeys down the road of life, this is a passionate, intelligent, insightful woman who likely never went at a snails pace and has shown no sign of slowing down since leaving the governor’s mansion in 1995.

Richards divides her time between Austin, TX and New York where she currently serves as a senior advisor at Public Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm that helps companies analyze, develop and implement their public agenda. She began her distinguished career as a junior high school teacher, but was always a political activist, who went on to serve the people of Texas as a county commissioner, state treasurer and finally, as the state’s 45th governor. Richards is a member or serves on the board of several corporations as well as philanthropic, education and public interest groups.

While she admits she may be “ready to retire and shut it down a bit,” in the same breath she also says with a laugh, “But I’m not going to slow down until Willard Scott puts my name up on that TV screen!” (The CBS-TV news member who lists 100-yr birthdays.)

It’s evident Richards’ sense of humor has been a key component in her life, along with her desire to make a positive difference, which has likely been the fuel that keeps her going. Her most recent book, “I’m Not Slowing Down,” is the account of her battle with osteoporosis, in an effort to encourage women to start taking better care of themselves.

To say Richards looks great is an understatement – but more importantly, she feels great and claims she’s healthier today at 70, than she has ever been.

“When I realized I was actually going to live long enough to collect Social Security, I started taking better care of myself because I plan to collect every dime I paid into that system!” Richards laughed. “Now that I do all those good things to take care of myself, I’m afraid I’m going to live longer than I want to!”

Women’s health is a personal mission for Richards who remembers painstakingly watching her mother “break off in pieces” from osteoporosis and vowed she would make something positive out of that experience.

“I was adamant and motivated to make sure that didn’t happen to me because I didn’t want my kids to suffer through watching me go the way Mama went,” Richards said.

Richards’ osteoporosis diagnosis came in 1996 after she tripped on some gravel while out on a walk with her youngest daughter.

“I put my had down to break my fall and ended up breaking two bones in my hand instead,” Richards remembered. “With the combination of my Mama’s condition and this, it was time to get serious about osteoporosis education for all of us.”
Osteoporosis is a disease in which the bones become extremely porous and brittle, break easily and heal slowly. Women can lose upwards of 30% of the bone mass in their spine within the first five years after menopause. Twenty percent of men are also diagnosed with osteoporosis.

While often considered a natural part of aging, it doesn’t have to be debilitating and that’s the message Richards is adamant about sharing.

“Once I was diagnosed, I made the necessary lifestyle changes to control it instead of it controlling me,” Richards said. “I got on a regiment of regular workouts, healthy eating, and medication and four years later I tripped again, but this time I didn’t break a thing.”

Richards admits her lifestyle likely contributed to her osteoporosis. “I smoked like a stove and drank like a fish earlier in my life and studies show that alcohol inhibits the construction of new bone cells and smoking adds 10 years to the age of your bones, while also reducing the body’s ability to absorb calcium.”

While most associate aging with negative changes, Richards looks at life stages with a refreshing perspective.

“We’ve all heard about the ‘change of life’ ladies, when we get all hot and crazy, thinking we’re approaching the end of life and that we’re all doomed,” Richards said. “Frankly, it use to be that women were put here to reproduce and once that stops, we’re considered ‘out of business’ – but many of us were out of that business long before menopause!” she laughed. “I’m here to tell you that in actuality, menopause is the opening curtain on a highly entertaining second act of life. In fact, I started my second phase running for Governor!”

While Richard’s glass is definitely half full vs. half empty, she also admits to being an adoring grandma of seven adorable grandchildren which she describes as “most of them are really cute.” But she’s also very clear on the fact that she is not a baby-sitter. “I like to seem them, and I like them to come visit me -- invitation only – stay a couple of hours and then that’s it!” she laughs.

She knows what matters most and that’s the here and now, family and friends, and new adventures. Maybe down the road she’ll learn to ride the Harley she got for her 60th birthday that she’s been to busy to ride.

One thing’s for sure, Richards loves life and believes it’s what we make of it that really matters. “It’s the only life we’re going to get so don’t put it off – live it and love it!”

That just may be the ageless spirit secret.

Kelly Ferrin is a local gerontologist residing in Carlsbad. She is a certified
AARP retirement specialist, motivational speaker, consultant, and author of a
nationally released book titled, "What's Age Got To Do With It?" For column
ideas contact her at (760)438-2126 or on the internet at ageangel@earthlink.net.
Kelly Ferrin, Gerontologist Lifestyles (760)438-2126 web: http://www.ageangel.com

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