“You’re only as old as you feel,” goes the old cliche, and judging from this week’s HBO documentary about the upsides of life after 90, it might be true. If You’re Not In The Obit, Eat Breakfast is named after Carl Reiner’s joke about how now that he’s 95, he picks up his newspaper every morning, finds the obituary section, and checks if he’s listed. “If I’m not, I have my breakfast,” he quips.
Wondering why he and so many of his friends “got the extra years” when others didn’t, Reiner set out to find some answers. Does longevity come down to luck? Genes? Or life choices? While the answer is surely some combination of the three, the documentary is a fascinating and uplifting treasure trove of wisdom from your favorite nonagenarian icons, including Betty White, Dick Van Dyke, and Norman Lear. Here are seven of the doc’s best pieces of advice for life in your nineties.
1. Stay busy and current.
Reiner’s nephew and manager, George Shapiro, gives props to Reiner for “his productivity and his commitment to being vital and involved.” Reiner is notoriously internet-savvy, knows how selfies work, and memorably invented the #Selfishie during an appearance on Conan. “His computer is always busy, there’s never a time he hasn’t got something working,” says Shapiro.
2. Build face-to-face interaction into daily life.
Longevity expert Dan Buettner, who delivered a TED Talk on the subject and is quoted regularly throughout the doc, has one very specific piece of advice. The happiest people in America, he says, are interacting face-to-face roughly six to seven hours a day. “We evolved with these traits,” he says, “we succeed as a species because we know how to collaborate and interact and that in turn brings us joy.” Translation: Put the smartphone down!
3. Be the boss of your body.
Arguably the doc’s most inspiring subject is 100-year-old Ida Keeling, who started running at the age of 67 after experiencing severe depression brought on by the death of her two adult sons. Her daughter Shelly encouraged her to run a 5K race, after which, she says “I felt so different. I felt I had come out of a shell.” Keeling now runs races regularly with her daughter, and works out with weights for at least half an hour each day. “I will never consider myself old, never did. If you don’t take care of yourself, nobody else will. You’ve got to be the boss of your body.”
4. Don’t fear the aging process.
“Meet it head on, don’t fear it,” says Dick Van Dyke, though he acknowledges that certain things become harder after a certain age. “When people tell you you look good in your 90s, what they mean is you don’t look dead.” Van Dyke says he overhauled his exercise regime and never looked back after starring in a Broadway show years ago, after seeing how the dancers worked out with strength training equipment. “At 30, I exercised to look good. In my 50s, I exercised to stay fit. In my 70s, to stay ambulatory. In my 80s, to avoid assisted living. Now, in my 90s, I’m just doing it out of pure defiance,” he jokes.
5. Live in the moment.
One of Norman Lear’s tips for staying young is to live in the moment, and pay attention to the conversations that you’re having. “In a way, I’m the age of whoever I’m talking to,” he explains, whether that person is 12 or 50, “I’m the peer of whoever I’m talking to.” Lear says that he likes to live in what he calls “the hammock of time in between ‘over’ and ‘next'”, after one thing is complete and before the next begins. Given that Lear, at 94, is still actively producing television shows like Netflix’s new version of One Day At A Time, it’s no surprise that a little mindfulness goes a long way.
6. Enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Now that she’s in her nineties, Betty White enjoys a more relaxed approach to her career. “It’s more fun … you don’t have to do it,” she says of working at her age, “and if it doesn’t work, I’ve had my career. I’m not going to worry about it. Beyond that, she says, “I don’t want to be a burden to anybody — except possibly Robert Redford.”
7. Figure out what you love, and do it every day.
If you take away only one thing from the doc, make it the story of pianist Irving Fields, who died last year at the age of 101. Fields is shown playing regular piano concerts – every Friday, Saturday and Sunday – at the Park Lane Hotel in Manhattan. “I could work nine days a week and not be tired,” he says. “I go on and on because I love what I do.”