About the Guest
Make a new friend and call me in the morning. That might be a prescription for aging well, according to Dr. John Dunlop. Dunlop reminds us that healthy relationships are vital if we are going to live long and age well. Most people become less independent as they age, so Dunlop encourages patients to consider that when selling the family home or relocating to a better climate. Dunlop also explains the importance of a living will and gives basic steps you can take to remain physically healthy.
John DunlopJohn Dunlop (MD, Johns Hopkins University) practiced medicine in Zion, Illinois for 38 years. He holds a master’s degree in bioethics and serves as an adjunct professor at Trinity International University. Currently Dr. Dunlop practices geriatrics in New Haven, Connecticut, where he is affiliated with Yale School of Medicine. He is the author of Finishing Well to the Glory of God: Strategies from a Christian Physician and Wellness for the Glory of God: Living Well After 40 with...more
Make a new friend and call me in the morning; a prescription for aging well, according to Dr. John Dunlop. Dunlop reminds us that healthy relationships are vital if we are going to age well.
Bob: It is possible— as you grow old—to be in good physical health and still not experience what Dr. John Dunlop calls wellness for a number of reasons.
John: I had a series of interviews with some seniors at a Bible camp two years ago. I asked them—these were folks in their 80s and 90s: “What are the major obstacles to your emotional wellness?” And without question, their first response was self-pity—spending too much time in self-pity. I thought that was instructive because I’m not sure I would have expected that.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, August 4th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. There is a lot more to wellness in life than just how your body is doing. We’ll explore that today with Dr. John Dunlop. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, I remember when it dawned on me what Solomon was talking about in Ecclesiastes, Chapter 12, when he says, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them,’ before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened.” I thought, “He’s talking about when you get old, and you lose your eyesight.” It’s a challenge—it’s difficult to go through the aging process.
Dennis: It is. And we have a gentleman who is—well, has studied the process of aging and how we’re to better negotiate these challenging years. Dr. John Dunlop joins us on FamilyLife Today. John, welcome back.
John: Well, thank you. It’s a pleasure.
Dennis: John is a physician—graduate of Johns Hopkins University. He practiced medicine for more than 38 years and continues to do so today. He and his wife Dorothy have been married 43 years—have two sons / four grandchildren. He’s written a book called Wellness for the Glory of God.
And one of the things you cover in your book, John—that I really liked—was the importance of relationships as we age. Now, I think that’d be an easy one to overlook; but you talk about how you’ve run into people at various walks of life who minimize the importance of having in-depth relationships with others.
Bob: That’s a part of wellness; isn’t it? I mean—how we’re doing with others affects our wellness.
John: Oh, it is so integral to us. And I think of my dad. I mean, Dad was a very high-powered businessman. He was on a number of national boards, and he would—all of his relationships were focused on what he had to do—
—what they were doing together. As he got older / after he retired, he started to form real friendships that were based, not on what they were doing together, but just on the fact that they were two people together; and Dad’s life was richer.
Dennis: You had a patient—he was 72 years old, running 20 miles a week; and yet, you questioned his wellness because of this issue.
John: Yes. You know, Jim was running or going to the gym every day; but he had been divorced for 25 years. His children had nothing to do with him because of their bitterness because of the divorce. His whole life was taken up with being physically well, but he had no friends. He would go to the gym—everybody knew his name, and he knew everybody else’s name—but he knew very well that if he wasn’t there the next day, no one would miss him. You know, he was really kind of miserable.
Bob: If you’re a doctor, and you’re seeing a patient who is physically fit but relationally ill, what kind of prescription do you give to that individual?
Jim comes to your office; and you go, “Your body is in great shape, but I don’t think you’re well.” What do you say?
John: You know, I think we encourage them; but honestly, I think, at that stage, we’re not going to make a big difference—I think it is tragic.
Dennis: Are you saying it’s a habit, at that point, that they can’t break?
John: It would be hard to, and Jim had no spiritual roots at all. So often, as we relate to God / as we experience His love, we are able to begin to open up to other people and experience their love.
Dennis: I remember a man that I talked to recently. He had just been through our Stepping Up® video series, which is a ten-part video series for men to go through with other men—where relationships like we’re talking about can be forged—heart to heart, man to man, shoulder to shoulder—where some other men have access to your life.
And this guy came up and he said, “Dennis, the main thing I got out of the Stepping Up video series was I realized I had no one I was responsible for.” He said: “My parents are dead. I’m not married. I have no children. I have no living relatives. I realized I need some other friends. I need some people to roll up my sleeves and be real with.”
John: That’s so devastating. I’ve seen it over and over again. I admit I’ve led a pretty busy life in my 38 years of medical practice—I mean, I was up at 5:30 and at the hospital before 7, often getting home late—and didn’t have a lot of time for deep friendships.
Now that I’ve “retired” and am only working three days a week, I have a little more discretionary time. In moving to Connecticut, I have listed my priorities—one of them is to have a group of men I can meet with, at least, one morning a week for accountability and sharing life together.
I’m still in the process of putting that together, but that’s one of my goals.
Bob: You recognize that’s an essential part of wellness and finishing life to the glory of God; right?
John: It certainly is—yes. And a lot of that, as people get further down the line and become less independent, is where they choose to live. I make a big deal with my elderly patients—helping them to see the advantage of getting out of the family home before they have to quit driving and getting into some type of living facility where they are close enough to walk to people to continue to build relationships once they get old.
Bob: This was one of the smart things my mom did. She moved to the retirement center—not the nursing home—it wasn’t the nursing home. I mean, it was assisted living, but it was independent assisted living.
She moved there, honestly, a little earlier than I thought she should have moved there. She was vibrant. She was active. She was still driving. But she was very wise because—while she was vibrant, and active, and alert—she could build relationships and community. I think it helped her in those years when her faculties began to fail.
John: That’s exactly why, at 67, I gave up my whole life in Chicago to move to Connecticut because that’s where we felt we wanted to be when we were older to give us time to really develop relationships—get into a church / build friendships so that we have a support base when we need it.
Dennis: One of the things you shared earlier, John—that I just want you to do again because I thought this was so good. You talked about your living will and how it was a reflection of the values you have sought to live by your entire life.
You’re defining the end of your life around the concept of serving others?
John: My power of attorney for medical purposes states that I want all done possible to prolong my life if it looks reasonable—like I will be able to continue to help other people—but if by reason of physical, mental, emotional, spiritual causes, it doesn’t look like I will be able to help other people, don’t just keep me alive. Now, recognizing that the nature of my service may change and I may be lying in a nursing home, praying for people or encouraging them—but that’s fine. I don’t need to be teaching and writing.
Bob: You know, earlier, I had a hymn come to mind as we were talking about wellness in the midst of grief. It was the hymn, It Is Well with My Soul. As we’re talking about wellness in relationships, I had another song come to mind. It’s—honestly, it’s not a hymn—
—but I keep thinking about: “Eleanor Rigby who died in the church and was buried along with her name—nobody came. Father McKenzie, who wiped the dirt from his hands as he walked from the grave—no one was saved. All the lonely people; where do they all come from, and where do they all belong?” That Beatles song really captures the sadness that comes as you age without relationships being an integral part of your life.
John: I never listened to that in that context. [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes, really does. When my kids were juniors in high school, I’d take them to a restaurant. We’d get some donuts, or some bacon and eggs, and we went through the Book of Proverbs. We became friends with some guys who used to meet for breakfast, and I suppose they were there Monday through Friday—
Dennis: —because they were always there, no matter what day of the week we showed up; and it wasn’t always the same day. It was clear that those men were enjoying sharing life with one another.
I think that’s what you’re talking about. And you don’t end up there without being intentional about pursuing people. That’s what I’m hearing you saying here.
John: It is. It isn’t the default of our culture.
Bob: I have to ask you about issues related to aging well physically because my wife said, “If you go through that interview and you don’t ask him about how you can stay healthy into old age, I’m not going to be happy with you.” [Laughter]
Dennis: Save his marriage—would you, John?
Bob: Yes. So, what are the basics that I need to know if I want to age well physically? Here, let me what’s been my default: My mom lived until she was 92 years old. All four of my grandparents lived into their 90s. I told you my dad died when he was 68 from melanoma. So, I go see the dermatologist—I get my moles checked. I’m counting on the fact that my genes are going to carry me into the mature years without any problem. Am I safe?
John: Well, that’s certainly a part of it—not necessarily a credit to your choice—[Laughter] —but—
Dennis: Spoken as a true doc! [Laughter] Way to go! Give me a fist bump, John. Come on—there you go! [Laughter]
John: There are things that are more related to your choices, and they are the things that we need to emphasize.
Bob: Okay. So emphasize away—I’m ready.
John: You know, Robert Butler was one of the great geriatricians of several years ago. His famous statement was: “Exercise, if available as a prescription, would be the most widely used and effective drug,”—now, that’s a paraphrase; but yes, I think we need to start with exercise.
And I admit to you: “My wife, who is a professor of medicine, does all her research on the role of exercise as we get older.” So, I’m kind of caught. I don’t really use a “What do we choose?”—I don’t think I have a choice! [Laughter]
Dennis: You don’t! [Laughter]
Bob: So, what is your regiment? You’re a busy doc up until you moved from six days a week to three days a week. You were getting up early. How were you fitting exercise into what you were doing?
John: Well, I’ve—for years, I love to run.
John: And I’ve probably run 30,000 miles.
John: And I do 25 a week, at this point; but I had the privilege of constructing my own schedule. So, I would work 12-hour days, Monday and Friday—but only a 2-hour day on Tuesday—and I would do a 10-mile run. I would work a 6-hour day on Thursday, and then, a 16-hour day on Wednesday.
Bob: Okay. So, for those of us who can’t do that, what is your prescription for us? What should we be doing?
John: Well, you should be spending, at least, 30 minutes a day in some aerobic exercise. You should be doing something anaerobic—throwing around some weights / doing a little bit of weight training.
By the way, I can’t say that without remembering the lady who—I said, “Well, at least, you could walk, carrying some dumbbells, and do some arm work while you’re walking.” She said: “Well, I walk with my husband. Is that enough?” [Laughter]
Bob: “That’s the dumbbell I walk with.” [Laughter]
John: So, we should do some stretching, and we should do something to help us with our balance because that’s how we prevent falls. So, walking, or swimming, or—if you are going to the gym—getting on the treadmill or an elliptical—something like that—some type of weights, stretching, and balance.
Dennis: What’s the balance exercise?
John: You know, just standing on one foot helps.
Dennis: For how long?
John: For a minute or so. We have this—it’s a rubber, inflated disc that’s about four inches high / about twelve inches wide in diameter. When I get out of the shower, I stand a minute on it on one foot—
—that just incredibly helps your balance.
Bob: This sounds like—I mean, by the time I’m doing 30 minutes of aerobic, then, some anaerobic, then, some balance—sounds like I better schedule an hour-plus a day to be doing exercise.
John: Well, if you can do that, it’s worth it. And it takes me longer to run three miles than it takes me to walk three miles. Of course, they always look kind of quizzically at me.
Bob: Are you a slow runner? [Laughter]
John: Walking three miles is just as good as running three miles; but when you walk, you go out for a walk. When you run, you go change your clothes, you warm up, you do your run, you cool down—
Bob: —take the shower.
John: —you shower, you change, and you’ve spent more time than walking.
Bob: Okay. So, I need to be doing exercise—anything else that I need to be doing to age well?
John: You need to eat a good well-balanced diet.
John: And you need to get your fruits, and your veggies, and your grains, and your dairy products.
You go easy on the red meats / go easy on the fats—and very heavy on the veggies.
Dennis: Bob wants to know, “Does cheesecake fit into the dairy?”
Bob: That counts as a dairy—yes, I’ve already checked. I’m good on that.
John: It counts as a dairy. [Laughter]
Bob: Okay; so, exercise and diet.
John: And if you run 25 miles a week, you can enjoy it. [Laughter]
Bob: I knew I never should have asked you those questions in the first place.
Dennis: Mary Ann knew what she was doing.
Bob: Exercise, diet—anything else that’s going to promote good longevity?
John: You need to have good preventative medical care. You need to have your cancer screenings. You see your dermatologist. You want to make sure you’ve had your colon screening up to date. If you’re a woman—your breasts—[have your] mammogram up to date. The other thing that a lot of people wonder about is supplements. I think they are way overdone. I think the good Lord allowed us great nutrition if we eat wisely—
—except for vitamin D, which is the only supplement I take. I don’t think you need a lot of supplements.
Dennis: I think this is kind of switching subjects, in a way; but then, as I think about it, it’s not. Emotionally, we need to also practice wellness there; don’t we?—because that does impact us mentally, physically, and spiritually.
John: It does. One of the ways we do it emotionally is we don’t talk to the doctor about good health practices because that just makes us feel guilty. [Laughter]
Bob: Yes. I was depressed from the last five minutes we’ve been having this conversation!
Dennis: So, talk to us a bit about practicing healthy emotional wellness.
John: I had a series of interviews with some seniors at a Bible camp two years ago. I asked them—these were folks in their 80s and 90s:
“What are the major obstacles to your emotional wellness?” And without question, their first response was self-pity—spending too much time in self-pity. I thought that was instructive, but depression is a huge—
Dennis: Well, now, I want to stop you there. What’s behind the self-pity statement? Is it regrets for what they didn’t do right? Is it loneliness taking over and just somebody shrinking and becoming self-absorbed? I don’t think I would have even listed that in my top ten.
John: Yes. Honestly, I think I’d have to ask them; but I’m sure there are a lot of different things going into it. But a lot of times, people just have false expectations of what the later years of life should be like and false expectations of what other people—specifically, like their children owe them—and they begin to feel like they are being neglected.
They feel cut off from other people and not dealing well with the losses of life, and accepting them, and going on from there; and therefore, pitying themselves for the losses that they’ve endured.
Dennis: Barbara and I have talked many times about how we really desire, as we grow older, to be positive—not gripey, complaining, self-absorbed like you’re talking about. It makes sense—if we have expectations of others that are too high, and then, we turn it around and make it where it’s self-pity, that can turn into something ugly if you stay in that condition for a decade.
John: And there are other things too. They talked about boredom—that their lives just weren’t full enough. They talked about just being discontented.
They would have waves of spiritual doubt that would come over them—which they would have some struggle with. At times, they would really experience fear. All of those things would add up to rob them of a real emotional wellness.
Bob: So, if you are writing a prescription for someone in this area—and again, this is kind of tricky because it’s easier to write a prescription for high-blood pressure medicine than it is to write a prescription for anxiety, or fear, or loneliness. What kind of a prescription would you write for somebody?
John: Well, I think I’d probably quote Paul in Philippians, where he said, “Think on these things…”
Bob: “Whatever is true, whatever is pure—
Bob: —“whatever is lovely…”—that whole list that he’s got in Philippians 4:8.
John: It’s a choice of where we focus our minds.
Dennis: And I would add Paul’s other prescription for us—it’s found in Galatians 5, verse 22: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
I’ve got at the bottom of this passage, John—a quote by D.L. Moody, the famous evangelist—he said, “I’ve had more problems with myself than I’ve had with any other man.” [Laughter] I think, if we are allowing the Holy Spirit in our lives access to our hearts to produce this fruit, as we grow older, the fruit ought to get riper. It ought to become delicious; and instead of growing old, negatively, we ought to live lives that are attractive.
And I just appreciate you, as a physician, and your many years of faithful service to so many folks back in Illinois; but also, now, to us—to help us finish our own course and finish it well. Some of our listeners are younger. This is a good word for them to hear as they run their own race. I want to thank you for being on FamilyLife Today.
John: My pleasure. Thank you.
Bob: Well, and I hope a lot of our listeners will get a copy of your book as well. I passed it around to some friends. In fact, I took it to a physician friend of mine, who I thought: “He’s working with a lot of patients who are getting older,” and I thought he might want to recommend this book to them. The book is called Wellness for the Glory of God. The subtitle is Living Well after 40 with Joy and Contentment in All of Life. We have copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com and request your copy of the book—order it from us at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER,” and you’ll see information about the book available there. You can also order by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY if that’s easier—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
You know, I’ve been reflecting in recent days on what a busy summer it has been for us personally and for this ministry—
—there has been a lot going on this summer. There are times when it feels like the direction our culture is headed—the ground is shifting underneath our feet. I want our listeners to know that things may be shifting in the culture; but things are not shifting, here at FamilyLife. We remain committed to what the Bible teaches about marriage and family. We believe that God’s Word is the firm foundation on which we ought to plant our lives and on which we ought to plant our communities. And we seek, every day, to provide listeners with practical biblical help and hope for your marriage and for your family.
And we’re grateful for those of you who join with us in this endeavor. We are listener-supported. All that we do, here at FamilyLife Today, could not happen if it weren’t for folks, like you, making a donation—either occasionally or those of you who are Legacy Partners, pitching in each month. We are grateful for your support of this ministry.
If you can help with a donation today, we’d like to say, “Thank you,” by sending Dennis and Barbara Rainey’s book, Two Hearts Praying as One. It’s a book about praying together in marriage; and that’s going to be a focus for us, here on FamilyLife Today. In the coming weeks, we’re going to be talking more about the importance of prayer in marriage. So, this would be a good book to have as we wrap up summer and start to head into fall together.
You can request a copy of the book when you make a donation, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Just click the link in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that says, “I CARE,” to make an online donation; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. You can make your donation over the phone; or you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at Post Office Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. Our zip code is 72223.
One additional note—if this donation is the first donation you’ve given us during 2015—
—we’d like to send along a special prayer card for you and your family about how you can pray together, as a family, during challenging times. Again, it’s our thank-you for being a part of what God is doing through this ministry as you help support FamilyLife Today.
And I hope you can be back with us tomorrow—especially, if you are a grandmother, or about to be a grandmother, or you know somebody who is. We are going to talk to a couple of grandmas about what grandma can do to stay better connected with her grandchildren. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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