Sherwin Nuland, a professor at Yale University's Medical School, says you need to do three things for healthy aging: work on physical fitness, hold onto close relationships that give you a sense of connectedness, and use your creativity.
At 76, Nuland has written a new book called The Art of Aging: A Doctor's Prescription for Well-Being.
"This book is largely aimed at people in their 50s and 60s to help them with the trajectory that they would like to follow into their 70s and 80s," Nuland tells Robert Siegel. "There are a lot of you (boomers), and you are, to a great extent, obsessed with yourselves, aren't you?"
Nuland underscores the wisdom of the saying: "If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life."
Dr. Michael DeBakey, 98, who still practices medicine, is profiled in The Art of Aging. DeBakey was a pioneering cardiologist, one of the leaders in early bypass surgeries and transplants. He also invented the surgery to repair a dissecting aortic aneurysm.
DeBakey thrives because he anticipates pleasure, Nuland says, adding that DeBakey wakes up in the morning saying, "I can't wait to get to the work I didn't complete yesterday."
But there are limitations that come from aging, of course. "(DeBakey) also talks about drawing in his horizons, recognizing what's really important to him, what he's really good at, and what will give him the most pleasure – and focusing on that."
What can you do if you don't have a career you love?
Creativity "really takes in a wide spectrum of activities," Nuland says, from taking a class in flower arranging, to writing a book, to inventing a new machine. Anything that makes you feel you've contributed to the welfare of others can count, he says.
Nuland admitted he used to focus too much on physical health as the key to productive old age. "I was going on about the importance of muscular-skeletal strength, and exercise, and (my colleague Dr. Leo Cooney) said, 'You know, Shep, it's not the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail is something else, and what is it? Relationships.
"If you have the choice between going to the gym, and playing with your grandchildren," Cooney told Nuland, "Choose the grandchildren. Every single time."