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PRIMETIME Guru of the golden years

Doctor wants nation to feel great about growing old

By Bob Moos

Knight Ridder Newspapers

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Like Dr. Phil McGraw, who turned courtroom consulting with Oprah Winfrey into a small empire, Dr. David may become a household name.

Most Americans have never heard of Dr. David Lipschitz, but experts on aging predict it won't be long before his celebrity spreads beyond Arkansas, where he's chairman of the University of Arkansas medical school's geriatrics department.

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He's an author, columnist, public speaker and TV personality who uses wit to tell audiences that old age has gotten a bad rap. He's also an accomplished geriatrician who dispenses generous doses of personal warmth and unconventional medical advice to patients.

"Dr. Lipschitz is to aging what Dr. Benjamin Spock was to child-rearing," says Dr. Robert Butler, the first director of the National Institute on Aging and now head of the New York-based International Longevity Center.

Dr. Spock's book on parenting, published at the beginning of the baby boom after World War II, rewrote the rules for parents of newborns and toddlers. As those 77 million boomers approach their golden years, Lipschitz is turning the conventional wisdom about growing old on its head.

Star on the rise

Dr. Joseph Ouslander, director of the Emory University Center for Health in Aging in Atlanta, says Lipschitr is on a path to becoming "one of the world's renowned geriatricians" with "his unique blend of science and down-to-earth, practical advice about getting older."

Lipschitz says many of society's assumptions about aging are "just plain wrong."

"If you assume your memory will take a powder, you won't bother doing any of the things that can help keep it sharp," he explains. "If you're convinced your sexual performance is on a downward slope, you'll unnecessarily give up one of life's most fulfilling experiences."

Lipschitz says doctors pass along misinformation they pick up in medical school. "I've come to understand how poorly patients in their 50s, 60s and beyond are served by their doctors," he says.

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His approach to lifelong health can be summed up in a few simple maxims:

Don't become obsessed with dieting.

Exercise -- which means more than walking.

Don't think a pill will always cure you.

Feel good about yourself.

Don't give in to the "age-related" disabilities that are actually nothing of the kind -- stay engaged.

It's a message that's seductive to boomers, who don't intend to spend their retirements in rocking chairs.

Best yet to come

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The 61-year-old geriatrician, born in South Africa, says the best years are ahead for people who maintain a healthy lifestyle.

"Every day, someone comes into my office and shows me and my staff what old age is capable of," he says, such as training for a marathon at 64 or taking up motorcycling in the 80s.

"Once you see a grandmother on a Harley, you never again think about getting old in the same way," he says.

Dr. David, as his patients call him, delivers his message with the fervor of someone on a mission.

His first book, "Breaking the Rules of Aging," was a regional best-seller, and he's at work on a second. He writes a Sunday column for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

He created a series of programs, "Aging Successfully with Dr. David," for Arkansas Educational Television that appeared on public stations in 49 states. He's a weekly guest on a Little Rock morning TV show and will soon start his own statewide radio program. And he's launching a Web site, www.drdavidhealth.com.

Herb Sanderson, director of the Arkansas Division of Aging and Adult Services, says Lipschitz's message is catching on.

"It's well-suited for our state, which has become a popular destination for retirees," he says.

And as Arkansas goes, so goes the nation. Up to 20 percent of the residents in some northwest Arkansas communities are over 65, which is what demographers expect America will look like in 25 years.

"We're a snapshot of the future," Sanderson says.

The geriatrics program Dr. Lipschitz has built at the University of Arkansas has captured the interest of experts nationwide. They believe that its emphasis on preventive medicine and its treatment of chronic conditions make it a model for an aging America.

Dr. David's advice

Love yourself. Self-esteem is a strong predictor of good health and a long life.

Find the bright side, always. Have a positive attitude, no matter how bad things get.

Retirement isn't an end to anything. Get busy and stay busy.

Cultivate your creative side. Write, paint, restore old cars. Do what you enjoy.

Stay close to your family. Mentor your children and grandchildren.

Get in touch with your spiritual side. Do whatever it takes to stay calm and peaceful.

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