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WASHINGTON _ Older Americans should stay physically fit and keep working well past the age of 65, two successful, prominent and wealthy 83-year-old men testified Monday before the Senate Special Committee on Aging.
If they can overcome their culture's reluctance to hire or retain older workers, more older people would feel better, and the economy and society would benefit, said Jack Valenti and John Glenn at a hearing on "breaking the silver ceiling."
"I find retirement a synonym for decay," Valenti testified. Though recently replaced as president and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, he still chairs the board of its rating system and heads a global drive against AIDS and other infectious diseases.
Avoid a rocking-chair lifestyle of "waiting for the mail to come at 5 p.m.," advised Glenn, the former senator and astronaut who was 77 during his most recent space flight. He now heads the John Glenn Institute for Public Service and Public Policy at Ohio State University.
Volunteering can help, Glenn said. "Reading to school kids" is an option, as would be "helping out down at the church or the nearby military base," he said.
The advice from the two veterans of World War II would suit many of their healthy contemporaries, agreed witnesses from health, employment, research and elderly organizations. But they said that changes in federal rules could also help those who want to smash through the "silver ceiling" that holds down older workers.
For example, quirks in IRS tax rules encourage private pension funds to force their beneficiaries to plunge overnight into full retirement, said Ed Potter, president of the Washington-based Employment Policy Foundation. If the IRS shared its rule-writing jurisdiction with the Department of Labor, they might revise the pension rules to encourage full-time workers to phase gradually into retirement by working fewer days a week or fewer weeks a year, Potter said.
"Maybe we could put that on an appropriation bill," responded retiring Sen. John Breaux, D-La., who was designated by Chairman Larry Craig, R-Idaho, to preside over the panel's final hearing of the year. Potter and other witnesses agreed to suggest some legislative language to the committee's staff.
Glenn said another improvement would be to substitute physical and psychological evaluations for the mandatory retirement ages that now decide when most fire fighters, police and airline pilots must quit. But he warned that he learned during his 24 years as a senator on the same committee that some younger workers who want to take over those high-seniority jobs might object.
Valenti said he exercises every day for 40 minutes to an hour in a gym near his home or, during his frequent road trips, in his hotel.
"It improves my attitude," he said. "I find the brain can't function when it's fed by fatigue."
He contrasted his own longevity with that of his former boss and fellow Texan, President Lyndon B. Johnson, who returned to his ranch for a traditional retirement in January 1969.
"He died only four years later," Valenti said. "People don't realize he was only 64 years old when he died."
Glenn said, "Jack likes a gym, and that's okay for him. But the main thing is to work up a little sweat ... four or five days a week."
Glenn said jogging was hurting his knees, but he soon learned that "you can do fast walking and get a fine workout."
Asked what he gets out of it, Glenn said, "You have more energy."
On the Web:
Senate Special Committee on the Aging: http://aging.senate.gov
Andrew Mollison's e-mail address is email@example.com
Cox News Service