I’m always advising older folks to stay active. Find something meaningful to do, perhaps a way to contribute to your community. Volunteer at the library. Tutor a child.
But run for president of the United States? This is just a tad more challenging, complex and stressful than putting books on the library shelf or helping some kid with his multiplication tables.
Presidents are under constant pressure. The problems pile up, as does the stress. It’s certainly legitimate to question the health of those who seek the presidency, and depending on whether you support Donald Trump or Joe Biden, you probably think your guy’s in good shape—or good enough shape—to run the country for the next four years. But the other guy? No way.
I think we need to be honest here and admit that there’s reason to be concerned about both men. We’re not talking “young seniors” like, say, 60, 65, or even 70. Trump, who just turned 74, was the oldest person ever elected to a first term in 2016; Biden is even older: 77. Meantime, the life expectancy for a man in the United States is 76.1, which, by the way, is twice the median age—38—for the entire country.
All of this makes the following questions relevant: Are they up to this pressure cooker of a job? Do they have the stamina? Are they sharp enough? How old is too old?
A few things determine this. First, the issue of physical health. Look at your own parents, or perhaps yourself or a spouse. We all know that things begin to break down at a certain age. Folks move slower; perhaps they get a bit shaky at times.
What about Biden and Trump?
As with anyone, lifestyle plays a huge role.
Trump deserves credit for not smoking or drinking. But his other lifestyle choices are atrocious. Like two-thirds of Americans, he’s overweight, if not obese. He has a fondness for junk food. He doesn’t exercise (when golfing, he drives a cart), brags about sleeping little and has a stressful job.
“These are very bad habits that even younger people should avoid,” says Dr. Foster Montalbano, a primary care physician at Inova Mount Vernon Hospital in Mount Vernon, Va. He cautions that such behavior “increases health risks for anyone,” perhaps even more so for someone in his eighth decade with a high-pressure job like Trump has.
It’s worth noting that strokes, heart attacks and other cardiovascular diseases kill some 859,000 Americans every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
Despite all this, Trump’s doctor, Navy Commander Sean Conley, claimed last month that the president “remains healthy.” Yet there are concerns. Last fall, the president made a sudden trip to Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., for reasons that haven’t really been explained. The White House had to go out of its way, two days later, to emphasize that “the president has not had any chest pain, nor was he evaluated or treated for any urgent or acute issues.” It added: “He did not undergo any specialized cardiac or neurologic evaluations.”
Like Trump, Biden also deserves credit for not smoking or drinking; he has called both behaviors “a crutch.” At 5 feet, 11.5 inches and weighing 178 pounds, the 77-year old former vice president is in better shape from a body-mass index (BMI) perspective than his rival, and claims he is committed to working out (cardio and weights) “at least five days per week.” (Last year Biden’s kid brother Frank called a SiriusXM talk show and claimed his big brother can bench press multiple reps of 185 pounds.)
At Biden’s request, his physician, Dr. Kevin C. O’Connor of George Washington University, released the full results of medical exam last December. He describes his patient as a “healthy vigorous, 77-year old male, who is fit to successfully execute the duties of the presidency.”
Then there is the issue of alleged senility. Trump is trying to paint Biden as a doddering old man; Biden says Trump “doesn’t seem to be cognitively aware of what’s going on.”
Again, in this hyperpartisan era, you probably think your guy’s OK, but the other one isn’t. And again, I think we need to be honest: Both men, have given us reason for concern. We’ve never had two candidates this old squaring off in a general election, and mental acuity will—and should be—an issue.
As for you, how can you remain sharp? Dr. Montalbano—himself vigorous and spry at age 70–offers this advice: “Some people are searching for shortcuts to try and maintain sharp mental acumen, so they’ll pick up the crossword puzzle and the Sudoku puzzle. All this does is make you a good puzzle solver. The best thing you can do to remain sharp as you age is to eat well, get enough rest, and increase the flow of oxygen to your brain—and that only comes from exercise.”