I recently had the pleasure of meeting a friend’s family member, who welcomed us warmly into her kitchen; bustled around making us homemade biscuits, eggs, and bacon; and regaled us with hilarious anecdotes from her many odd jobs throughout her life. The surprising part of this story? This sprightly lady—my friend’s great aunt—is ninety-seven years old.
Marveling at her nonagenarian agility, I realized she was the embodiment of Twyla Tharp’s message in her book Keep It Moving: Lessons for the Rest of Your Life. The Emmy- and Tony-Award-winning dancer and choreographer and MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Grant” recipient is known around the globe as one of the greatest figures in the dance world. Her second book, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life, became a New York Times bestseller and detailed her secrets for developing and maintaining creativity. Over a decade and a half later, at age seventy-eight, Tharp penned another bestseller, this time exploring her secret to harnessing vitality, finding purpose as you age, and expanding your possibilities over the course of a lifetime.
Tharp, who still maintains a daily regimen of exercise and a breakneck schedule as a teacher, writer, creator, and lecturer, is often asked how she keeps up her pace at her advanced age. Her answer is simple: just keep it moving. It’s a no-nonsense attitude that frames her every decision, and one that’s accessible to any reader at any age. You don’t need to be an award-winning dancer or athlete or be at your physical peak in order to take advantage of Tharp’s ethos. Her overall argument is to embrace what every other antiaging or beauty-and-fitness program avoids saying: chasing youth is a lost cause. No matter your fortune or genetics, you will eventually feel your corporal youth slip away. But this doesn’t mean you need to bid farewell to vitality, success, and happiness.
Tharp contends that adopting her positive outlook and focusing on moving the body you have every day will offer a more hopeful and energetic approach to your day-to-day life. Packed with stories from her own career as well as lessons from other creatives throughout history who discovered renewed vigor late in life, Keep It Moving also contains practical steps and simple exercises to reinforce the book’s central concept with real and constructive actions.
Although my new ninety-seven-year-old friend may not have been performing Tharp’s exact isometric stretches or following her suggestion to literally “jump for joy” to reinvigorate her muscles, she was certainly practicing the joyful mental exercises Tharp says are equally important. Mentally moving your emotional attitude from despair and frustration to gratitude and optimism is every bit as crucial as physical movement. And, frankly, the reminder to find purpose in all your movements, reasons to move every day, and ways to choose joy when doing so is a lesson all of us would benefit from keeping in mind, no matter our age.