Eat a healthy diet — obesity is a real risk factor for COVID and many diseases. Eat well to feel better and engage in more activities.
As a part of my series about the things we can do to develop serenity and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Meredith Oppenheim.
Meredith Oppenheim is a vitality visionary who has spent more than three decades dedicated to improving the quality and length of life for people as they age. Meredith, who authored a white paper A New Perspective on an Aging Industry, combines her Harvard Business School MBA training with nearly 20 years of experience working in the senior housing industry to energize and enrich the lives of boomers who are young at heart and want to remain that way.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Ihave been dedicated to improving the quality and length of life of older people for 30 years. I was always very close to my grandparents and wanted them to live as long as possible. When I was a teenager, I started to cook for them, introducing ingredients that had been scientifically proven to have health benefits. They enjoyed what I made for them so much so, I decided to start cooking for other older people at senior centers throughout my home state of New Jersey. While my grandpa passed away the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, I continued my work then and still do to this day as I want all people — particularly older people — to age well and feel their best.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
After graduating from the Harvard Business School in 2001, I worked in the senior housing industry for nearly 20 years including for the largest owners and operators and a range of consulting clients including companies, governments and families. As a culmination of my work, I authored a white paper A New Perspective on an Aging Industry for the American Senior Housing Association to challenge and guide the industry on how to do more and better for residents and their families. However, my “Ah-ha” moment came several years ago, when my father was very sick. After witnessing the huge toll sickness took on him, my family and certainly the economy (given the cost of his drugs covered by Medicare), I realized that I could have the greatest impact on people’s lives by keeping them well. It is what older people want, younger people cherish, and our economy will depend on. I believe self-care and preventative care are the most important forms of healthcare and that’s what I set out to do. My platform, Vitality Society™, aims to revitalize a generation that is young at heart and wants to remain vital and vibrant.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
The senior housing industry I was part of for nearly two decades is in crisis management mode. The industry is staffed with front line heroes working 24/7 to do the best they can with the often-limited resources they’ve got and for the many constituents, they serve. Burnout is of great concern. In general, when you are burnt out your mental and physical health will be compromised. As such, it is an optimal time for everyone to focus on their well-being. We are a catalyst for people 60 and older — the highest risk segment — to start prioritizing and committing to improving their health. Through our efforts to build camaraderie, offer content (i.e. fitness and wellness classes) and provide coaching (i.e. with therapists who are experts in their fields), we hope to give our members the tools they need to thrive not just survive during COVID and after.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
We have grown our content offerings by engaging leading coaches in the physical fitness and mental wellness fields. These professionals have significant followings and expertise serving the 60 and better market. Many of our coaches are over 60 thus know how to have the greatest influence and impact on our members’ lives while being aware and addressing the specific needs of our target market. We wanted to ensure that our coaches, who might have been working in physical locations such as gyms, client homes and their own offices, had a new home with us where they could bring their following and even grow their followers in a later stage of their career and during this crisis. We work with our coaches to share and support best practices which are essential right now when all are trying to figure out new approaches. We create a mini culture within our larger community for our coaches to succeed with us.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I have a 9 ½-year-old daughter and she loves the Rebel Girls books. We have been reading these books together for many years now. All the featured females have an extraordinary passion for their purpose which propels them forward in changing the course of history. I find this incredibly inspiring probably as much as if not more than my daughter does. For thirty years, it has been my passion to improve the quality of life for older people which has been my life purpose to help all live longer and better. I try to be a role model for my daughter so she can also be an agent of change in her life now and in the future.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious just from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.
The Vitality Society™ platform is based on 8 vitality principles each a two-letter word, so they are easy to remember and practice. 5 principles particularly address uncertainty, fear and loneliness that many older people feel especially right now. So, in no particular order, these 5 principles (or steps) that we integrate and activate on our platform are:
BE: Become the best version of yourself with purpose and positivity.
ED: Learn to keep brains healthy and minds sharp.
HI: Meet new people close by and far away.
OM: Achieve serenity to gain clarity and sanity.
OY: Reduce concerns about health, wealth and more.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
What I’ve learned, before and since COVID, is that needs haven’t changed all that much. The magnitude and the urgency of the needs have. Of course, how we can address these needs have also changed. Five steps to consider when looking to support those who are feeling anxious:
1. Connect with others — expand your social circle at a time in life when it generally shrinks. This is critically important in quarantine.
2. Get the support you need — some people can rely on their families and friends, but others need greater support from experts.
3. Stay in the present with a routine — creating a routine helps you plan a positive and productive day.
4. Focus on self-care — getting dressed daily helps, as well as taking fitness/wellness classes like what we offer as moving helps mental health.
5. Eat a healthy diet — obesity is a real risk factor for COVID and many diseases. Eat well to feel better and engage in more activities.
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
There are three key resources we offer on Vitality Society™ that improve members’ mental and physical well-being:
Camaraderie — we offer a weekly event called the “Good Vibe Tribe” where members enjoy weekly companionship while doing yoga and sound healing together. Later in life — particularly after retirement and when kids are out of the house — this is harder to come by but must remain a priority. We facilitate this as members get to know each other and begin to look after each other in the context of our events. Building camaraderie is also possible — including online — as part of an alumni group, temple/church congregation or hobby groups (i.e. knitting club.)
Content — what online content can you rely on when you need to escape and improve your current state of mind? While we offer daily fitness/wellness events, there are many other valuable resources online. Options to consider include Ted talks, distance learning with many universities and streamed religious services.
Coaching — with whom can you work to get the guidance and support you need? On our platform, we offer special sessions with a range of therapists to address the particular needs of subgroups such as grandparents. Another option is to connect with the clergy of your temple or church or one in the area.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
During my first year at the Harvard Business School as I was walking into my first exam visibly worried, one of my professors told me, “We strive for excellence, not perfection.” Until that point, I always strived for perfection which was often an unachievable standard. This has been the best life lesson, especially right now in the COVID context when so much is changing and happening so fast. Perfection is neither an attainable, nor sustainable standard when the need is greater than ever and the timing more urgent to help people. We need to keep going, doing the best we can and adjusting and improving as we move forward.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’m living and doing what I know and do best. The movement I’ve started is to help people 60 and better remain at their best. This group runs the greatest risk of becoming seriously ill during this pandemic and with one third of Americans older than 65 living alone, social isolation is also a concerning factor. Yet, many are finding community, restoring sanity and building strength in quarantine with Vitality Society designed specifically for them to engage, connect and revitalize.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
Vitality-society.com (search for Meredith Oppenheim under membership to stay in touch) or on Instagram I post a daily quote and actional step to achieve vitality.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!