“I don’t like the word senior, and I never use it unless it has something to do with a discount.”
He may be 74 years old, but it’s obvious Oro Valley Vice Mayor Lou Waters hasn’t lost his sense of humor – or his drive to maintain an active, healthy lifestyle.
Revered by many in Oro Valley as a health advocate, it seems Waters is still scratching his head over how the reputation became what it is today.
“I don’t know how I got to this,” said Waters. “My wife said to me over coffee the other day, ‘My husband is a motivational fitness guy.’ It’s weird. I never asked for that. It’s just been an organic process.”
One of the original Cable News Network (CNN) anchors, Waters was given an assignment 22 years ago to create a program that appealed to an elderly audience.
“I asked them, ‘What the hell is that?’ and they said, ‘Well, we don’t know,’” said Waters about the vaguely described task.
But, Waters assembled a team and traveled the country for a month, hitting all aspects of the aging network, interviewing such names as John William Gardner, the first Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, and Ken Dychtwald, who developed the Age Wave concept relating to the baby boom of the mid-twentieth century. Viewers began learning about the otherwise mum process of aging, and to many, it was encouraging.
“Things started clicking,” said Waters. “Ratings spiked. I attribute it to the fact that aging, or getting older wasn’t even discussed in our culture. It’s called gerontophobia – fear of aging, fear of old people. We were to the point we talked about the taboo of death, but we leaped right over the aging question. But, now we’re looking at it hard and fast, and that’s why aging is taking on a whole new attitude. People are feeling better about themselves getting older, because they know they don’t have to give up.”
More than two decades after beginning the program that had elderly viewers in a frenzy, Waters hasn’t let go of what he learned during that project, nor has he stopped relaying his knowledge and optimism about the aging process to those he now encounters.
Waters, who will likely only be found sitting still when behind the council dais, said society’s acceptance of the perceived aging process is misconception number one.
“Seventy percent of all our so-called aging illnesses are lifestyle illnesses,” said Waters. “You’ll find people in walkers and other forms of limited mobility who have essentially given up. There are biological aging experiments going on now featuring exercises which prove that you can get people out of wheelchairs, get them to throw their canes and walkers away, and start moving.”
Other ailments, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart trouble, can also be staved off by the introduction of fitness and proper nutrition, says Waters.
“You can’t reverse aging, but you can hold it off,” he said.
Poor health choices are also often affected by the modern conveniences of life, Waters argues.
“What struck me about Oro Valley was the number of handicapped parking places, and the number of people who try to get as close to the store as possible and hop out of their car and run into the store, and they’re not handicapped at all. My suggestion would be to put the handicapped places the farthest away so they’d get some exercise going to their destination.”
Waters doesn’t just talk the talk, though. For an hour each day, he can be found at Anytime Fitness, where he partakes in cardio and strength training. He also sticks to a strict food regiment. Making a habit of the healthy lifestyle has ridded Waters from having to dig for new motivation each day – something he acknowledges can be tough for people in the early stages of such a change.
Waters’ persistence has turned some heads in the meantime.
“He has got to be one of the leading spokespeople in the whole community for healthy aging,” said Mike Urbanski, owner of the Anytime Fitness where Waters works out. “He really walks the talk. He’s in here all the time, and he’s not just taking a stroll, he’s working really hard, and it shows. He’s a good role model for young and old. I’m really glad he works out here.”
Waters has also been named the Honorary Race Director for this year’s Arizona Distance Classic, in which he will participate in the Champion’s Mile, a one-mile walk for the elderly.
“What we try to do is celebrate those who have committed to a healthy lifestyle, and that fits very well with what Lou is doing,” said David Babner, director of the annual event. “It’s not so much about competing as it is about getting out and getting active, and that message resonated with us.”
Despite Waters’ popularity, and the fact many would likely read it, the Vice Mayor said there are no plans to write his own book on health. However, Waters’ “Aging Well” column, featured in The Explorer continues to be very well received, and there is no doubt his advocacy will continue to find a place in the community.
“When I see people in walkers, and they don’t have to be – maybe if I can get one person…two people to buy into what’s happening, that’s reward enough for me,” said Waters. “It’s worthwhile. It’s never too late to start, and it’s always too soon to quit. Just get moving.”