In The Huddle with Fran Tarkenton

The Simple Truths of Health and Happiness

dt-amac-couple-relaxing-on-beach-may-2015The Super Bowl is coming up this week, and that always brings back a lot of memories for me. This year, there is a little more sadness. In Super Bowl XI, in January 1977,  I played against the Oakland Raiders and their great quarterback Ken Stabler.

Ken Stabler died this past July of colon cancer, at 69 years old. And just this past week, doctors found that he was suffering from CTE, the degenerative brain condition that is plaguing many of the great players of my generation, as well as players who came after us.

It really brings the issue of health to the front of my mind. I know it’s something that is at the front of mind for many people, especially seniors. There are a lot of things that we can do to make our senior years more productive and healthy. Many of them may be obvious, but understanding is not the same as doing.

First is a healthy diet. This morning, I weighed in at 190 pounds. When I retired from football in 1978, at 38 years old, I weighed 195 pounds. I know, we all know, that it’s not easy to control our weight, but it’s very possible. I don’t starve myself, but I eat and drink responsibly. I stay away from fried foods, eat fruit for breakfast and salads for lunch, and stay away from late night snacking that can really make it tough to control your weight. I’m not on any fad diets, but just stay disciplined and in control.

Next is staying physically active. I don’t lift weights; my shoulders have been replaced. I don’t run, it’s tough on my knees. But I walk every day, whether it’s on the streets or on my treadmill. It might be a half mile, or it might be four miles, but I make sure to do it every day, exercise that keeps the habit going.

Third, I’ve found outlets to continually challenge myself and use my brain. I’m still working hard in my businesses at age 76, and I love what I do. I don’t have scientific proof that doing that keeps your cognitive factors stronger, but I know that it works for me, and I know that guys like Warren Buffett and Rupert Murdoch aren’t working hard into their 80s because they need the money; it’s because they love doing it, and they are still sharp as can be. I think that if we stop doing things and learning, our brains get lazy.

Now, I spend a lot of time in business. I’ve moved my mission away from myself and toward helping other people, which really energizes me. And a lot of other seniors are getting back into the business game; they’re the largest demographic group starting new businesses today, and that’s as it should be because seniors have talent and experience.

But for other people, it might be doing something else. Maybe it’s social work, something in your community. I’ve recently begun working in a prison ministry in Florida, and it’s a phenomenal movement. I see other seniors like me working to help prisoners to change their lives, and these people are incredibly vibrant. They’re not doing it for money or for glory, but because it’s a good thing to do for another human being. When I’m there, I see faces that are happy, and people who are healthy in mind, body, and spirit.

I don’t think there’s a formula that works for everybody. These are things that I’ve done and that I’ve seen others doing that I know have made a difference, but you have to discover your own formula for creating extraordinary happiness and health. But whether you’re working in a business, helping your community, serving in your church, or doing anything else, find a way to make a difference in other people’s lives.

We are blessed to live in a generation when life expectancy is far beyond anything it’s ever been. It would be a shame if we don’t take advantage of the knowledge and opportunities we have to be healthier physically and mentally, and make the most of the life we’ve been given.

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Dr. Joe Reynolds

Fran has it right on. If you don’t use it you loose it. That goes for every part of the human body.


Fran has the right mindset to become a much older Senior !!!

Peter Messier

Great article Fran. Much appreciated.


Ivan Berry

Mowing the lawn (if you have one), trimming bushes, cutting fire wood, ducking the wife’s thrown china cup, wishing on a star, parking far from the doctor’s office: so many ways to get needed exercise.
Thanks Fran for your insight into staying healthy and engaged. Each being unique, different strokes for different folks. And don’t forget to keep the brain as healthy as you can. You may have saved yours by sacrificing your knees and shoulders. Others may realize that the brain composed of about 30% fat inspires them to become fat heads. You do not appear to be suffering from that.


Good article filled with a lot of common sense. Now if only most people actually had common sense.

Wendy Gatchie

Quote from Anna Mary Robertson Moses in 1951. ” I look back on my life like a good day’s work , it was done and I feel satisfied with it. I was happy and contented. I knew nothing better and made the best out of what life offered. And life is what we make it – always has been, always will be.” “Grandma” Moses: farm wife, mother and artist lived to be 101 years old with this wonderful philosophy.


How many times, being a Packer fan, I’d watch the Pac have you cornered and then you’d squirt out of their grasp…all that movement you were known for, wasn’t the common stance of a QB at the time. Maybe you saved yourself from many a hit that, in the end, we know has affected many pro players including Kenny S. Your life and lifestyle continues to be a model for many, including myself…even though I wanted you caught during the games, I always respected your effort and I’m sure many who played against you did likewise. Who a man played for, didn’t and still doesn’t define the man…how he plays and lives his life does and you exemplified that.


Thanks for this message, Fran. It is common sense and most of us know all this stuff, but need to be reminded of it again and again. As I read the article, it gave me the extra push I needed to put “living a healthy life” at the top of my priority list right above the “do unto others” resolution. God bless you.


Great advice for everyone, Fran – 3 simple things that cost essentially nothing. Restraint at the table saves pounds and money at the grocery store and as an aside, nothing is “lo-cal” in restaurants except the water. Walking is free. Or many seniors have free gym memberships (Silver Sneakers) in their Medicare Supplement Plans. And lastly there are ALWAYS openings for volunteers for everything, hospitals, churches, charities, community efforts and fund-raisers, you name it – work your own schedule and pace, meet new people and maybe a new friend, gain a feeling of satisfaction and worth from contributing instead of taking or just existing.