It's minutes after 7 a.m. on a Monday at the Towson Family Y, and, downstairs, some of the early-bird faithful are winding up their workouts.
A. Ludlam Michaux is one of the first done. Heck, the Rodgers Forge resident was at the door when the place opened at 5: 30 a.m., ready to pedal six miles on a bike that gives a great aerobic and upper-body workout while going nowhere. On alternate days, he works through 13 of the Y's 15 Nautilus weight machines.
The gregarious Michaux -- tall, bald, bushy-browed, and 74 years old -- sticks out less than you might think among the two dozen or so exer-zealots at the Y. Many appear closer to his age than to their 20s. Michaux says he knows regulars who are in their 80s.
Which demonstrates that not everyone over 70 is ready for a nursing home, despite all the hand-wringing about Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole. Dole, 72, would be the oldest man to enter the Oval Office for the first time if he wins in November.
But if you think Dole's age alone means he shouldn't be seeking the White House, you need to meet more folks such as Michaux, Winnie Zerne, Gus Dritsas and John E. Saunders.
Like Dole, they are part of a generation that is redefining what it means to be old in America. They're living longer, often more actively, and in better health than people did just a few decades ago. For many, the seventh decade of life has become the start of growing old rather than the end of life.
By classic definition, Lud Michaux is retired. He's a former Marine Corps officer who fought in three wars and was wounded in two, and he was president of McDonogh School during the 1970s, when the then-boys private school did away with military uniforms and admitted girls.
But he's hardly inactive. After his daily Y workouts, he devotes at least three full days a week to two volunteer jobs -- in McDonogh's development office and with a multimillion-dollar foundation that helps city kids stay in college.
"It's a sin just to sit around," he says. And he bristles at the idea of people objecting to Dole's candidacy just because of his age, even though his own active life doesn't approach the pressures of the presidency.
He apparently has lots of company. Age, in and of itself, is not a factor in Dole's candidacy for as many as three-quarters of American voters, if several polls taken in the past two years are accurate.
Still, voters above 65 are more likely than younger voters to regard Dole's candidacy as dicey simply because of his age. A Gallup Poll in mid-March found that as many as half of independent and Democratic voters over 65 had such reservations, although only a quarter as many older Republicans agreed.
Yet, in this year's Arizona and Iowa primaries, for example, Dole received more support from voters of his generation than any other Republican candidate.
Of course, Dole is no sit-around septuagenarian. His grueling schedule as Senate majority leader and GOP presidential candidate would exhaust many people years younger. Still, his age makes him the butt of jokes by late-night comedians and not-so-subtle attacks by Democrats. The question is whether it should.
Gerontologists say that, given sound health, turning 72 simply does not mean the end of active, productive lives for an expanding number of Americans.
Dr. Robert P. Roca, director of geriatric services at Sheppard-Pratt Health System and a Johns Hopkins Medical School faculty member in psychiatry, says "young people don't have a monopoly on ambition or an appetite for work."
Aging, he points out, does not equate with being feeble. That's an important distinction to grasp as the proportion of older Americans grows, with baby boomers -- those born post World War II -- just beginning to give that percentage a significant upward jolt.
"If you can age without being sick, you can remain quite vital, Roca says. "There are people who function at a very high level" well into their elder years, despite others who pull back from activity and life.
Why that dichotomy occurs is one of the big questions in gerontology, he points out, with evidence indicating that staying active mentally and physically enhances your chances of living longer.
Dr. Roca also says that for people such as Dole "who have had a lifelong ambition to do something and get a chance to really do it, that's tremendously energizing."
And if you add such a powerful objective to the fact that people in late middle age tend to sort through their life expectations and refocus on what's possible in their remaining years, the result can be unusually productive senior years.
There's a school of psychologists and other researchers who contend that in terms of mental capability, Americans are a decade or more younger these days than they are chronologically. In other words, "old" just a couple decades ago is now "middle-aged."
Want an example? Meet Winnie Zerne, of Crownsville.