Oct. 30, 2000 -- First thing every morning, Gene Gach checks
the 50 or so pots of bromeliads that he keeps along one side of his house. Then
he simply stands and enjoys the backyard of his modest Los Angeles home -- the
wide, green lawn, the 25-foot stand of Chinese bamboo he grew from a single
stalk, and many flowers and rose bushes. On most days a cluster of birds
surrounds his bird feeder, along with a small rabbit, whom he is teaching to
eat lettuce. Later, Gach will play an 18-hole round of golf, lunch with his
wife, and then garden for up to two hours.
He loves gardening. "Days like this leave me with an
incredible sense of peace and serenity," says Gach. "When I stand in my
garden I can feel the seeds under the earth, everything growing, and I have a
connection to all of life."
Madonna and Michelle Obama seem to have little in common. But together, they have awakened American women of a certain age to the allure of tight, toned arms. They've sent the message that those arms and toned, taut bodies may be within reach for other 40-somethings and older.
That message has been helped along by a legion of other celebrities who have passed their 40th birthday, yet remain virtually flab-free. The list includes Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Barkin, and Mary Tyler Moore.
Gach, who retired seven years ago from a career as a press
agent and fund raiser, may sound like an ex-hippie just turning 55, but he's
not. He is 87 years old, shows no sign of quitting anytime soon, and just wrote
his autobiography. "The doctor who gave me a recent cardiac stress test
couldn't believe it," says Gach. "'You're twice my age,' he told me,
'and your blood pressure is lower on the treadmill than mine is sitting
Why is Gach so spry? While it's impossible to pin down with
certainty the secret of his longevity and health, some doctors would say that
his environment -- specifically his connection with nature -- plays a large
part. Nature holds the key to health, believes Harvard naturalist and Pulitzer
Prize winner Edward O. Wilson, who coined the term biophilia (love of living
things). He believes that we have an affinity for nature because we are part of
nature and would prefer to look at flowers and grass rather than concrete or
steel. As part of the natural world, we are connected to and restored by
These restorative benefits of nature, some experts now believe,
can lower blood pressure, boost immune function, and reduce stress. And to reap
these benefits, you don't have to live in a mansion with a gardener. All that's
required is a love of flowers and a willingness to plant a few herbs or even to
hang a beautiful poster depicting nature on your wall.