In 1875, age 50 was defined as old by the Friendly Societies Act in Britain. Now, the World Health Organization has declared that 65 is still considered young. After that, until the age of 79, people are “middle-aged”. Times have changed.
Though I recently turned 65, in many ways I feel better than I did in my 20’s. Back then I struggled with my weight and seldom got much exercise. In addition to that, there were insecurities about my appearance, my timid nature, my future… and more. Now my weight has been pretty stable for years, and I’ve been getting out to jog and walk more. I’ve gotten to accept the effects of aging on my body (aka wrinkles, spots and sags), and have been fortunate not to have any major physical complications. Besides that, I have a decent network of friends, which I’m told is an important aspect of emotional health.
Basically, I don’t feel old, though I might tire a bit quicker on a steep climb, and my memory fails more often. Maybe I should just stay away from the mirror. My granddaughter (age 11) recently corrected me when I used the adjective old to describe myself. Hey, I just went to the gym with her!
What does it mean to be old? In many countries one is considered old at 60 (for senior discounts, for example) or 65 (sometimes the traditional age for retirement). The threshold for old age is, however, now being redefined. Some have said that “40 is the new 30”, in terms of life expectancy. Then both you and I know adults my age and older who are staying active, swimming or running up a storm, scuba-diving and more. So is 65 the new 40?
As mentioned above, one factor in measuring old age is life expectancy. Since 1900 the global average life expectancy has more than doubled and is now approaching 70 years (Max Roser, Our World in Data). In countries like Canada, Australia and Spain, people should live into their 80’s, on the average. In my lifetime and for the Americas region where I was born , that age has gone up from sixty-something!
Life expectancy is just an average. Longevity, however, is a different story. Genetics, diet, illness and more contribute to the fact that some of us live more or less time. As far as genetics, my parents lived into their nineties, as did one grandmother, and the other lived to be more than 100. Then there’s lifestyle, and though some of my friends have the “tomorrow we may die” philosophy and figure that it doesn’t matter what they eat, in general I’ve tried to have a pretty balanced and nutritious diet. Getting some activity in there is supposed to be helpful, too. Heart, bones, lungs and muscles benefit, among other things.
Another way of measuring what it means to be “old”, at least by the general public, is often the degree to which we are “with it” mentally. Keeping the old noggin active depends a great deal on attitude. The traditional greeting card for those retiring has the recipient relaxing in a hammock. Relaxing is one thing, but let’s beware of the passive couch-potato lifestyle. Activities such as crafts, chess, or hobbies are among many that stimulate the brain. Others, like dancing, combine physical stimulation with coordination and socialization.
Purpose can also stimulate us to remain active. Some will find other types of work after retirement to keep busy, more than for financial gain. Many are excited to have more time for volunteer work. A friend of 60 or so has just left as an overseas missionary! And we’ve all heard of great writers, composers and leaders who remained active into old age, or even started late in life. If I start with examples, however, I’ll never end!
Are you 60 or over? Enjoy! If you’re facing physical limitations, don’t let them define you. Whatever your body says, let your heart and mind lead and motivate you. Think young!