Continuing our discussion of Healthspan, the second of three primary focuses on Longevity Planning/Management, being May is Older Americans month, today we’ll address the role we play in living long and living well by rethinking longevity in entirely new and different ways.
Let’s start off by asking, ‘Who’s Afraid of Growing Old?’ In my speaking presentations I address this with a cover picture of Parade Magazine and a woman celebrating her 90th birthday with a little hang-gliding activity!
Clearly this visual image identifies that aging is definitely changing – which leads us to the real question, what is old? Do you have a magical number in mind? Thirty years older than you? For simplicity purposes, let’s start with the marker of ‘old’ as 65, when people are eligible for Social Security. What a lot of people don’t realize is that this marker of old was actually established in the late 1800s, Bizmark formula, when life expectancy was only 47! So when life expectancy is 47, then 65 would be considered ‘old’. But when life expectancy is pushing 80 today … how can we call 65 old?!
Secondly, there’s a huge diversity among the older adult population just like any other generation. I can introduce you to 80-year olds who act and look like their 50, and 50-year olds who look and act like their 80.
Third, there’s a huge difference between chronological age and biological age! What do I mean by that? Meaning I may meet someone in their 70s who has the biological make up of someone ten years older or ten years younger … depending upon the way they live their lives.
There’s a classic cartoon highlighting this that says, ‘If I knew I’d be living so long, I would’ve taken better care of myself!” Or as Yogi Berra use to say, ‘You can get old pretty young if you don’t take care of yourself!’
But as we addressed in my last blog, everyone always seems to want to know what the secret is to living long. Well, there really is no secret, as we discussed, but the current studies have identified that 70% of aging today is based on lifestyle, only 30% on genetics. Most people think it’s the opposite. So what this tells us is that we actually do have some control over not only how long we live – but more importantly, how well we live! It’s quality of life that matters most, to most people.
In the 30+ years I’ve spent working in this field, I’ve had the pleasure of studying this specific aspect of aging, and in the process have also had the extraordinary opportunity to meet a number of ‘super seniors’ as I call them, who are absolutely redefining what it means to grow older by both the way they think about aging and how they live their lives.
One of my all-time favorites is Bert Morrow, an 85-year old world-record hurdler who didn’t even run his first hurdle until the age of 69! And while that alone is extraordinary all in itself, what has inspired so many is that Bert says he’s actually healthier in his 80s than he ever was in his 50s and 60s – a stage in life when he admits he in fact was a physical wreck!
Seems hard to imagine that people can actually be healthier later in life than when they were younger, but through a changing mindset on aging along with a variety of lifestyle changes, Bert’s a living example and part of a growing body of evidence that supports the fact that age IS just a number – it itself, does not dictate what we can or can’t do, so don’t let it!
Part of Bert’s ‘secret’ if you will, was an adventurous spirit to try new things and his discovery of Senior Olympics where he met a whole group of people who were living the second half of life in inspiring ways! From hurdling and stretching, to inverted sit-ups, Bert is an example that it’s never too late to incorporate healthy activities into your lifestyle and benefit from them! So remember, changing thinking can change your life!