Statistics Canada tells us that a man born in 1952 will live to be 66 years of age while a woman born the same year will live to be 71. If the children of this generation live in Ontario, males will live to be 79 while females will live to be 84 on average. That’s a large difference in life expectancy in less than six decades. Research has linked the increase in longevity to improved health care and social conditions but does living longer mean aging better?
A UK study led by Professor Majid Ezzati attributes longer life to healthy lifestyle choices kicking in together with improved medical care. Professor Tom Dening of the Centre for Old Age and Dementia at the University of Nottingham has a different opinion of the data. “What this study can’t tell us is whether the extra years will be healthy ones, or just add an extra duration of multiple morbidity, poor physical health and dementia.”
Whether our remaining years are healthy or riddled with a variety of illnesses and conditions, many in the 50 to 60 age group find themselves asking secret questions of themselves almost without thinking. For instance, today’s newscast tells us that if we are up at dawn over the next couple of mornings and we look up to the sky, we will be able to see Jupiter, Venus and Mars with the naked eye in an alignment that won’t happen again until 2021. Did you say to yourself, “Well, then I’d better make a point of seeing that. I may not be here in 20 years?”
Need a new roof? Are you selecting shingles based on how long you expect to need shelter in that home? How about a new mattress – go less expensive for fewer years or more expensive because you expect to need it for many more sleeps? Do you consider your age before tackling a new project or do you take it on because it feels like the right thing to do?
“Act your age” used to mean that if you are 40 you should have arrived at some level of success in your career, be married and have teenagers. 60? White hair in a bun baking cookies for the grandkids. These days being 40 may mean having toddlers while 60 sees us deep in stimulating careers without a thought of retirement quite yet. Cookies? We buy them at the grocery store. White hair? Well, if you have a good hairdresser and a bit of Juvederm®, nobody knows how old you really are anymore.
Other 60 year olds have been retired for a few years and have taken to the open roads in swanky motor homes bent on seeing the world before age takes its toll while others don’t ever see themselves retiring because they need the income from at least a part time job. Whatever the individual situation, 60 ain’t what it used to be.
So where should you be in life? Good question but the answers are as individual as, well, each individual. Here’s what research tells us we should do. Make healthy choices in the food we eat. The less processed, the better. Exercise at least 30 minutes each day. Live in the snow belt and don’t like going outside during the winter months? Get a treadmill or yoga mat and a set of light weights and do your 30 minutes indoors. See your family doctor regularly, get the flu shot and wash your hands often. The most important thing of all may be keeping your mind active, staying social and continuing to find appropriate challenges. Purposefully keeping your mind open to new activities, new trends, new technologies and the world around you prevents falling into a bubble where your world becomes narrow and focused only on you. Forget how many birthdays you’ve had! While you’re at it, forget what your grandparents and even your parents used to do when they were the age you are now. It all comes down to this: Stay engaged as you age!