Are you interested in living to 100 years old? No? How about 90? What about a really healthy 80 year old? Would that be OK?
As a health professional and lifestyle coach, especially as I specialise in longevity, one of the saddest things I see in the western world is people’s attitude to aging. Unfortunately, our only view of ‘old people’ and aging is sickness, immobility, senility, dying and death. And even more frightening is that this view is accurate, due to our current aged population’s lifestyle for the last 80 years.
But do we have to be the same? Do we have to go down that same path of sickness, immobility, senility and poor quality aging as our parents, grandparents and great grandparents? Are you resigned to the same fate? How you ever thought about it? Most people haven’t and never will.
There are some cultures alive today who still believe in and live a ‘warrior spirit’, and some that follow success and prosperity, while others scarcity and poverty. And some, when it comes to quality health and wellbeing, especially in older age, are focused on living well and living long into their 80s, 90s and to 100 or over. What’s their secret? Attitude. Belief systems. Role models.
In Western countries, our attitude towards aging well is nothing short of disgraceful. We have so many socially conditioned thoughts, beliefs and verbal expressions that not only speed up the aging process, but create false milestones for poor aging and sickness. Some examples are ‘40 and over the hill’ or “You’re 50 (or 60) now and should be slowing down’, and these are compounded by earlier and earlier plans to retire (expire), start thinking about retirement and then nursing homes.
We say things like, “I’m here for a good time, not a long time”, and “If I ever get that old, shoot me”. The Western world’s health view is live hard, die young. And that view is seriously reflected in our health statistics and reality.
Role models and living examples are also extremely important. In some cultures, where aging well is revered and respected, and even a life pursuit, their role models are healthy, happy, active aged members of their communities – I’m talking about 80-100 year olds who are saner, sharper and healthier than people in the West who are 20-30 years younger. In Okinawa, it is a cultural pursuit to try and reach 97 years old, which is a sacred number in aging. They experience 97% less age-related disability and sickness. Stop and read that again! 97% LESS age-related disability. Isn’t that amazing?
While Australians and other Westerners are starting to experience some serious signs of disability in their 50s, and are having to ‘shut down’ and accept ‘Western aging’ disability in their 60s, 70s and are really ‘just waiting to die’ by their 80s, most Okinawan, Japanese and other countries’ elderly are living sprite, active, purpose-filled, healthy and happy lives.
Longevity is not about living forever. What I’m proposing for Westerners is a new definition of longevity, one that involves a new way of thinking. A new attitude towards aging and what aging means to us individually and collectively as a nation or culture. And with that change in attitude must come a change in lifestyle habits and practises, such as a new awareness of quality nutrition, smarter exercise, a better understanding of the aging process in humans, a renewed sense of life purpose, a deeper connection to something spiritual ‘out there’ or ‘in here’ that is driving and shaping us, and some new social conditioning.
I love life. I love learning and growing and experiencing new things in life daily. You may share this value, or have other meaningful values that drive you. Whatever they are, and whatever your life purpose and dreams, wouldn’t you want to pursue and achieve them for as long as possible? While I do accept that I don’t know what lies ahead for me in life, or how long I’ll live, I do have the goal of living to 100 or beyond, and that is by design, rather than destiny or fate. My own ideal and role models are healthy, happy, active and wise aged people, 80-100 year olds, and not the decrepit, sad and sick aged population that we seem to have accepted as the best example of elderly life and aging (with respect to all the wonderful aged people who we all know. I respect you. I thank you for your contribution to the nation. I just don’t accept that your age-related condition is the only option for my future.)
Who knows, with a simple shift in attitude and awareness, we could all be healthy, happy 90-100 year olds in the near future, setting shining examples of aging, super health and longevity for generations to come. I hope you join me on that journey.
- by Dean Bleasdale