I struck up a conversation with a woman in the airport during a recent business trip. She shared that she was headed to Myrtle Beach at the invitation of her younger sister who was, “taking this old lady on a trip.” Later in the conversation the woman shared that she is 65 years old. I suggested to her that 65 is nowhere near “old.”
Contrast that with the remodeling contractor who came to my home recently. He was full of energy and talking about ripping out drywall and taking down beams like I talk about taking a walk. Later in the conversation he revealed that he is 73 years old and has no plans to stop working in spite of some health conditions.
In light of September being Healthy Aging Month, these two encounters had me wondering about the impact of attitude on healthy aging. The Irish Longitudinal Study on aging (TILDA), at Trinity College Dublin, reveals that participants with positive attitudes towards aging had improved cognitive ability and overall health. Lead researcher Dr. Deirdre Robertson is quoted as saying: "The way we think about, talk about and write about aging may have direct effects on health. Everyone will grow older and if negative attitudes towards aging are carried throughout life they can have a detrimental, measurable effect on mental, physical and cognitive health."
We live in a culture where there are constant negative attitudes about age. Staying positive requires a fair amount of swimming against the tide, or said another way, resilience. I suspect that the folks involved in the two scenarios have attitudes that come more or less naturally based on life experience and temperament.
However, with a bit of effort everyone can work to change attitudes about life as we get older. What is important is to keep meaning and purpose alive. For many people the easiest way to have purpose is to maintain employment or volunteer activities. The idea of retirement at age 65 came about when the life span was much shorter.
According to a British study by the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Age Endeavour Fellowship, people who delay retirement are far more likely to describe themselves as being in very good or excellent health. Retirement increases the likelihood of suffering from clinical depression by 40 per cent and the chance of having at least one diagnosed physical condition by about 60 per cent.
Not retiring does not necessarily mean staying in the same job forever. There is a famous quote (source unclear) that goes like this, “The meaning of life is to find your gift; the purpose of life is to give it away.” I believe that we can spend a lifetime uncovering new gifts and finding ways to give them away. The first step is to believe that there is good life to live at any age.
Be Well on Purpose!