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Ageing well

A great many people do age well.   Many have strong bodies in later life because over the years they have regularly looked after their health.  31-12-2009

“Don’t look for the flaws as you go through life
And even when you find them
‘Tis wise and kind to be sometimes blind
And to look for the virtues behind them”
(Victorian scrap book)

Health is a bit like an insurance policy.   The earlier you start being aware of it’s importance the better.   Invest in it when you are young and then there will be more to draw upon in later life or in times of trouble.   It pays to look after yourself and your health, and it's never too late to start.   Every day whether or not we like it, all of us human beings will get that little bit older.   Ageing is inevitable.   This can be a depressing thought because there’s nothing we can do about it.   Or is there?   We certainly have no control over our destined life span, but we do have some control over the quality of our lives.   Growing older is inevitable, but it is not a disease.   It will happen to each and every one of us, irrespective of colour, class or creed.

Growing older is perceived to be an advantage for a truckle of cheese or a fine bottle of wine.   With the passing of time age and maturity, merits quality.   But for us mere mortals, ageing has been traditionally portrayed as a distinct disadvantage, and something, which as the years go by merely destroys quality.  This depressing and ageist attitude has been allowed to prevail for far too long.   But I'm delighted to observe that over the past few years the image of age has been changing
Today people are living longer thanks to medical advances and a better standard of living.   A survey in 2002 showed that there are now more 60 year olds than 16 year olds in the UK.   Older women in particular are increasing in numbers.   According to the Pennell Report of 1998, there are more than 12 million women over the age of 45 in the UK - that's one fifth of the British population, and the numbers are increasing.    In Britain a woman's life expectancy is now 79 years.   British women can expect to enjoy some 30 years of postmenopausal life.   Menopause occurs on average at the age of 50 years.   This means that a woman still has over a third of her life to live after menopause.   Given these facts, we can see how essential it is for modern woman to look after herself, medically and physically, nutritionally and mentally, emotionally and socially, if she is to benefit from this increase in life expectancy.   We will look at all these issues in more detail later on in the book. 

It’s interesting for us to contrast today’s modern granny with her counterpart of 100 or even 50 years ago.   Traditionally was portrayed with grey hair, glasses and dentures.   She would most probably have been a full time housewife and mother.   She would have cared for her husband looked after their home and reared their many children - always putting others needs before her own.   As was expected of her, she would have cooked, cleaned, knitted and sewn.   She would have walked to do her shopping, and to take the younger children to and from school.   Granny’s washing would be done by hand, wrung out by hand, and hung out on the garden line to dry, and finally starched and ironed.   Alongside her husband, upon whom she depended both emotionally and financially, Granny would find time to dig the garden and help grow fruits and vegetables for the family to eat.
Granny might have been 47 or 74 - it would be very difficult to tell her age. If she had survived the childbearing and all that physical hard work it was little wonder that her back was bent and that she looked exhausted and old.   Even a reviving cup of tea wasn't a consolation.   If she was interested to read the future in her tealeaves what could she hope to see as her future?   Not a lot.   Predictably her husband would die before her and once the children had grown and flown she would resign herself to being old and past it.   Consequently instead of optimistically looking forward to her future, she looked back and made do with memories of her past. .   Life had precious little more to offer her, the popular conception of old age at that time
Compare her with today’s modern, active, proud granny.   If she holds up her cup, it’s quite likely to be an award for an achievement at work, or winning in sport, or success with her hobby.   This confident woman satisfactorily juggles a career and her home life.   She takes good care of her partner and the kids, but unlike traditional granny, she also spends time attending to her own health and needs.   Modern gran’s actual age is very difficult to tell - she maintains her looks as best she can!   She has developed her own interests and is an active and interesting woman.   She may well be financially and emotionally independent in her mature years, and she expects to remain both physically and sexually active for many more years to come.   Mostly unheard of in traditional granny's day!

We mustn't disguise physical and mental problems as "just old age".   Ageing and inactivity are not the same thing.  The trouble is that today we increasingly use our brain instead of our brawn to the detriment of our health.   We are moving from one physical extreme to another and alarm bells are ringing.   By ridding ourselves of one problem - that of physical hard work - we are now in the process of creating other serious medical problems.   Our cars, washing machines, computers and labour saving devices free us from physical stress and strain on the one hand, but too much sitting around in our cars, in front of TV and computer screens are causing problems on the other.   Heart disease, stiff joints, osteoporosis and obesity are a few examples of health related problems caused through lack of physical activity.   If this isn't bad enough, even more worrying is the fact that we are spawning a generation of couch potato children.   We are rearing offspring, many of whom won’t be fit enough in their adult lives to support us, their sprightly parents and grandparents, into our old age.  

I consider myself fortunate to have had children of my own - two sons now in their late forties.   Of course I was a child bride!   I was also a little ahead of my time, in that I went against the flow during my early active working years, by juggling a young family and a career.   Back in the 60’s this was generally frowned upon.    But nowadays it has become the norm for a young woman to go back to work when she has children.  Today I am lucky enough to have young children around me again.  The past eight years have been very productive, and I have been blessed with grand children, three lovely little girls and one bonny boy.   Perhaps it is they who have caused me to become acutely conscious of time passing, and of our human fragility.   This was highlighted for me 14 years ago, when I had my own life threatening experience of breast cancer.   This event made me realise that none of us are invincible, and from the experience I learned to appreciate my life even more than before, and I felt, and still feel, the need to live life to the full.   My old granny used to say to me when I was a young girl "Live for the day - but keep a cautious eye on the future"   Generally speaking I have done just that so far in my life, and I intend to continue doing so for as long as possible.    I can assure you it gives adequate scope for an interesting life
Today’s woman be she a fabulous forty year old, a feisty fifty year old or a super sixty year old is living in an exciting time.   Women are fortunate to be growing older in this stimulating, although uncertain time in history.  Thanks to medical advances we no longer have the threat of death, or serious disability, from insidious diseases such as smallpox, TB, polio and some cancers.    Gone are the social and economic restrictions of past generations.   Education, careers, opportunities and travel are available to those who want to take advantage of them, irrespective of gender, colour, class or creed.   Far from being a time of life when one begins to switch off to settle down to a boring and quiet retirement, this is an age in, which there is every opportunity to indulge one's fancies.   It could be to simply pursue a lifelong hobby, or to have the courage to start out on a second career.  So how best to prepare ourselves to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves?  We must however be realistic, recognise our limitations and keep our feet firmly on the ground to avoid disappointment.  Good health is a major step towards enabling us to pursue our ambitions, dreams and hopes.   As the old Arab proverb says, "He who has health has hope, and he who has hope has everything."

In continental European the majority of older men and women are still held in respect by their junior family members, and the elders have an obvious role to play as traditional heads of the family.   They are revered for their years and wisdom.   Family youngsters struggling to come to terms with the daily problems of their own lives still seek their elders’ advice.   Today it’s not unusual for older continental European folk to still live in the family house and for them to take an active part in looking after children by helping to run the house and provide meals.   Many continental European older woman are powerful, worshipped, and to some extent iconic, with youngsters in the family seeking to emulate her.   She appears self-confident, is well respected for her maturity, and has a strong presence.   Youngsters soon learn to undermine her at their peril.  

Sadly in Britain, the family unit as such appears to be fast disappearing.   To some degree this has been brought about by the high incidence of divorce in Britain, by the rising numbers of single mothers, and by the many unmarried young partners cohabiting.   These trends are present in Continental Europe too, but in Britain we seem to have gone faster and further down these roads.   The traditional role of an older grandparent or grandparents, living within the family unit and being available to lend a hand or give advice, is now quite rare in the UK.  

Many families in the United States compared to the continental European family appear to be heading for the other end of the spectrum.   With US youth culture, many people approaching maturity seem to be in danger of being written off as too old, not useful, or not interesting any more.   But conversely we could also argue that the US has almost abolished old age, when you see how fit and active many of the older members of some communities are.   Many of these “Peter Pan” types seem to have totally disregarded the restrictions of old age and appear to enjoy an everlasting joy of life. 

But then again, many Americans have a huge psychological problem regarding ageing and death, and many Americans appear to have a greater fear than other nationalities of getting old.   Radio, TV movies and US newspapers are obsessed with youth, which may explain why so many American women (and increasingly men) resort to cosmetic surgery.   Vast amounts of money are spent in the US on treatments, lotions and potions in the hope of hanging onto looks and holding back the years.   What concerns me is that this American attitude, this preoccupation with youth, can be a strong influence on the attitudes of young people in the States towards older people.   Through the movies, TV, magazines and the Internet, this influence is felt not only in the States, but is also a major influence on young people in the UK and most other parts of the world.

However what is also apparent from the media, is that many of the ageing population in the States do appear to be fortunate enough have good facilities, equipment and amenities provided to assist them both socially and materially in their later years.
A male friend of mine in the UK Publishing business told me recently of an experience he had at a private dinner party in New York.   Over the dinner table a powerful American female magazine editor confided in him that she would soon be 40 years old.   Having told him the worst, she burst into tears declaring that her life was over.   She seriously felt she was past her prime, and past her sell by date, declaring that because of her advancing years she was convinced her relationships would suffer and from now onwards everything was downhill!   Poor dear, she was obviously living in the superficial fantasy world of gloss and hype, and had yet to get in touch with herself and the real world.
Maybe she should heed Shirley MacLaine’s advice.   “I don’t need a man to rectify my existence.   The most profound relationship we have is the one with ourselves”!

With all this confusion as to where we mature people fit into today's society, it's little wonder that those of us here in the UK can be made to feel vulnerable and lost too.   Maybe it's an Anglo-Saxon attitude to accept ageism and to not be upset with the way younger people are viewing their elders and writing us off?   Well that's as may be.   But for some of us it's an opportunity to grasp the nettle and re-write the rules.   It's time for us, women in particular, to take a long hard look at ourselves and to decide who we are and even more importantly to determine what we want to be within society.   If we don't like what we see - now is the time to do something about it.   Now is the time to put an end to the inherent ageism in our society and to make it clear that we older people do matter.  

The climate is right.   We can't keep looking back over our shoulders at how it used to be.   We must look forward and cut a new and exciting path for ourselves, and for the future generations of mature folk, to make life what we want it to be.   If we don't do something now we'll get increasingly trampled down by the young.   I'm reminded of the US novelist John Updike, now in his early 60's, who said that people of his generation (60 plus) are the only ones in the history of mankind who have never had a spell on top.   He makes the point that for the first half of their lives, those people now over 60, had conformed to the dictates of their parents and grandparents.   Grown up and finally rid of the constraints imposed on them in their childhood, they found themselves living in a period of time where the emphasis had shifted from reverence of age to the worship of youth.   To their chagrin they realised that their children had the top spot, not them, and they felt cheated out of the respect that age, until then had deserved.   There must be many people of the same age as John Updike who would agree with his sentiment.    

In short it's time we stopped whinging, took control and managed our ageing.   People aged 45 and over account for 50% of the population of the UK so it's high time we stood up and were counted.   Heaven knows there are plenty of us, enough to have a voice and the ability to exert the power we deserve.  Our numbers are growing by the minute and we need to be heard in order to influence government policy in the many areas, which affect mature people such as health, housing and pensions.  
We must speak up on all aspects of our lives - it’s imperative for us to make ourselves a force to be reckoned with

We women in particular need to review the role of mature people, in order to set a new and exciting course for future older women.   I for one don't intend to sit down and shut up.   And why should any of us - think about it?   Many mature women have experience and are financially better off than ever before and, they have confidence and skills, which have been acquired through education and years of hard work.   These could be of a sporting or artistic nature, and perhaps this is the time in life to re-apply those skills by teaching them to youngsters.   By passing on these skills many women can gain satisfaction from the fact that they are giving back to society a little of what brought them happiness or financial gain throughout their lives.  Great pleasure could be reaped from passing on skills and tricks of the trade, and pride from teaching and encouraging young people. How rewarding it must be to watch youngster’s blossom and perpetuate one’s own talents.

To make revolutionary changes and a difference in the attitude to older people in today’s society we need leaders and role models.   Are you up to it?   It will take stamina, determination and a positive mental attitude.   But as we will discover in this book there are ways, practical ways, to improve the quality of our later lives.   In the following chapters we look at our fitness and overall health. We discover which exercises and activities are of benefit.   We find out which medical checks could improve the quality of our lives, which foods are nutritious and those that are harmful.   We learn how the content of our food affects our general health and ask if food supplements are necessary.   We talk openly about emotions and relationships and other problems, including finance that worry many people as they get older.  Armed with information and an optimistic attitude, we finally look at ways to develop or apply our talents, in order to help not only ourselves, but also society as a whole.  In a special bonus section of the book/programme we learn to care for our looks, put on a happy face, and enjoy the rest of our lives.  


Copyright and thanks to Diana Moran http://primetimelife.tv

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