Ageing Well

With an additional 30 years of life, on average, after retirement, how well we age is in our hands.

03 Jun 2019 / 12:13 H.

The idea of ageing affects us all no matter our age. Just ask 29-year-olds how they feel about turning 30. How about turning half-a-century old? But if we’re comparing great turning points in life, nothing comes quite close to retirement age; that is 60 in Malaysia and is the moment we officially earn the title “senior citizen”, effectively signalling the end of a phase of life.

But there is nothing really “senior citizen-ry” about being 60 these days. According to research, old age is getting younger all the time. So-called “seniors” are accomplishing great feats well into their 70s. Thanks to access to better healthcare and improved public health, life expectancy is also increasing. People are living longer today and are in a better state at “old age”. Older people today are also vastly different from their parents who settled into “old age” fairly quickly after retirement. Today’s seniors (the baby boomers) are a different breed – they are like “young old”, and still possess a certain zest for life and are not content just sitting idly by, waiting for their grandchildren to visit.

After retirement, people can live an average of 30 years more, which means we’re basically being gifted with an additional adult life or life’s third act as actress Jane Fonda puts it in her Ted Talk on the subject. This opposes our conventional ideas about retirement, a period many still see as a time to “let go” and ease into monotony. Yet, many who couldn’t wait for retirement while toiling away at work, feel a sense of disillusionment when it finally arrives. They still feel “young” and not ready to throw in the towel but without anything to do, they often end up feeling lost, increasingly isolated, become depressed and find their health deteriorating faster than it should, leading to a not-so-graceful end for many i.e. dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc.

The director of the Exceeding Expectations project organised by Columbia Aging Center at Columbia University, Dorian Block said, “Science – and our own experience – tell us that ageism begins with our own perceptions of ageing. Every time we tell ourselves that we’re too old, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.” In other words, if we buy into the idea that old people are automatically diminished, we make assumptions about their – and our – limitations that might not be true.

One of the keys to living a good “third act” is to take cue from life before retirement and keep up with some of these practices:

▶ Find purpose

We’ve had a purpose all our life so its natural to feel lost without one after retirement. Having purpose is important because it keeps the spark alive and motivates us when we wake up in the mornings. With nothing to stop you, now is the time to ask yourself, what would I really love to do?

▶ Keep an active social life

Communication was a big part of our everyday life before retirement, whether it is with colleagues or clients or meeting up with friends for drink after work. Humans are social beings, we need that human connection and it doesn’t stop in this phase of life.

▶ Go on holidays

Schedule a trip or two every year just like you did when you were working. Getting away from your regular life has psychological and health benefits. If travelling is in your blood, now you have all the time in your life.

▶ Have a routine

Daily routines keep you centred and on purpose. Perhaps, you don’t need a strict daily routine now and can take things a little easier. Keep a weekly one instead, set aside days in the week for connecting with friends, going for check-ups or for an art class.

▶ Stay up-to-date

Staying in touch with what’s going on around you will help you feel connected instead of isolated from the world. Keep up with the latest whether it is the news or technology. In fact, learning to use a smartphone can come in handy with food and grocery delivery services at your fingertips.

▶ Keep physically and mentally active

We may slow down with age but simple exercises like a slow walk, strength exercises or stretching can be helpful. Research shows that exercise helps preserve our cognitive function. It also helps keep the body active and limber.

▶ Keep up with your check-ups

Be sure to go for your checkups and if you are dealing with certain health issues, be vigilant on following up with the treatment needed and regular check-ups. This will ensure that you have a good and healthy life, going forth.

Resetting your life

In her TED Talk on Life’s Third Act, Fonda who is 82, says, “We should all be asking: How do we use this time? How do we live successfully?” She postulated that the appropriate metaphor for ageing is a staircase – the upward ascension of the human spirit (the only aspect of a human being that is not subject to decline and decay) that evolves upwards, and brings us into wholeness, authenticity and wisdom. While life may have trampled on this spirit from abuse, neglect or broken relationships, “perhaps, the task of the third act is to finish up the task of finishing ourselves,” suggests Fonda.

By studying the first two acts of our lives and doing a life review, you may discover that what you used to think about yourself and a lot of things you thought was your fault, really had nothing to do with you. Thus, making it possible for you to forgive the past and yourself. By transforming how we relate to the past and the meaning we assign to it and our attitude about it, we can effectively change the quality of our life in the third act. Cognitive research shows that it also benefits neurologically, creating neural pathways in the brain. So, perhaps that is the central purpose of the third act – to go back and to try, if appropriate, to change our relationship to the past, says Fonda.

Information retrieved from various online sources including TED.com.

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