My son came home from school with a cute project he had done for the 100th day of school. The kids were asked to think about the number 100, and to make a picture and little essay about what life will be like for them at that age. The posters were on display at the school, and I got to see into the minds of 6 and 7 year olds and their views of aging. Like the rest of society, aging is thought of (even in the very young mind) as something to be dreaded and full of decline and loss of bodily function. My son’s essay contained a mixture of these negative thoughts (“I will eat apple sauce and mashed potatoes, I will also eat pudding” – according to him because older people need to eat soft food) but also some positive ones as well. He thought he would likely be in a rocking chair (such a tired stereotype that we absorb at a young age) but he also thought that he would still be playing the video game Skylander and he would still have all of his teeth. Contrasted with some of the posters that summed up dreadful pictures of decline (and even death!) I was happy that he at least had some positive views about becoming a centenarian.
Why are the views of those kids so important? Well, because their chances of living to 100 are exceptionally good, actually. Their own grandparents who are now in their 60’s – 80’s are more likely to live reach that milestone and also remain in relatively GOOD HEALTH getting there than in any other time in history. Advances in medicine, access to good health care and good lifestyle habits are all factors which make the journey to 100 more likely to happen, and in a vibrant way.
There is a lot of inspiration to be gained from those who are in their late 80’s, 90’s and beyond who show us possibilities for aging that we might not otherwise be aware of. Public figures such as Johanna Qaas, Bernice Bates, and Bette Calman are all teaching or practicing yoga, staying fit and healthy, and functioning much the same in their 80’s and 90’s as most do in mid-life or even younger.
That is not to say that there is only one way to age “well”. However, I do think that we need inspiration to move beyond ageism and to understand that life in our later years can not only be good, it can be amazing. What are the functional areas that are most likely to drag us down? Balance, strength, mobility and flexibility, agility, and speed/power are all areas of function that should be addressed when we want to live with full function and vibrancy.
There is much we can do now to ensure that we will age the way we want to, and live full, joyful and long lives. We need community, purpose, and good lifestyle habits including nutrition and exercise that addresses functional aging. What is your vision for yourself in your later years?