According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the average life expectancy in the United States is set to rank well behind many other nations by 2030. The predicted average age for women is 83.3 years, and for men, it is 79.5 years.
Is It All About Mindset?
The simple answer is “yes” according to the nation’s active octogenarians and nonagenarians. When we think about active seniors, celebrities such as Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, and Tony Bennett come to mind. These individuals are now in their nineties and continue to do what they love with no thought given to their age.
What you’re probably not aware of is the growing number of “superagers” who continue to display mental acuity and physical strength long after they are supposed to decline. While some older adults are genetically predisposed to remaining active and healthy in their later years, it is possible for everyone to push the boundaries of aging.
A 2016 study by David Weiss entitled “On the Inevitability of Aging” looked at how negative age stereotypes impact the memory and physical activity of seniors. He discovered that those who eschewed the notion that age inevitably means an overwhelming decline in physical and mental activity enjoyed happier and more active lives. Weiss found that adults who believed in the stereotype had poorer memory performance, on average.
It Isn’t Just Celebrities That Keep Active in Old Age
An increasing number of regular people are discovering that with the right mentality, it is possible to lead an active life, even as they approach the century mark. Wilhelmina Delco was once a lawmaker in the state of Texas and only learned to swim in 2009 when she was 80 years old. Today, 88-year old Wilhelmina exercises in Austin’s East Communities YMCA swimming pool five days a week. Although arthritis prevents her from swimming laps, she still gets in the water to exercise with dumbbells.
95-year old Mildred Walston is legally blind but has just enough vision remaining to stay active. She only retired from her job at a candy company in 2016 because of her eyesight problems; she had worked there since 1940. Meanwhile, the Barger brothers, 91-year old Joe and 95-year old Warren, are too busy winning gold medals at the National Senior Games to worry about the deleterious effects of aging. Warren won five gold medals and set a national record in the high jump in his age group. He plays golf, pickleball, and badminton several times a week and says that most people are “old” because they allow themselves to believe in the stereotype.
4 Things to Do to Beat the Stereotype
No one expects you to break national records in athletic events in your nineties, but you can stay fit, active, and healthy for longer than you think. Here are four simple steps.
A healthy adult should take 10,000 steps a day; taking less than 5,000 steps a day means you live a sedentary lifestyle. A 2014 study published in the journal PLOS ONE involved researchers from the University of Bristol in the UK looking at over 200 people with an average age of 78. Those who engaged in less than 25 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a day received 50% more prescriptions over the next five years than the active group did.
Volunteers in the most active third of the group averaged 39 minutes of exercise per day. Members of the low activity group were at twice the risk of hospitalization than the extremely active group.
Once you reach retirement age, 1,500 calories a day is sufficient for women, and 1,800 is the right amount for men, according to Professor Mats Hammar of Linkoping University in Sweden. When we overeat, we are more likely to store excess stomach fat layered around the organs. This event negatively affects the metabolism and increases the risk of diseases such as diabetes.
Look at Nutrition
In retirement age, it is easy to gorge on junk food, but this is a mistake. The so-called Mediterranean diet is the best option. This means eating lots of vegetables, fish, olive oil, nuts, and grains, while steering clear of processed food. Keep red meat to a minimum and enjoy a few glasses of wine a week.
Don’t Forget Supplements
Supplements such as vitamin D and selenium are among the best you can take for long-term health. Vitamin D deficiency causes a wide range of illnesses, and a significant number of older adults have a Vitamin B12 deficiency. This is a serious issue, as lack of B12 increases the risk of blood and neurological diseases.
The bottom line is that age is only a number. Forget about the negative stereotypes you hear and get active today. If you are an 85-year old couch potato who wants to complete a 5k, start training today because you can do it. With the right mindset come improved mental acuity and physical strength, as well as an overall sense of wellbeing.