"How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?"
This is how Satchel Paige, the Hall-of-Fame baseball player and homespun philosopher who played professionally well into his fifties, would respond when asked questions by incredulous admirers about his age. Those who marveled - teammates, opponents, and observers alike - certainly wondered how old Paige was... as he performed at a level far exceeding expectations for "someone his age" (even though no one, besides Paige perhaps, really knew how old he was. They just knew he was "old"). But for Satchel, age measured in birthdays wouldn't determine his physical ability. It was how he felt, melded with his own beliefs and expectations, that mattered more.
And what about you? How old would you be if you didn't really know how old you are? How would you determine this? We're told to "act your age" when growing up. OK. But what's that supposed to feel like when you turn 60, 70, 80... (it's those numbers ending in "0" that tend to grab our full attention)? No doubt, we grow up with visions of what it means to grow older even if we may unconsciously fear the inevitability of this aging process that naturally forms the life cycle. It seems quite normal to imagine what life will be like in our 20s and 30s and 40s...and even in our 50s. But do we give the same thought to imagining life in our (gulp!) 60s, 70s, 80s...or even in our 90s?
Probably not...because we don't like what we "see". And we don't particularly care for the promos regaling the "benefits" of 24-hour emergency alarms (when we fall), electric chairlifts (to haul our asses up the stairs), prescription drugs (for just about...you name it), or assisted-living communities (where you're doomed to wilt on the vine) and... Such a bright future, isn't it? So, naturally, we stop thinking about it. We shouldn't. And here's why.
It really doesn't have to be this way. If we gave more thought to the aging process - what it means to be "old" and when it is that we "arrive" there - we could better understand what it may mean to age successfully. Because so many of the infirmities suffered by the aged today have less to do with "growing old" and more to do with chosen lifestyles that appear to foster the stereotypical visions we've cultivated and that lead to the inevitable frailties we've come to expect (and accept) as we grow older. We often end up feeble and frail... because we expect to be. After all, that's just the way it's supposed to be. Right?
We seem to know, at least intuitively, that our expectations typically lead to our experiences.
And we tend to accept more readily what we expect in advance, even if we don't always give much thought to these expectations about aging. It's time we do because the clock is ticking on our ability to change these expectations. Before time expires on us, it would be wise to start paying more attention to what we unwittingly expect (and accept) with aging and begin to realistically reshape these expectations. We can most certainly expect more of ourselves in our senior years. And we should. In fact, we need to expect more and not accept anything less. Why? For own good and the good of our changing demographics.
Something to consider - About 10,000 individuals are turning 65 every day. At this rate, by the year 2030 there will be more (senior) adults older than 65 than there will be children under 18.
Think about it - this demographic shift will have a potentially profound impact upon the health and well-being of our society. It will also impact our culture in ways, both sociologically and psychologically, that will require a different viewpoint of the aging process if we wish to harness the potential benefits of a changing perspective on aging.
Baby boomers have challenged and helped to redefine so many of our long-held cultural beliefs, beginning way back in the sixties. From sexism to racism, preconceived notions and beliefs have been upended and laws put in place to eradicate such beliefs (with, albeit, more progress still needed). This one about ageism - more accurately, about healthy aging - is now one to which baby boomers (and the rest) need to turn their attention. And it may likely take the collective will of the baby boomer populace to upend these preconceived notions of "old age". But why shouldn't it be this growing sub-group? Who else will do it? Who else, frankly, is in a place to understand it?
We can rely upon multiple prescriptions to manage multiple chronic conditions resulting from unhealthy diets, unmanaged stress, sleep deprivation, and sedentary lifestyles (all choices we make). Or we can write our own prescriptions for healthy eating habits, stress management, and physical exercise (all choices we can make).
We can continue to expect our body parts to wear out and simply replace them with artificial joints. Or we can correct the malalignments and dysfunctions that accumulate over time, eventually leading to grinding joint action and the need for replacements, by writing prescriptions for corrective exercise.
We can resign ourselves to using walkers like training wheels when we get older. And we can simply expect to become stiff, immobile, overweight, to develop osteoarthritis, sarcopenia, and a whole host of other ailments because this is what we expect to experience as we age. Or we can change our habits to add more physical movement, functional fitness exercises, and healthier consumption patterns that will maintain (even improve) our whole fitness, thus warding off the chronic conditions and physical frailties that otherwise arrive prematurely as a result of the choices we make.
We can expect the medical profession, along with medical discoveries, to keep us from dying...which is vastly different from living a fully engaging life. Or we can choose to push ourselves out of our comfort zones and move ourselves into healthier spaces. It's possible. It's also necessary if one wishes to live an engaging, active life in the extra years given in this 21st century.
It's not too late to change. But the older we get and the more we accept the "expected", the more likely we'll fall to what really has become the premature infirmities caused by immobile lifestyles and deficient diets. It doesn't have to be this way.
How do you wish to experience your "golden years"?
What good is fiscal health if physical and emotional health have been hacked? Not much. So take stock of your daily living habits and change your investments of time and energy to generate the kind of returns that will lead to a healthier version of you. Pay it forward. Good healthcare begins with you. Get rid of the excess baggage - both physically and emotionally. Get moving and awaken the parts of you that have become dormant over time, largely due to inactivity. This isn't about becoming 25 again. But it is about becoming the best version of you...however old you are. It's within your imperfect control if you're willing. It also takes faith in yourself and trust in the process.
Wherever you may be along the continuum of life, it may be time to reflect upon the query posed by Satchel Paige - How old would YOU be if you didn't know how old you are?