My two tips to make sure you never get old
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You can deal with getting older by staying fit and positive, says Christine Webber (aged 72 and three quarters)
Like most of us, when I was young, I rarely thought about getting older. But 10 years ago, I realised it was time I did, if I wanted to age differently from how my parents had.
Of course, not all families are the same, but my mum and dad seemed old for a very long time. They retired in a conventional sense, took no exercise to speak of, and mostly just pottered around. They did spend a day a week volunteering at the hospital, and occasionally had a holiday, but their lives were certainly not action-packed. As a result, they appeared to regard themselves as elderly when they were much younger than I am now. I didn't want to be like that. And asking around, among friends and colleagues, I realised I was far from alone. So, I wrote a book about positive ageing, called Too Young to Get Old.
A decade on, loads of us are fitter than our parents were at our age and we view ourselves as younger and more viable than they did, and we're determined to stay that way.
This is good news because the NHS and other services are plainly struggling with our ageing population and, unless a miracle happens, the situation's going to get worse.
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During my research for Too Young to Get Old, I came across the intriguing term 'compressed morbidity' - which just means shortening the period during which we die. The idea is that we live well for longer - we're mobile, capable and active - until we finally succumb to a short-lived last illness.
How, I wondered could this be arranged? It seemed ideal. No strain on families, no care-home bills, and no sitting around nursing age-related aches and pains.
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Sadly, we won't all achieve this, because many terminal illnesses come out of the blue, no matter how healthy we are. However, there are plenty of conditions that are avoidable if only we put effort into altering our lifestyles.
At this point, you're probably thinking that an old boy down the road has been drinking heavily since he was a teenager and he's still going strong. Or you're remembering that great aunt Bertha smoked like a chimney till she died in her sleep at 97. Or that cousin Ted ate red meat, butter and cream every day and outlived his thin, health-conscious brother.
There are always exceptions!
But the truth is that most of us do better when we keep our weight down, take regular exercise, reduce our intake of saturated fat as well as stodgy food and sugar, drink alcohol only in moderation, and don't smoke. That's just how it is.
I'm sure that everyone reading this is aware of current health advice, so I won't labour the point except to say there's a strong possibility that if you adjust your lifestyle to take these messages into account, you're likely to live well, for longer. And isn't that what most of us want? Longevity itself is no fun. After all, who wants to live to 110 if they spend the last 30 of those years immobile, isolated and miserable?
So, physical health is important - but how we think counts for a lot too.
I had the privilege of interviewing Lady Glenconner, author of the best-selling book Lady in Waiting, at the Jarrolds event last week. This amazing woman had never written a book before - and she's 87! Her life hasn't been easy; indeed, she's had more than her share of tragedy. But she has such a 'can do' attitude that she seems decades younger than her age. At the end of her book, she says she aims to live to 100. This seems like a good ambition. And maybe one that the rest of us should have.
Certainly, the positive and ambitious messages you give to other people and indeed to your own brain, are important in keeping you young.
Here are two tips to help you:
1. Never say: 'I'm too old to change'. Naturally, you can choose not to change if you don't want to, but that's not the same as being unable to. Because of the advances in neuroplasticity, we now know that the brain can form new connections throughout life. This means that we can change how we think, and we can learn new things. It might take us longer, but we can do it.
2.Never groan as you bend or sit down. I know it's satisfying, but do you think Lady Glenconner does it? I very much doubt it. And it gives a very unhelpful signal to your own brain, and to other people, that you are reaching your sell-by date. I know that ageing isn't a bundle of laughs, but it is much better than the alternative! So do remember that however old you are, you can still work at being the person you want to be. And you can also have a lot of fun staying too young to get old.