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Jim O’Brien: We’re all living a lot longer — and we need to start preparing ourselves for this extended old age

Jim O'Brien


A growing cohort of people will live to 115, studies suggest, and if we don’t want to be a burden in our dotage, we need to act soon

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Regime: According to all the experts, the twin drillmasters of diet and exercise are key to maintaining one’s health and independence. Photo: Deposit

Regime: According to all the experts, the twin drillmasters of diet and exercise are key to maintaining one’s health and independence. Photo: Deposit

Regime: According to all the experts, the twin drillmasters of diet and exercise are key to maintaining one’s health and independence. Photo: Deposit

A bumper sticker and poster doing the rounds a few years ago advised parents to avenge themselves by living long enough to be a bother to their children.

It was meant as a bit of fun, to give a laugh to parents struggling through the rearing of moody and uncooperative youngsters.

Time has moved on and the humour has drained from the advice. The reality is, we are all going to live longer, and between pensions and healthcare we will put a strain on our children, our grandchildren and maybe even our great-grandchildren.

Many will be uneasy with this. The last thing they need is to have guilt and further expectations heaped on them, having worked hard all their lives to provide well for their children and for their own declining years.

In some cases, people have invested everything in their children and are left with little enough for their sunset days. They can be apprehensive about what might be coming down the line for them.

Meanwhile, confusion is written all over the faces of their adult children as they look to an uncertain future. There isn’t much fun on the horizon as climate change, job insecurity, housing shortages and the possibility of living with a rolling pandemic loom large.

To add to the collective disconcertion we have every guru from the ashrams of India to the couches of daytime TV telling us to ‘live in the moment’ and savour the present.

There are times you’d feel like legging it to an ashram anywhere to sit cross-legged on a straw mat and chant your way into eternity wearing nothing but a loincloth. Not a pretty sight.

 

Gap in the eternal hedge

Those of us on the downward slope and heading towards that gap in the eternal hedge have a lot of planning and thinking to do. The last few yards could go on for much longer than anticipated.

A recent study undertaken by Stanford University biologist Shripad Tuljapurkar, published in The Proceedings of National Academy of Science, found that, on average, people can expect to live about six years longer than their grandparents.

This longevity is part of a trend. In 1850 a 50-year-old in England and Wales could expect to live to 70, whereas the modern average 50-year-old can expect that he or she will live to 83.

Some studies are predicting that before the end of this century, a growing cohort of people will live to 115.

Profound reflection will be required to help wholesomely manage a longer period of old age.

This will include rethinking retirement and a new approach to the nature of family, where great-grandparents will feature more regularly and where septuagenarians could be responsible for the care of their parents.

If we don’t want to be a bother to our children as we get older, there is much we can start doing at our earliest convenience.

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One thing we can do is to live healthily in every way possible for as long as possible. A healthy lifestyle is far more effective at keeping the ravages of time at bay than a fortune stored in a pension fund, or another spent on cosmetic surgery.

I am reminded of the late Joan Rivers, who said the only thing you get from cosmetic surgery is a bellybutton that goes up and down every time you smile.

According to all the experts, the twin drillmasters of diet and exercise are key to maintaining one’s health and independence.

But sticking to a regime of activity and controlling what passes the lips are not that simple. We live in an age when the fridge is well stocked, the biscuit tin is but an arm’s reach away and the car is at the door ready to whisk us off wherever we want to go.

We take to the sedentary life with far greater ease that we like to admit.

 

Lure of the armchair

Even farmers quickly fall victim to the lure of the armchair and the television as soon as ‘doing the few jobs in the yard’ becomes too much.

After decades of hard work, it’s easy to see how a life of complete ease can be viewed as a reward but it’s not a reward, it’s a sentence.

I was never the sporty type I had neither the skills nor the inclination so I don’t take too easily to exercise. However, most mornings, I do a 10-15-minute routine of stretching and twisting.

I hate every minute of it. I’d rather stay in the bed. I follow this with a 45-minute walk, which is somewhat more pleasant, but I’d still prefer to be in the bed.

I regard these penitential rituals as an investment in my future. It is my hope that by being a bother to myself today, I will be less of a bother to anyone else as I clock up the remaining mileage. 


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