As a healthy 60-year-old from “long-living stock,” researcher and sociologist Lyndsay Green realized she was likely to live a long time, and wondered what she could do now to live well right to the end. To find answers, she interviewed 40 self-reliant, “successful” seniors from across Canada who ranged in age from 75 to 100, and who came from all walks of life. She shares their stories and what she learned in her book, You Could Live a Long Time: Are You Ready?
Each of the seniors warns you’ll have a tough time aging if you don’t know yourself and can’t accept your aging self. Their lives are a testament to the importance of a good attitude, personal grooming and maintaining an interest in people and the world around you. Green notes that all the seniors she interviewed looked terrific and were engaging: “They seemed to be making the effort to be their best selves, not merely because it felt good to look good, but as proof that they were still fully alive.”
The book is a treasure trove of insights and enlightening anecdotes, including:
“To keep your dignity, you need to give up your pride.” Betty, a life-long perfectionist comments she learned to forgive herself for no longer being able to do things in a certain way: "My problem is worrying about what others think, and I have to remember that people who are real friends won’t care.”
“Getting beyond status and hierarchy is important if considering post-retirement work or volunteering.” Peter, formerly an executive with a big title and large staff is 75 and works by choice, but with few resources. He knows “some people think this job is beneath me” but continues, because he believes “by doing this job, I’m making a difference….”
“To retain your independence, you must learn to accept help.” Hugh, 98, and Betty, 90, still live independently and are grateful to have care workers who make that possible. When writer Ram Dass had a stroke and became dependent, he discovered “that it was my vulnerability which opened me to my humanity.”
“You don’t stop laughing when you grow old: you grow old when you stop laughing.”
“By modifying your activities, you can stay active.” At age 88, pianist Arthur Rubenstein continued his high-level concert career by playing fewer pieces and practising them more often. For others, it was cross-country skiing more slowly.
To retire successfully, forget about retiring. Most of the seniors interviewed continued in the workforce past age 65 and advocate working as long you are able. When unable to find work in their field, some tried something entirely new: Like Michael Gates Gill who found happiness and fulfillment working at Starbucks after being pushed out of the advertising industry. He even wrote a book about it. None of the seniors regretted working too long and some wished they could have worked longer.
If you give up on your body, it will give up on you. The seniors' advice is to stay fit (although caution against exercising like a 20-year-old), eat properly, get regular checkups, and take prescribed medicines and recommended tests. Ram Dass, the writer mentioned above, told Green he believes repeatedly forgetting to take his blood pressure medication contributed to his stroke.
You Could Live a Long Time: Are You Ready? also covers topics such as managing finances, leaving your home and the aging brain. It’s relevant for people of all ages, especially those on the brink of retirement or in retirement.