Training to be old

Getting old

It’s official, old people are taking over the world.

We’re everywhere like a rash of adolescents with liver spots and more time on our hands. The over 60s are now the fastest growing section of society and the BBC have just announced that their average viewer is aged 61. But wait – where are all the over 60s presenters and news readers? Where are the oldies in dramas on TV dating, still holding down the day job and dancing in the kitchen to Ed Sheeran? And don’t even get me started on the lack of older women in those roles. OK so Mary Berry is the new pin up – hurrah and double hurrah, but on the whole age discrimination is alive and well. A survey this week revealed that almost half of the over 50s feel that they are overlooked for promotion, ignored in shops, and by other drivers or bartenders on a regular basis. The world is simply not keeping up with the fast changes amongst the older generation. The stereotypes are seriously out of date. We are no longer knitting nanas but more likely to be shopping in Zara and still at work well into our 60s, than at home watching Countdown, going to a whist drive or making tray bakes for the W.I. Get with the programme please everyone.

It’s weird isn’t it – getting old is the one thing that all of us will do (with luck) and yet it’s the one club no one actively wants to belong to. All of us are surely trainee old people – and yet even in our 50s and 60s many of us are in denial rather than in preparation for our last life phase when we will be less mobile and less independent than at any other time of our lives. Now that we are all potentially living so much longer (our life expectancy on average rises by 5 hours a day in the UK) we might all usefully think about how to make the last phase of our lives the best – when our hip replacements kick in and little by little most of the things we love doing are either exhausting, impractical or impossible and our friends start to fall of the perch one by one. Because being properly old is still no party for most of us. We – the Baby Boomers – are now entering that stage of our lives and for the generation that invented sex and drugs and rock and roll the transition is going to possibly be the cruelest.

There are genuinely things we can do to prepare for this last tricky phase of old age and I’m not talking about pensions, which since I am caught in the pensions gap, is a sore point, and in any case it’s all a bit late for that now I’d have to be stashing away tens of thousands every year to make up for the state pension being put back as far as it has been for me and my contemporaries. There were protests but honestly I can’t believe how long some of us are having to wait for the pensions that we assumed we were going to get at 60.

According to the very brilliant Sir Muir Gray who is a leading and distinguished physician on the effects of old age (amongst other things) and has written some fabulous books on ageing– ‘Sod 60’, ‘Sod 70’ and now ‘Sod Sitting get Moving’ – exercise is by far the best training we can do. When he says exercise he means serious stuff in serious amounts. Men, he says, should be doing at least the number of press-ups per day as their age, women should ideally do weightlifting and he recommends upping your exercise every year. The older you get the more activity you need to do in order to hold back the effects of ageing, or even reverse them.

The biggest danger for older people health wise is not tripping over in the snow, or catching the flu but  sitting down. And we all know how much the old like a nice sit down and a cup of tea.  The worst thing you can do for an older person therefore is to offer them a seat on the tube or treat them to a nice run out to a Toby carvery. Exercise he says is the wonder drug to combat the effects of ageing. This is the training we need to be doing. It’s not easy, and I for one now look like I am raising the alarm rather than jogging if I run round the block, and my cycling trousers with undercarriage nappy mean that I very much hope that my new found invisibility as an older woman does actually kick in. Alas I invariably meet everyone I know in Waitrose on such occasions. Such is life.

Exercise then is what we need to do, and maybe we trainee oldies in our 60s and 70s need to make this happen for the people who are housebound and in care homes. If there was one health campaign worth doing it might be for us all to take over church halls and run exercise classes for the old. It’s happening in Denmark already wouldn’t you know. ‘The Move it or Lose it’ movement with classes for seated exercise is a brilliant initiative too. And maybe for us the 60 somethings it’s win win as we will be getting fitter at the same time.