When I was in my 20s, I viewed 60 as the precipice of life and death.
Most of my elderly relatives passed away in their 60s and so the expectation at that time was you’d retire, take a trip or two to Florida in the winter and drop dead at a buffet restaurant with a heart attack.
I recently turned 60. My perception has changed.
That doesn’t mean I don’t have the possibility of dropping dead of a heart attack in the next 10 years; lots of people still do that in their sixth decade.
But I don’t feel like it’s inevitable.
I won’t say 60 is the new 30, but it’s certainly a new 60 compared to 30 or 40 years ago.
Aside from the changes in medical technology that have allowed us to find and solve problems with our circulatory system in a more timely fashion, that is, before the heart attack rather than after it, we’ve also learned a lot more about lifestyle changes that benefit us.
The new 60-year-old recognizes that with a decent diet and a regimen of regular exercise, there’s another two or three decades of life ahead.
It was not uncommon, when I was young, for newly retired men to buy the reclining chair for the living room and sit all day either watching television or gazing out the window. With the fear of imminent heart disease looming, they tended to opt for rest, and we all viewed retirement as a time to put one’s feet up after a life of hard labour. Today’s new retiree is much different.
Most have not had a life of hard labour and so their body is not completely worn out.
In fact, most have been exercising their brains more than their bodies and so they have a variety of interests that they are anxious to pursue once they have the time to do so.
The recliner, bought as a retirement gift by family, friends or co-workers, may well develop a coating of dust when the newly retired individual finds him or herself busier than ever.
In my peer group, most of us are still working, and will likely continue to do so for another five to 10 years.
Even so, there are some pretty elaborate post-retirement plans being developed that have nothing to do with gawking at the television or watching the cars drive by the house all day.
In essence, the new 60 has some medical help in providing a better health perspective during retirement, but even more than that, there is a fundamental shift in the mental perspective.
If the cliché, ‘you’re only as old as you feel,’ has any truth to it, then most 60-year-olds are benefiting from the fact that they view themselves as still being youthful. This is, in fact, part of the reason that many are working well into their 60s; they just don’t feel like they’re old enough to retire and they continue to believe they are contributing to their workplaces in a significant manner.
At one point, not too long ago, I think society viewed 60 as the time when one was considered ‘over the hill.’
Now, at the age of 60, many people are just strapping on their climbing gear, heading to the peak.
It has redefined our perception of ‘old age’ and, frankly, posed a significant challenge to a national pension program that was built and funded on the perception that 60 was, in fact, the beginning of a short period of government dependence.
Graham Hookey writes on education, parenting and eldercare (email@example.com).