Why You Should Channel ‘Young-Old’

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One of the most inspiring features I’ve read recently was an interview with Ali McGraw in the Telegraph. Actually, if I’m really honest, what was really compelling was how brightly the very brilliant whites of her eyes shone. Here was the visibly lined face of an 80-year-old but by God did she look as if she was having fun.

This is how I want to be, I said to myself tearing it out to stick somewhere. I wrote a year ago about hoping to find the grace to embrace ageing with acceptance and dollops of humour. The big 5-0 is no longer a gazillion miles off. It’s an age when many ‘getting old’ statistics begin and yet for a good many of us, who are more aware of exercise and eating well, we might –who knows- only be half-way through our lives. I know everyone feels 27 on the inside but many of us feel younger on the outside too.

It’s certainly how the Dutch man, 69-year-old Emile Ratelband felt. In 2018, Ratelband told a court in Arnhem in the Netherlands that he did not feel ‘comfortable’ with his official chronological age, which did not reflect his emotional state – and was preventing him from finding work, or love online. Doctors had told him that his body was that of a 45-year-old and he wanted to change his date of birth accordingly. Ratelband compared his quest to be identified as younger with that of people who wish to be identified as transgender – implying that age should be fluid.

It’s an anecdote that the journalist, former head of the Downing Street policy unit who sits in the House of Lords, Camilla Cavendish recounts in the opening chapter of her (must-read book), Extra Time which she wrote to challenge our notions of ageing. Its title, Extra Time will of course be familiar to football fans, a point in a match when there is “everything still to play for”. It is also a period when many ‘elderly’ are just getting their second wind.

In 2017, Cavendish reported that entrepreneurs are more likely to employ people over 50 in UK start ups than the under 50s. In the US, 55-65 year olds are 65 per cent more likely to start a business than 20-34 year olds. “It’s not old age that gets longer, it’s middle age, “Cavendish insists…”we need to stop lumping everyone from 60 to 100 together and accept it’s normal to be vibrant and capable in your 70s.”

There is, as Professor Marting Green, CEO of Care England says in her book, “ a casualness of ageism, people say things they would never say if the word “old” was replaced by gay or black.” Language clearly matters.

Her book is also a thoughtful exploration of what different countries are doing to build a world of extra time. She meets many “rebels against fate” who are refusing to dress demurely, stop work or be carted off to care homes. By 2020, for the first time in history, there will be more people on the planet who are over 65 than who are under 5: that’s more grandparents than grandchildren.

Japan, she reports is the one of the few countries that has begun to effectively address the ageing population. But even more than that, it has identified that some of us are what the Japanese call “Young-old at 80” while others are “old-old at 65”. But what sort of mindset does it take to be a young old?

For anyone interested in outlier communities in the world, where people live far longer than average they may want to watch Dan Buettner’s TED talk on how to live to 100 plus. Buettner is an explorer, author and founder of the company, Blue Zones which specialises in understanding longevity and what makes for a meaningful life. Okinawa at the Southern end of Japan is one of the world’s blue zones which has the highest rates of centenarians. Central to Okinawans’s way of living is Ikigai, a Japanese word which translates as “reason for being”. It is quite literally your purpose, the reason you get out of bed every morning, the thing that puts a spring in your step. It is a fusion of the practical and spiritual which connects work, family, duty and passion.

When half of all 75-year-olds acknowledge that TV is their main form of company in Britain, something has gone disastrously wrong says Cavendish. So how to put this right?

Finding this sense of purpose will naturally differ for all of us: learning new skills, taking up a language or an instrument, a foot out of our comfort zone, caring for grandchildren or elderly parents, giving back to our communities or blossoming in a new career.

Many retired people have a sense of falling off a cliff floundering to find themselves, even if they initially welcomed more leisure time. People who have climbed every ladder in life presented, bravely meeting challenges along the way, suddenly find themselves with no more rungs to climb and no compass. Their biggest fear is not being relevant.

What else helps you be more young-old? Regular exercise, enough sleep and (ideally) a plant based diet are recognised as a boon for cognitive health but so too is nurturing social contacts – our community is key – and challenging your brain.

One of the most interesting sets ups that Cavendish comes across is the age diverse, cross-class village in the Netherlands where older people are not socially isolated. At the Humanitas Deventer retirement home, six students live with 160 elderly people aged between 79 and 100. They receive rent free accommodation in return for spending 30 hours a month with the residents: helping with chores, giving computer lessons or just making conversation.

The elderly residents come to life hearing about the students’ exams and relationships; they especially love dissecting the events the morning after. This is a place where real relationships are forged, not a token activity such as when school children come to visit to sing a song, but where deeper friendships which develop over time. The more time that Cavendish spends here, the more she reflects that if you aren’t treated as old- as somehow apart from everyone else – you probably won’t feel as old.

It’s a choice to be young-old. A choice which hopefully comes with many pleasing consequences. Ali McGraw chose that path with a later life filled with Pilates, yoga, rescue animals and community work. What else do we need to remember? That age does not define us but it is our very personal set of passions, dislikes, interests and network of complex human relationships which do.

Ageing

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Back in my early twenties, a friend and I pondered the conundrum of how we would know when we were grown-up. I am not certain I know now some four decades later but it popped into my mind because when you read this I will have recently celebrated my 65th birthday. And that sounds pretty grown–up.

For me now, being grown up is about living more easily and smoothly and contentedly with myself and other people, not getting my knickers in a twist as often, being happy with small things (my husband’s eyes crinkling when he smiles, a good cup of coffee, a sunny day, flowers – and nuzzling my three horses) and also being able to deal with big stuff better.

While I can see the blessings of ageing, I do want to feel and look as good as possible while the years tick by. Over the last 18 years, my co-author (and valued friend) Jo Fairley and I have written up all our best discoveries in our Beauty Bible books, alongside the tried & tested products rigorously trialled by our ten women consumer panels. I love natural beauty and health and our latest book (the eighth!) The Ultimate Natural Beauty Bible is stuffed with award-winning products and information. Read More…

Pro Ageing

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Now that I’m on the fast track to 50, I find myself head to head with the idea of really getting older. I guess when I was in my 30s, and even up until my mid 40s, I didn’t feel any pressure to ‘stay young’. I’ve always wanted to look good for my age rather than try to cheat it. Having worked as a Health & Beauty Editor on glossy magazines for years, I know the power of a good face cream, have always slathered myself in high SPFs as well as understanding that what we eat and staying fit and healthy is just as important in maintaining youthfulness.

I’m always wary of quick fixes and marketing hype – even though I want to be the first to know which type of yoga the ‘A’ listers are doing, or what new ingredient is going to save our skin. And while loving all the gloss, being an insider meant I was witness to the tricks and secrets: how models are made to look the way they do on the page. At photo shoots, I learned the power of great hair and make-up, and of course, that re-touching can work major miracles (especially in this digital age).

Yet I don’t find any of this negative. Quite the opposite, because I saw the transformations, and knew what the models looked like when they walked into the studio. Beautiful breeds that they are (with longer legs, amazing features, poise), within the model remit, they come in all shapes and sizes. Some have impossibly fine hair, some not so great lips, others (eeek) even have cellulite. The greatest models are a blank canvas, and can, chameleon like morph into the modish looks of the time. I love that. To me, the glamour of high fashion – great photography, make-up, hair, and the clothes – is escapism. It inspires. Read More…

The joys of ageing, and is it all about the free bus pass?

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This month I am absolutely thrilled to be sharing the VH community platform with the wonderful Linda Randell, who writes about the joys of ageing. When I first read this I had tears in my eyes and together with Gill, I am overwhelmed with the magnificent support and passion that so many of you have given to us. We continue to grow the community spirit, so do let me know if you would like to participate. I hope you have a wonderful November and do stay in touch over on Facebook. Linda, take it away! Claire x

Well, 60 wasn’t too bad. There was a certain novelty about it, and you get your bus pass! 65 last year did upset me, possibly because it was exactly half way between 60 and another number! (Don’t mention it!) I felt a little glum on approaching 66 a few weeks ago, so it was time for a change of attitude!

I’m very grateful to still be here of course, but that wasn’t the point. I had to think exactly what the problem was, and it seemed that it was apprehension about what happens towards the end of life. I’ve seen first hand with close relatives and elderly friends and neighbours the loss of dignity that can come with ageing and how slow and painful the decline can be. Frightening and depressing.

So, here’s the plan!! Time to change the way of thinking about age and find good role models. Well, I might as well start with my lovely Dad, who as it happens, was born 100 years ago and passed away at the age of 91 from old age. He wasn’t on any tablets at all, and had achieved his ambition of still dancing at the age of 90. He loved his sequence dancing – very good therapy for body and mind. I can remember him grabbing hold of me once and showing me how to dance the latest foxtrot. We were in the local library at the time, which brings me to another joy of ageing – you don’t bother much about what people think! Read More…