Lifestyle

TIME FOR SENIORS TO ‘THINK OUTSIDE THE CASKET’

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Take the initiative to explore new horizons and never let our age stop us from trying new things that interest us.

Old age creeps up on us, and seems to speed up after we have passed the 70th milestone.

One fine morning, we wake up, look in the mirror and reality hits us literally in the face – we are no longer spring chicks, more like autumn turkeys! Where have all those years gone?

The thought of mortality is always there, unexpressed but silently acknowledged. Until the first signs of aches and pain remind us the clock is ticking away.

How do we want to spend our remaining years? By slowing down, by giving up fun activities for more serious ones as befitting our age, and according to society’s playbook? If this is what makes us happy and gives us peace of mind, by all means, go ahead.

But if in our hearts we want to sing, dance and celebrate life, and we are still able to do so, let’s just do it! Let’s break free from the shackles of social stigmas or self-imposed restrictions that are holding us back.

We all need a wake-up call sometimes before it’s too late and we are staring at Death from a hospital bed. Do we want to spend the rest of our lives merely existing instead of living?

The fastest way to speed up the ageing process is to think we are old and ready to die. We all have to die one day, but that shouldn’t stop us from having fun, adventure, romance and happiness while we still draw breath.

Live with no regrets

We’ve heard it before: 60 is the new 40 and 70 the new 50. Yet, there are many among us senior citizens who view themselves as 60 going on 80, and 70 going on 90. They think old, look old and act old. No wonder they feel they already have one foot in the grave.

We are not sixteen going on seventeen with a whole life ahead of us. Rather, we are heading towards the boarding gate for final departure. Let’s board with bagsful of happy memories, not regrets.

When we think we are old, we are. Our thoughts are very powerful. They govern how we behave and react. Upon reaching 60, there are those among us who retire not just from our jobs, but from everything that used to define who they are.

The first thing they give up is their physical appearance. In their minds, they are thinking – at my age, nobody gives me a second look, so why spend hard-earned money on unnecessary grooming.

Or they think they have been married for years, there’s no need to look good for their spouse. Their wardrobe consists mainly of auntie or uncle-type clothes in various funereal shades of black, brown and grey. If comfort is the reason, fine. But if they dress or act to please others, they are allowing others to dictate how they should be living their golden years.

Just going out, mixing with like-minded friends, learning a new skill will lift the spirits as we age. – PHILIPPE LEONE/Unsplash

Be true to yourself. Let others criticise all they want.
The men withdraw from social life, preferring to remain at home watching football on TV or hang out at the kopitiam or club with their buddies, discussing their favourite subject – politics and the state of the economy.
Few would consider taking up a new skill or activity to keep their minds sharp or join an outdoors group for some exercise. For the women, their stock answer to invitations to go out and enjoy themselves at a karaoke lounge, for example, is ‘Aiyah, old already, cannot sing!’
If you really love to sing and it makes you happy, don’t give it up just because you think you can’t sing anymore due to ‘old age’. You are suppressing the inner voice that is yearning to come out.
Many retirees allow themselves to go downhill upon retirement. They put on weight by avoiding all manner of physical activity. Their excuse – oh, at my age, I shouldn’t exert myself too much. Over time, they build up a host of health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.
They become frail and sickly, and dependent on others. They shun any form of physical exertion for fear of falling or hurting themselves. No one is suggesting they do marathons, climb mountains or shoot rapids.
Regular simple exercise such as daily brisk walking, stretching, and strength training is sufficient to ensure we remain fit in our senior years. Yet they make no effort to do so, and give a dozen reasons or excuses why.
Oftentimes the most painful (and expensive) lesson learned is when we have recovered from a major surgery or a near-death experience. That is the most effective motivator to get us to embark on a healthy lifestyle.
But why wait for that to happen?
Take the initiative to explore new horizons. Be fearless. Never let our age stop us from trying new things that interest us. When we spend our retirement years living a sedentary lifestyle, our muscles will soon atrophy. We will start complaining of aches and pains all over.
Before we even reach our 70s, we become dependent on all kinds of aids, from walking aids to hearing aids and every other aid in between. It’s time to get up from our favourite lazy chair and exercise. Don’t fancy exercising on our own? Round up some friends for a qigong session, or join a group that enjoys going for walks in the park.
The social interaction is a boost to our health. Make sure these friends have a positive influence on us. I can’t think of anything more depressing than spending our precious time hanging out with friends who talk about nothing but their pains and aches, who gripe about everything under the sun and who share only criticisms about others.
Get rid of the doldrums and go out. Feel the sunshine and the breeze on our skin. Take time to smell the roses, play with our grandchildren. Recharge. Be grateful that we can get up in the morning to greet another new day.
As is often repeated, growing old is a privilege denied to many. So true. As we age, we see the number of our former classmates, ex-colleagues slowly dwindling with each passing year. Don’t turn down class reunions. It could be the last time old childhood friends can meet up.
Have fun, travel, explore, discover.
This is the time to spend on yourself. Be selfish. We are never too old to pick up new skills, make new friends, even fall in love again. All it takes is a change of mindset and attitude.
The world is our oyster if we let it be. It’s time to get rid of the ‘I’m too old to…’ mantra and replace it with a new one: I’m still young enough to pursue my interests, to follow my dreams, to enjoy life!
Celebrate our second prime. The best is yet to come.
Constantly remind ourselves to make the most of our golden years, not waste them waiting for Death to knock on our door.
It’s so easy to fall into the ageing trap. Life is a choice. Choose wisely to make the last chapter of our lives truly well-lived. Time to think outside the casket!
Lily Fu is a gerontologist who advocates for seniors. She is founder of SeniorsAloud, an online platform for seniors to get connected and enjoy social activities for ageing well.
(The article was first published in the print version of The Star on 13 March. The e-version is accessible at https://www.thestar.com.my/lifestyle/family/2024/03/13/time-for-seniors-to-039think-outside-the-casket039)

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