Since many of my recent columns have been about the pandemic, I figure It’s time for a change of subject. Recently I’ve been wondering about something that’s no doubt of interest to all of us. There are a couple of questions I‘d like to explore.
What‘s it like to grow old? What makes for the best possible life after retirement?
If you’ve reached an age where you consider yourself “old,” maybe you glory in your new freedom to explore the items on your bucket list. On the other hand, you may be mourning the inevitable losses that come with aging. If you’re not yet “old,” do you picture yourself becoming decrepit and depressed in your old age? Conversely, with all your life experience, you could be looking forward to years as a wise elder, a sort of guru to those around you.
I have to say I haven’t given the subject of growing old a whole lot of thought. Even though I’m in my 80’s, I’ve pretty well managed to ignore the inevitable signs of aging. I‘ve denied the significance of skin that doesn’t heal the way it once did, my recent forgetfulness, the fear of falling and the miscellaneous aches and pains previously unknown to me.
All of this led me to search for geriatric Canadians who appear to be living interesting and meaningful lives.
In my search for a role model who was in their 80’s and still passionate about life, I came across David Suzuki, Canadian academic, environmentalist and science broadcaster. At age 85, Suzuki is a passionate science broadcaster. He must, I thought to myself, have some wisdom about maintaining his mental clarity in old age. He’s still going strong. In a CBC podcast with interviewer Anna Maria Tramonti, he shared his views on staying active late in life.
“You’re still full steam ahead,” notes Tramonti. “Do you feel old?”
Suzuki replies that it depends on where he is and what he’s doing. He gives the example of a recent project, building a tree hut for his grandchildren. Over the years, he’s built four other tree huts for the youngsters in his family. This time was different. He was finding the project exhausting. The thin skin on his arms was scraped and bruised just from carrying the wood and it took him far longer to do even the simplest of jobs.
Yet, Dr. Suzuki insists that aging is not a disease. it’s a natural life stage and our society’s obsession with aging is unnatural and unhealthy, he says.
We can learn a lot from Suzuki’s management of this late stage of life. Surprisingly, he has no interest in retirement. He has chosen to work passionately to educate the public about science and the threats to our world’s survival.
He also has a list of what’s important if we’re going to enjoy a healthy old age. The role of
genetics can’t be denied, he says. That’s not something we can change. His other recommendations are up to us.Physical exercise is high on Suzuki’s list. Our bodies are designed to move. He was a runner until his knees gave out years ago. At 85, he still goes to the gym to work out on a regular basis. "It’s my medicine,” he says. He also believes diet is key to his wellbeing.
Finally, this senior citizen tells us that his major strategy for living a fulfilled old age is as follows: He just doesn’t think much about aging.