We tend to slow down as we get older, but is there a danger that many of us slow down too much?
In my last article, I talked about positive attitudes to ageing, and the growing body of evidence indicating that positive attitudes can help you lead a longer, happier life.
Living a longer life is great, but I think it’s important to not focus purely on the idea of living longer. After all, staying active and having a positive, forward-looking mindset is a good thing in itself – even if you don’t end up living longer.
Here’s a story which captures, I hope, the importance of staying active and hungry as you get older. On holidays last year, I met a retired British man, a keen walker who rented a house on a Greek island for a few months every year.
We met while waiting for a ferry to another island. It was low season in Greece (September) and the government wanted to encourage island tourism, so the ferry was free. May as well take advantage of the free ferry, he said as we made small talk, and do a little island-hopping.
It turned out to be a long day. The ferry was delayed so everyone waited around for a few hours. The ferry ride, too, was a slow, six-hour affair. By the time we arrived, it had been dark for hours. I was tired but energised upon arrival, excited at being in this new and unfamiliar place.
And so was he. By chance, it turned out we were staying at the same hotel, and we bumped into each other again later that night in a taverna in the village centre. He knew the island well, and planned on staying for a week. We got talking about local walks, and I mentioned that I had been reading a very useful online blog documenting detailed walks on this and other islands.
‘That’s me!’ he replied. ‘That’s my blog!’
His enthusiasm was infectious and his face lit up when talking about Greece – the walks, the landscape, the people he met, the flora and fauna. He walked all the time, day-long 20km hikes across rocky terrain under the fierce Greek sun.
I’m an active person and I love walking, but I don’t think I could have kept up with his schedule. Indeed, by the time I would be up for breakfast, he was already out and about, hiking across the island.
Later, while reading his blog again, I realised he was much older than I had assumed. He was, I calculated, 77 or 78.
His wife had died some years earlier, so he lived on his own. Like most people his age, he had experienced some health problems, which resulted in a couple of spells in a Greek island hospital. Walkers can be a hardy breed, but he was no daredevil; during the pandemic, he curtailed his activities significantly, accepting the inevitability of a more isolated and socially distanced life.
Lockdown in the UK was difficult and dreary, but he stayed active, making sure to climb the same mountain every day so he would be ready for a return to Greece.
He eventually made it back to Greece in the latter half of 2020 but a planned six-week stay was curtailed to two, as unexpected health problems forced him to return home.
More disappointments followed in 2021, with travel restrictions resulting in three flights being cancelled.
But finally, a few weeks before we met, he made it back to Greece, and got back to walking, exploring, photography, meeting old friends and doing all the things he loved in the place that he loved.
His take was that there was more to life than not dying from Covid; he wanted to return to living his best life, focusing on the future and the good times that lay ahead, making new memories.
Ageing well is really about keeping your appetite for life. Don’t buy into unhelpful ageist attitudes or dismiss ideas because your automatic thought is that you're too old to consider them. Think of my retired walker friend and stay hungry.