The request came from Colin Milner, founder of the International Council on Active Aging. I was flattered. For those of you who follow my work, my outlook is not surprising, but I wanted to use my year-end column for 2019 to expound on my perspective.
I also reached out to Moira Allan — the co-founder and international coordinator of the Pass It On Network, an internet peer-learning platform that connects positive aging advocates from around the world—to share some of her counsel. Highlights from Allan below.
In my world, healthy aging is all about work. Engaging in work with meaning in some fashion—either full-time, part-time, seasonal, consulting, or pro-bono and volunteering — is what keeps us healthy as we age. When we feel relevant doing work we love, with people we love, and making a difference in some fashion in the world around us, we live richer lives.
Its sidekick is learning. The most inventive people I know frequently get involved in learning or self-improvement efforts. It’s fun. When you do so, everything else around you becomes more interesting. When you’re acquiring knowledge, you notice the world around you. You spot things. You listen better. Your mind turns on.
So if you can just do one thing to make a change right now, learn something new. If you can’t make it work related, do it in the context of your life. Take a course in glassblowing, or an acting class. Go on a learning vacation—a cooking school in Ireland, or a wooden boat-building course in Maine. Sign up for a series of lectures at your local community center or library. Something as simple as participating in a monthly book club can get your mind engaged.These two trends keep us mentally, physically and socially sharp, curious and engaged in the world around us.
Without question, the financial cushion from paid work contributes to healthy aging. For women, working beyond 60 can provide the key financial security from the very real threat of poverty in their 80s. “Financial problems in retirement and senior debt arise with insufficient income as a result of lower lifetime earnings and less in savings, costs of family caregiving and divorce,” Cindy Hounsell, the founder and president of the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement, known as Wiser, a nonprofit organization dedicated to women’s financial education and advocacy, always reminds me when we get together to discuss women and future financial security.
For many of those age 60 and beyond continuing to work is the fourth pillar of a retirement plan and a vital component of healthy aging. (I wrote a column for MarketWatch and interviewed AARP’s Debra Whitman on this trend. I also wrote this column on the value of older workers and why the workplace of the future must include older workers citing Mercer’s study. For more on the Longevity Economy, check out AARP’s new analysis.)
Start at 55, for instance, thinking of what you might want to do at 60. Take a class to see if it interests you. Moonlight or volunteer doing that job to see if it really is appealing. Talk to people who have retirement jobs and see how they make it work for them in terms of work-life balance and flexibility, autonomy.
This stage of life is like a patchwork quilt. It is not linear work typically, as one’s primary career probably was. You might do something for a few years, then switch to something else, or you might do a few things, or jobs, at the same time. There are no rules.
But even if it’s a situation that’s not paid, it’s the act of getting out and contributing and learning that keeps us healthy. It’s the adrenaline that comes from that activity. It stimulates us mentally and physically and socially and makes each day count.
Finally, my perennial mantra for healthy aging in 2020 and beyond: Kerry’s fitness plan—financial fitness, physical fitness and spiritual fitness. It’s a powerful trio.
When you’re financially fit, you have options about the kind of work you do and it allows you to follow passions you may have once set aside. You can pursue work you love, and that can contribute to healthy aging from a pure psychological standpoint—joy.
When you’re physically fit, you have the energy, positivity and can-do spirit that comes from fitness. It’s not running fast miles, mind you, but walking 20 minutes a few days a week, swimming, some kind of fitness regime and eating with an eye to nutrition.
Spiritual fitness via mindful mediation, yoga, tai chi rounds my program out. For me, that’s walking my dog in the country quiet for miles each day. It’s a ballast, a source of strength to weather the stresses that can come with aging. (It also keeps me fit.)
Now to get a global perspective on the outlook for healthy aging, I checked in with Allan, who I also interviewed for my book “Never Too Old to Get Rich.”
I first met Allan, who lives outside of Paris, when I was attending an Encore.org conference at the beautiful Cavallo Point: The Lodge at the Golden Gate in Sausalito, Calif., where we sat on the front porch and chatted about a range of issues concerning work and aging. I was charmed and impressed by her energy and global vision.
In addition to the Pass it On Network, she founded 2Young2Retire-Europe. She serves on the councils of EURAG, Europe’s oldest federation of senior organizations, and the International Longevity Center—France, and is the international liaison for Old’Up, the cutting-edge French association leading the way for those 70+.
Here are Allan’s 6 tips for healthy aging:
• Nurture a clear vision of who you really are and what you love to do. There’s satisfaction in staying abreast, playing a role, and making a contribution.
• Understand how it can serve. The choice is limitless: your neighbors, a child who needs mentoring, climate change, isolation, ageism. Find out how you can best serve yourself, your community, and your society.
• Accept that you are responsible for your choices and that your day-to-day choices will shape your future.
• Build a team, and find a mentor. I am blessed to have Jan Hively, as my mentor, friend, and co-founder of our global Pass It On Network community. Don’t go it alone
• Be alive to what’s happening around you — keep learning. You can learn anything online at little or no cost. Read, watch videos, but whatever you do, keep learning. Find a course, preferably interacting with others in similar situations to yours, either virtually or in real life.
• Forget about perfection. Take an idea, try it, evaluate, refine, try again. The courage to start is the primary investment in any endeavor.
Attitudes about aging are changing and that in itself is, well, healthy. “The force of numbers and economic realities are major factors,” Allan said. “Minds are stretching. The World Health Organization (WHO) says stop thinking chronologically, think functionally. The 100-year life concept is making inroads. We’re charting a new map of aging. Like a product, there are the early adopters, but we’re moving to a tipping point on aging.”
And her parting thought, which makes me grin: “A very encouraging emerging trend is toward ‘longevity planning’ as opposed to ‘retirement planning.’”
On that upbeat note, I wish you a healthy 2020.
Kerry Hannon is the author of “Never Too Old to Get Rich: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting a Business Mid-Life.” She has covered personal finance, retirement and careers for the New York Times, Forbes, Money, U.S. News & World Report and USA Today, among other publications.