Sat on the tube recently, three teenage girls got on and sat opposite me. It may sound crazy for a thirty-something to say this but I envied their youthfulness, wistfully recalling when I was their age and in the process reflecting on how I am ageing.
Whenever someone of my age claims they feel old, or are ageing, those more senior than us often dismiss it as the complaints of youth. Try being 60 or 70 they say; being a thirty-something is nothing. Of course it is often said that age is just a number and you are as old as you feel, which conceivably means that a sprightly, fit and healthy 65-year-old could well feel infinitely more youthful than a stressed-out, overweight 25-year-old.
Good health isn't guaranteed to the young any more than ill-health is mandatory for the older members of our society. Much of what ageing represents to each of us is in our own hands, governed by our own preferences and decisions. Undeniably some people are dealt a terrible hand by fate, genetics or other circumstances beyond their control, but for the majority of citizens taking personal responsibility for themselves is the most significant factor in how they age.
We've had enough public health messages by now to know that smoking is bad for us, consuming alcohol above the recommended levels is bad for us, not exercising is bad for us and following an unhealthy diet is also, yes you guessed it, bad for us. Far too many people in their 30's, 40's and 50's are overworked, stressed out, in debt, struggling to make ends meet and not planning for a future much beyond current necessities.
Fast forward 16 years, as leading charity Independent Age and the International Longevity Centre UK (ILC UK) are asking everyone to do as part of their 2030 Vision project , and consider if the decisions being made now will be regretted by individuals, families, policy makers and society as a whole. If we age as an overweight, stressed out population of fragmented families and isolated citizens , where the passing of time represents a disintegration of our lives rather than a positive new chapter of opportunity, then we are storing up problems that as a country we simply do not have the resources to cope with.
2030 Vision aims to look at the challenges, hopes and fears that face our ageing society over the next 16 years, offering what the authors believe represents best and worst case scenarios for the future and actively requesting participation from everyone with a view to share . My contribution to this project, due for publication on 3 April 2014, focuses around the health and care of my immediate family, articulating the concerns many adult children will have as a parent ages, but taking personal responsibility for ageing well is about more than just looking after our bodies, vital though that is.
One of the great challenges within an ageing society is maintaining connectivity between the generations. Far too much of our society exists within a silo mentality, and that is also true when it comes to issues of family geography. With our global economy, many family members are often geographically isolated from each other - potentially connected only via digital communications.
Independence for the young, the middle aged and older family members is great in principle, but we lose a huge amount of intergenerational support and learning through existing in isolation. Living closer together, learning from each other and providing support to each other during different stages of our lives could be hugely beneficial, not only for seniors but for younger generations who are so busy they don't have time to think about how the way they are leading their lives may be storing up problems for their future.
Ageing in the UK in 2014 has many challenges, but ageing in the UK in 2030 could be infinitely worse if we don't start to address our attitudes towards ageing and the way in which our finances, relationships, working lives, health and care needs, lifestyle choices, living arrangements and communities are going to affect our experiences of ageing. Assuming this is simply someone else's problem, an issue for an unspecified point in the future, or indeed something for the government to 'fix' risks missing out on the enriching gift longer life could be IF we can make the UK the best place in the world to grow older.