When recently asked if old age isn't for sissies, Joan Collins (82), replied, "I don't know, haven't got there yet. Ha!" I can only imagine her outrage at new research which found that Britons classify people as 'old' at 67. The same study found that just 5% of the nation's over 65s consider themselves to be 'old' and, on average, they feel 25 years younger than they are.
The truth is, the normal biological process of ageing starts at about 30 but does not cause significant effects until you're 90 plus. The problems that develop in your seventies and eighties are due to three other processes - loss of fitness, your attitude and disease. Admittedly, you also need a bit of luck, but only one fifth of diseases are due to your genes, most are due to the environment we live in and how we live in it.
Why then, do we persist with the idea that as soon as you quality for retirement you're old? People are like trees - at their best in their 60s, 70s and 80s.
Attitude is the key here and there is a clear - and detrimental link - between public perceptions and personal outlook. Here in Britain, we love to depict the pensioner as a sort of curmudgeonly character shuffling around, bent over their walking stick, complaining about anything to anyone who will listen. Just look at the 'elderly crossing' sign which lines our roads! This is a classic example of the outdated image of ageing.
The over 65s contribute over £60 billion a year to the economy through employment, informal caring and volunteering. They are supporting their own children with childcare, taking on third careers and travelling the world and if they gave up helping disabled partners, neighbours and friends the NHS would collapse TOMORROW. More importantly, they're loving life! 42% of over 65s feel happier now then ever before and a fifth (22%) say their age gives them a sense of confidence. Almost a third (28%) say, if they could pick their age, they would be the same age as they are now and nearly half (46%) want to live to 100.
The majority of this age group may well be defying this negative image of ageing but it has more sinister consequences for some. The picture society paints of 'old age' as an inevitable and irreversible period of decline can accelerate the onset of ill health as it sometimes means that people stop taking care of themselves and don't seek or accept or even get offered the help which they may need - the very help which could enable them to stay independent and carry on doing the things they love for longer. That's why I am getting behind a new campaign from SpringChicken.co.uk calling for Britain to stop stereotyping old age.
So, if you are over sixty, just say Sod60! Or Sod78! Or whatever age you are, or screw 60! Or Screw70! If you are in North America! Sod It, Screw it just get more involved!
So, if you are under sixty next time you feel the words 'old', 'pensioner' or 'elderly' on your lips, pause. You may well be hastening someone's decline. And the best present next birthday? No matter what age, a resistance band or a set of weights.