When we are working in the National Parks we spend a lot of time talking to retired people. They are the majority of people who visit the national parks, especially during the week. They are often bringing in their grandchildren to foster a spirit of adventure and give them a sense of history. Yesterday I spent some time talking to a woman who was bringing her great-grandchildren to the park and keeping up with them on the battlefield trail.
I have a hard time telling how old people are. Generally adults fall into three categories: John’s age (young adults), my age (middle), and my parents’ age (older). Many of the retired people I meet fall into my parent’s age group. I have been meeting more and more people who fall into my age group – except they look so old!
I was talking to my mom about this – she turned 80 this summer – and we agreed that 80 sounds pretty old. But Mom said she doesn’t feel old! And she doesn’t act old either: she and Dad both stay active, are engaged in the world, and work hard to stay up to date with technology. They are both great at texting and using their smart phones!
I recently read a study done by the University of Michigan on how old people feel versus how old they are chronologically. They studied over 500 people between the ages of 70 and 104 and found, on average, the people studied felt 13 years younger than their actual chronological age. Among adults who are healthy and active, the age gap is even greater. So I may be 56, but I feel like I am 40. My mom may be 80 but she feels like she is 60. And when we meet people who are our chronological age, we might think they look older than they feel. It is not until we become physically frail that our chronological age and our perception of our age comes closer together. The lead researcher of the study, Dr. Smith, said that it is good for us to think we are younger than our chronological age. It shows we have a sense of hope and a feeling of well-being.
It is okay for me to think that other retired people look old – as long as I remember that they probably feel just as young as I do. And this getting older thing is okay too – as long as I keep my focus on God and others.
12″The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
13 planted in the house of the Lord,
they will flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They will still bear fruit in old age,
they will stay fresh and green,
15 proclaiming, “The Lord is upright;
he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”