An earlier version of this appeared on Linked Pulse
Getting older isn’t what it used to be! Boomers have had 15 or more years added to their lifespan since they were born – the first generation where this has happened.
Sure, there have always been some individuals who lived to a ripe old age. But now 10,000 people a day are turning 65 in America. Many of them do not see themselves as they saw 65 year-olds when they were younger adults. They don’t think of themselves as old. Old applies to their parents, many who are still alive. Boomers are not old but ripe for action! It is not all a rosy picture. For some, getting older can still mean infirmity, declining mental functioning and disease. These people might live longer in a progressively declining state.
Enter Healthy Aging
The evidence shows that a healthy lifestyle can delay disease and infirmity. The clinical term is compressed morbidity – living well until close to the end. With increases in healthy aging, these extra years are a new period in life without established normative behavior. Yet, it is the new normal for some and has the potential to be the new normal for many others. So what’s in store for Boomers, now and as they get older? They will need to buck traditional societal expectations. But as they showed in their youth, Boomers are not afraid to go against the grain. To get an idea of what can be, we can turn to Japan. Their shift to an older population is a decade or more ahead of ours. A 1998 survey of Japanese people between 50 and 79 years of age showed a distinct shift in attitude about getting older. 70 percent had a traditional interest in the community. The other 30 percent were more youthfully oriented. Their interests tended towards new challenges, travel and participation in sports. That was two decades ago. Now the rest of the industrialized world-aging curve is catching up. But many things are different. Our knowledge of health and healthy aging has advanced. So has the rate of change in just about everything.
While tradition stereotypes about aging still exist, behaviors are changing. One sign is the growth in wellness tourism – where people travel to enhance their well-being. Wellness tourism in America is already a $167.1 billion industry, and is growing, thanks mainly to Boomers. How does this show up in society? Healthy and fit people start doing things that were not expected of their age group.
Boomers on the Slopes
Once again, we can look at what happened in Japan in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. There was a perfect storm of sorts. Newly introduced short, fat, parabolic skis made skiing easier and less stressful on the joints. Older adults hungry for action took full advantage of this. The ski industry, recognizing an opportunity, courted them with discounts and special packages. Today, skiers 50 and older comprise a fast growing segment of the US ski industry. Skiers 65 and older ski almost twice the number of days as the national average of all ages.
20 years ago, these same people would have thought it to be age-inappropriate for “senior” to be engaged in an activity like skiing. Boomers would like to push the term “senior” forwards to their parent, many of whom are still alive. But even there, the term doesn’t fit when it comes to activity since some people are skiing well into their 80’s. With more people pursuing healthy aging, more will be challenging what is age-appropriate behavior, and it won’t be limited to skiing. The people in this new epoch will push traditional boundaries, and savvy businesses will quickly seize the commercial opportunities. What is left hanging is a label – “seniors” –that doesn’t fit! What does? Stay tuned; people in this demographic will define themselves by their actions.
John I. Todor, Ph.D., is a psychologist, innovation and business change leader. As a professor, his research focused on the human ability to learn and adapt across the lifespan. As the co-founder of Living55Plus.com, he curates the research on living a rich and extended life and translates it into everyday ways to reap the benefits.
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