As people live longer, mature age is being redefined. Far from viewing retirement as the final curtain call, a growing number of retirees see the milestone as the start of something new. It’s a chance to explore the world, pursue an adventure, learn new skills, graduate from university and celebrate the best of a whole new life stage.
Surveying 5,000 Australians over the age of 50, The Australian Seniors Series: 100 Year Lifespan Report reveals that three in four see retirement as more of a transition than an event. More than half (57%) believe the term ‘retired’ should be retired, saying it no longer reflects their experience or expectations of ageing.
Many find their self-perception is at odds with the way society views them. More than half (53%) of those surveyed say they are more open to learning new things, more capable (50%), more interesting (33%), more energetic (32%) and healthier (30%) than the stereotypical image of a retiree.
Living out loud
There’s no doubt Nina Marzi is smashing senior stereotypes. The Russian-born artist has lived in Australia since 1946, but when she moved from Sydney to Byron Bay at age 94, an unexpected meeting with a woman called Feather changed her life.
“I was completely resolved to die when I came here,” says Nina. “I told my son that I would probably only live for a few months upon arriving at Byron Bay because I had already done everything that you are supposed to do before dying.”
But the opposite happened. At an International Women’s Day event in Mullumbimby, Nina, now 99, found a new friend, a new skill and a new lease on life.
“When I first met Feather, she asked me have I ever been drumming,” says Nina. “I told her no, but I had always wanted to learn to play the drums. She said, good, on Tuesday I will pick you up for your first lesson. Be ready! Well, at that time, I was having trouble walking. I went everywhere with my walking frame, but when Feather said she would pick me up, I didn’t want to let her down.”
Feather, 84, also lives in Byron Bay where she is a well-known and well-loved regular on the dance floor at local music venues. When she took Nina to that first African drumming class, she didn’t know what to expect, but the experience left Nina so invigorated that she didn’t want to go home.
“I had never felt so alive,” says Nina. “After the drumming I was ready to throw away my walking frame and go dancing. Playing the drums was like fresh air filling up all the cells in my body. It completely woke me up!”
The two friends still meet once a week to play drums, dance and go shopping together. “It’s not about age, it’s about attitude,” says Feather. “Nina has a wonderful attitude to life and her enthusiasm is contagious.”
Another inspiring senior, Dr Wendy Dobinson, decided it’s never too late to learn something new and at the age of 50, she enrolled in her first ballet class. She is now 62 and hooked on dance.
“When I was 50, my youngest son decided to take up ballet as a profession and I thought I’d better learn a little more about it,” says Wendy, who lives in New Zealand. “I was a little anxious before my first class, but I loved it and I’ve been dancing ever since.”
Dancing for wellbeing is a growing trend around the globe. Whether you’ve little or no prior dance experience, traditional ballet can improve strength, endurance, flexibility and balance for people of all ages. Wendy says ballet has improved her health and changed the way she prescribes treatment to her patients.
“Doing ballet has definitely reduced things like neck pain and that sort of thing,” she says. “It has also reinforced to me how important it is when I’m recommending exercise to my patients, that they do something they love because they’re much more likely to stick to it. I know I’m more likely to do something if I love it.”
With life expectancy increasing and technology and healthcare advancing, older Australians are finding more opportunities to experience the joys life has to offer. Many see little reason to start slowing down.
“I think young, I feel young and I am full of energy,” says Nina. “I am always telling young people that they need to do as much as they can. They must enjoy their life and don’t be afraid of old age. Do what you can to help other people too because bringing joy to others also keeps you young.”
Does ‘older’ really mean ‘wiser’? Of the 5,000 over 50s surveyed, 73% agree that it does. Some of the best advice they say they would give their younger selves includes being financially smart, working hard and just enjoying life. They also agree that along with eating right and exercising, being happy and content is the secret to living longer.
Pat, 74, from Sydney, says she feels more fit, healthy and happy now than she has in years. “It’s wonderful to have the time to do more of the things I love,” she says. “I still have so much to offer.”
Liz, 69, from Canberra, cringes when she hears terms like ‘elderly’ and ‘aged’ being applied to people in their sixties and seventies. “My parents thought they were over the hill at sixty-something, but I don’t think anybody my age does,” says Liz. “The baby boomer generation changed the world in so many ways, it’s no surprise we’re also changing what ageing looks like.”
As another Australian Seniors survey respondent put it: “At the end of the day, we know we have life experiences that younger generations can learn from and our wisdom should not go unnoticed, even when it comes to the issues and decisions that will impact our grandchildren and even our great grandchildren.”