It’s a challenge we face as the years accumulate.
How do we reconcile reports of the 80- and 90-year-olds who run marathons, whack tennis balls in successful competition or chase volleyballs across courts against the reality of our own, er, physical challenges?
It is a reality for most of us, as was apparent on a senior bus trip to Hersheypark, or more specifically to the 10,600 seat multipurpose arena for a Cirque du Soleil performance. Fortunately our seats were just five and six rows down what seemed to us extremely steep steps.
We clung to the railing, prompting Peggy, an octogenarian like many of us, to express gratitude for it. We needed it.
En route, we had been equally grateful as we passed what seemed miles of parking areas crowded with vehicles of visitors to the amusement park rides, food vendors and the performances in the arena. Our driver took the bus to the end of a lot close to the arena’s entrance, negating any need for a long walk from a parking lot, and for that matter, the possibility of a search to return to a vehicle after the show. He was, in fact, able to park just outside the front door when we left. It is an assist we appreciate.
To my shame, I remember traveling by car as a younger adult and groaning when we pulled into a rest stop or eatery to see a bus load of older folk. We automatically expected longer waits because of their numbers and their slower pace.
Now we prefer to travel via the senior bus whenever going beyond familiar roadways.
Certainly that was true in Hersey, where while waiting for showtime, we watched with some awe as young adults sprinted down those steep steps balancing a tray of food in one hand and purse, or baby carrier or something else in the other. Never saw any of them stumble.
That set us off on the all-too-common habit of recollections, remembering the years we were more agile.
Peggy, a Pennsylvania native, recalled ice shows at the same arena, and that led to sharing our own ice skating recollections. She lived in an area where skaters were allowed to climb down and glide on ice in the bottom of a town pool; I recall hiking to a neighborhood ball park in Lansing, Michigan, that the city flooded each winter. It wasn’t the smoothest as the season wore on, but it was a favorite venue for neighbor kids.
Eventually I graduated to the indoor rink at Michigan State University.
Neither Peggy nor I would even put skates now, but all it takes is a quick online search to learn that other octogenarians are on the ice.
There’s Williamsburg, Virginia, resident Coralie Raunig, 86 last October, who skated as a young person and them returned to the ice at 65. But, she is realistic. “You won’t see any triples from me, not today,” she was quoted in the report I read online.
The same is true for tennis, the sport of one of our neighbors who, at 79, signed up for a tournament. She’s not alone; there are in fact websites dedicated to older players.
“Tennis truly is the sport for a lifetime” declares the United States Tennis Association.
Again, while lauding the benefit of the game for the retirement age, there are cautions.
“Even for supremely fit players, with age comes the necessity to adjust expectations and goals,” a Tennis magazine article on the association’s website states. The article, by editor Ed McGrogan, includes a number of suggestions for older players for conditioning, stretching, strategies and the like.
Meeting the age-induced challenges isn’t just a matter of keeping active, socializing, eating well and getting enough sleep as we are not infrequently advised, but also how we “feel” our age. Or so a researcher at the French University of Montpellier concluded after examining data from longitudinal studies of more than 17,000 middle-aged and elderly people.
Yannick Stephan found that feeling older than actual age resulted in an 18 percent to 25 percent greater risk of disease or death as opposed to people who felt younger than their actual chronological age. Most people in the three studies he reviewed felt about eight years younger than their actual age, the report on BBC.com said.
“Put another way: your subjective age can better predict your health than the date on your birth certificate,” the report concluded.
Perhaps feeling younger than actual age also explains why we simply don’t feel we should be encountering the age-related physical slowdown or limitations that have invaded our lives.