The American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie wasn’t one for partying until the wee hours on New Year’s Eve and bellowing out Auld Lang Syne, despite his Scottish heritage.
Instead, he liked to be up and doing early the next day to celebrate the start of a whole new year.
When asked in old age whether he ever made New Year’s resolutions he replied, with typical brusqueness: “Not as such. I just ask myself what and where I want to be this time next year”.
It’s a question all of us would do well to ask ourselves as we say goodbye to 2020; a year, which to paraphrase the word of political philospher Thomas Paine, another famous British-born American, certainly proved to be a time that tried our souls.
Are we going to embrace this annual opportunity for renewal, or are we going to stick safely in the same old rut?
It’s all too easy as we age to shy away from the shock of the new. And yet, because today most of us live so long and so healthily in a society where technologically-driven change is exponential, we need to boldly face the challenges of new learning, new experiences and new ways of living, so that we remain physically and mentally at our personal best.
Or so says psychologist Rosie Butler whose work focuses on older people who feel that their get up and go has got up and went.
And if you are wondering exactly what she means by “older” consider this – a recent Norwegian study found that we lose the motivation to try new things after the age of 54!
Go forward another decade and many of us start to suffer a loss of confidence that can be paralysing when faced with the unfamiliar – which is why so many older people suffer from clinical depression. Life coach Robert Chen, founder of the Embrace Possibility concept and author of The Dreams to Reality Fieldbook says as we grow older we tend to believe the cliché, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and this then becomes self-fulfilling.
“There are people out there who don’t know how to use a smart phone, shop online or send email,” he says.
“This is not because of their age. It is because they make the conscious decision to stop learning even though they may not realise it.”
Yet never before has it been easier to renew ourselves at an age when our grandparents were content to potter their way quietly towards oblivion.
In every community there are many close-at-hand opportunities for enhancing life skills; or in our own homes via computer and smart device.
In 2020, we learned a new word – Zoom. This remarkable online platform united groups with shared interests around the world, making it possible to continue usual activities – singing, dancing, exercise, discussion, language study and learning of all kinds – without leaving home.
As one choral group director says, “It’s not the same as getting together in the flesh but it enabled us to see each other’s faces, learn new songs and rehearse old ones and generally stay together through the restriction period”.
The restrictions are happily over – for now – and choirs are singing together again but Zoom remains popular with groups whose members live far apart.
For many it has been a first and surprisingly rewarding experience with online learning.
Talk to any group of people and you’ll find that the most popular New Year’s resolutions are to lose weight, get fit and achieve some new goal.
For Steve Nemeth this has been quantified into setting himself a new physical and intellectual challenge at the start of every year. At 72 he has no intention of giving up, even if his physical challenge this year is to restore the mobility he lost recently after a back operation.
“I’d been planning to climb Bluff Knoll (in West Australia) but that’ll have to wait until next year,” he says, only half-joking. His intellectual challenge for 2021 is to read every one of Shakespeare’s plays.
“My dad was a ‘refo’ who migrated here in the 1950s and loved Australia because everything about it was new.
Every January 1, he had us celebrate this newness by making resolutions to improve ourselves in the coming year so we could be worthy of living in the Lucky Country,” Steve recalls.
It’s a given that most Your Time readers will have health and fitness on their minds because we have to work harder at this as we grow older.
For some it means continuing to do what we’ve always done, such as improve the golf handicap.
Others find more benefit in taking up new sports and exercise regimes that offer a chance to still do something well, rather than suffer the frustration of trying to do something that is inevitably limited by age.
Pickleball and senior ballet are two activities that have recently become popular with those who still have reasonable mobility.
Yoga and tai chi have mental as well as physical benefits and can be started at any age. If these activities aren’t available locally, there are plenty of classes online.
Walking groups combine social interaction with exercise and range from beach expeditions or a gentle meander around a local park to serious bushwalking.
At 97, former mountaineer John Leisten still bushwalks and though he doesn’t do 23km hikes up and down the gorges of Lamington any more, he can still do a 5km circuit of his nearest national park – and he played tennis until his early 90s.
Oh, and he’s reasonably handy with digital stuff too and regularly watches (and downloads) opera on YouTube.
If you don’t have one already, a good New Year decision might be to install a fitness app on your smartphone or buy a wearable device such as Fitbit. These not only measure and monitor your fitness activities but have features to help manage a range of health conditions from diabetes to heart disease.
The ideal of a healthy mind in a healthy body has been with us since the poet Juvenal wrote about it in the days when gladiators were still chasing each other around the Roman circus.
Unlike we of the 21st century, Juvenal didn’t have the advantage of digital technology to help him learn a new language or musical instrument.
While class participation is still the most enjoyable way to learn new skills, this can be augmented by the many excellent online programs which provide printable materials, one-on-one tuition, instructional videos and much else. Smart device apps mean you can access your programs wherever you are, whenever you want.
Longstanding, quantifiable research into the importance of music in keeping the human mind keen and active indicates two basic benefits: the stimulation of brain activity through learning to sing and possibly play new songs and revitalising memory from singing (and possibly playing) old songs.
Anyone who does this in their senior years will tell you just how much it improves all areas of brain activity, from tackling other intellectual pursuits to remembering where you put your car keys!
And it doesn’t have to be that hard. You don’t have to learn to read music (though in itself this is a great way to get your ageing mind working). If a guitar seems too large and difficult an entry level ukulele can have you strumming five chords and playing your favourite songs in a few lessons.
The same goes for small, portable keyboards and simple wind instruments such as the recorder. And if you enjoy it, you can take it from there all the way to developing a classical repertoire.
“It’s a good idea to pick an instrument you can play while sitting down,” wryly observes retired army major Terry Holland, who plays the trombone (and a few other instruments besides).
For those who wish to keep their brains in top gear, learn new things and share knowledge, the University of the Third Age offers many affordable options, and our region is blessed with several active branches.
The organisation’s role in keeping seniors sane and connected during the Covid crisis has been acknowledged by incoming national chairman Glen Wall who says: “The challenge for U3A is to maintain connection with our members and to modify our model of service delivery for the future to be a mix of face-to-face and remote access classes.
“The U3A vision is to support our member networks to improve the provision of benefits of positive ageing and lifelong learning which support mental and physical health and social engagement of seniors”.
U3A offers members an opportunity to teach as well as learn, thus continuing to exercise our career skills in the service of others.
For example, one branch offers a course in Human Origins in which professional scientists and interested “amateurs” share research information and scientific inquiry.
Such courses help make new friends with similar interests; old friends may be good friends but it never hurts to seek new company with the like-minded as our interests mature and diverge.
A significant step up from U3A is the Open University which provides a learning path for older people who wish to earn a degree.
And, given the continuing drop in overseas student numbers, it’s a fair bet that our universities will be happy to see those with post-retirement careers in mind taking up some of the slack.
According to Open Universities Australia, an area that is attracting a lot of interest from mature age students is aged care work!
After all, a fit 65-year-old who wants to continue working brings a lot of life skills to caring for those a generation or so older – or even for those in the same age group who are health-challenged.
Some of those made redundant during last year’s Covid crisis are launching their own businesses in 2021 either to continue making a living or supplementing a retirement income.
Susie O’Rourke supplements her part-time job by making lampshades and this is proving so successful she may soon be able to do it fulltime.
She doesn’t rely on walk-in business so her small shop does not have to be located in a central high rent area and most of her marketing is done through Facebook Marketplace which costs her nothing.
Felice Vogel used to sell her handcrafted jewellery at markets around south-east Queensland but now finds having an online “shop” more profitable, with no time or money wasted in travelling.
In her early 70s, she is one of many post-retirees making good money from e-commerce in accordance with small business expert Brian Edmonson’s message that “the internet levels the playing field” because you can live anywhere you want, set your own schedule and don’t need a lot of start-up capital.
And the whole process for newcomers is made easier by on-line platforms such as Shopify that provide all the tools from website creation to marketing, payments and shipping.
There is one more resolution you might like to make and that is to reactivate your sense of adventure by travelling somewhere new.
Going overseas might not be an option but travel agencies are reporting an unprecedented interest in exploring the more remote parts of our own country.
Psychologists and life coach gurus tell us that staying young means embracing new ideas, accepting challenges and taking each day as a gift.
Here’s wishing you all a happy, healthy, mentally stimulating and physically adventurous new year!
Julie rates yoga the top of the list
IF THERE is one New Year resolution every reader should make, it is to take up yoga, says regular Your Time writer and veteran journalist Julie Lake.
Julie has been a yoga practitioner for 50 years, and first started teaching it in Noosa in 1972.
She says it is the most essential of all health practices and attributes her own good health to its beneficial effect on blood flow, breath control, flexibility and maintenance of muscle and bone density.
“At 75 I can still touch my toes, stand on one leg (thus maintaining and improving balance) and curl up in a ball. My lung capacity is as good as it was 30 years ago and so is my circulation.
“I have never had an operation. This might be partly due to genetics, partly to good luck but mostly it’s down to yoga”, she says.
“Yoga should be a daily practice in order for it to really make a difference to health and fitness, not just a social thing where you get together with a teacher once a week and go out to coffee afterward, although this is better than nothing.”
She says it’s also important to find a good teacher with a solid understanding of hatha yoga because “there are some strange programs going under the name of yoga today”.
“They just don’t offer the same all-round benefits. Once you know what you’re doing you can exercise at home by yourself and it costs you nothing”.
Julie says an advantage of yoga is you can begin at any age and in any state of health.
“There is always a yoga position that will help you. It’s not about standing on your head and sitting in the lotus position. It’s about doing the best you can with what you have,” she says.
“Some years ago I developed a modified program for over 50s which did away with the more body-twisting poses so loved by TV swamis, and focused on those that could be gradually increased in intensity without strain on ageing joints.
“It works for me.”
Her advice for a healthier 2021: “Put yoga at the top of your to-do list”.
If you wish to know more about yoga practice for over 50s, email Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 0404 915 559, or visit gardenezi.com