Lockdown is a wake-up call: time to start aging positively

That wake-up birthday—a poem

Have you had a wake-up birthday?
Can you barely believe
you’re a certain age
and dread what lies ahead?
Is your future self a blurry screen
or a stereotyped cartoon?
Are you frozen even though you know
exactly what to do?
Do you think it’s too late or too soon?

Now’s the perfect time
to face the facts and get a grip
and get control of your precious life
not because you ought to
but because you can.
Tweak your life and make the best
of your bonus years
and here’s the bottom line:
you’re not dead!

Rachel McAlpine 2020

Are you ready to design your own old age?

“That wake-up birthday” is another of my sock-it-to-’em, unsubtle, now-or-never poems about aging. (At 80 I don’t muck around.)

It’s your birthday. Overnight you turned 21 or 39 or 47 or 50. And for unknown reasons, this particular birthday comes as a shock. You do the sums and a crazy thought invades your mind. Are you … going to be old one day?

Man and goat, old photo in a small Norwegian town.

Your lifestyle and attitude in middle age determine whether you will age positively: do it your way! Photo: Olai Fauske (1887-1994)

Thoughts about aging (positive and negative) flourish in lockdown

Clock says 5 to 12 beneath a lockdown cloud and a NEED cloud. is a teachable moment

Lockdown is like a wake-up birthday: time to choose your own old age

In lockdown earlier this year, people over 70 were arbitrarily defined as old overnight on the basis of chronological age alone. Many of us were shocked: our life is so rewarding that it barely occurs to us that we are old. Technically we are old, but old age comes in many flavours.

If you have ever, even for a moment, had an inkling that you yourself might grow old, hold that thought. Don’t brush it off because you are still young or at least feel young. Because this is the very time to determine how you wish to age: slowly and cheerfully—or quickly or sadly?

Old people are not aliens but pioneers in the mysterious land where you yourself are heading.

What sort of old person do you want to be? Some age positively by accident, some by design.

Photo of a tangled old rose bush in winter

An old rose bush in mid-winter: still growing, tangling, flowering and seeding

The good news: you are not doomed to a miserable old age

In the olden days it was believed that genes, luck and fate controlled the way people aged. Happy, healthy 90-year-olds were seen as anomalies. Centenarians were seen as exceptional, miracles of survival.

But the last decade or two have brought exciting research that now has been replicated multiple times. We now know for certain that to perceive aging in a positive way can strongly influence our health and happiness and even our longevity. Again and again we read that lifestyle and attitudes dominate at least 60% of the aging process.

It’s hard for lay people to interpret such data but what-to-do is perfectly clear. The scene for a positive old age is set in middle age or earlier. Attitude and mobility are powerful factors: no scientific study so far tells us to sit alone all day and smoke.

True: not everyone can change their lifestyle

Poverty eliminates many choices, that’s obvious. The power of self-improvement is an uncomfortable truth, because it’s also true that powerful social, political and economic forces push hard against individual efforts. They often sabotage what we try to achieve as individuals.

Nevertheless, if we’re privileged enough to even think about making an effort to age positively, why the heck wouldn’t we?

Self-help is not selfish

A body of strong, healthy, positive older people benefits far more than the individuals concerned. Families benefit, communities benefit and the national economy benefits simply because (with luck) our years of dependency are reduced. That’s a crude thing to say but fair enough, don’t you think?

And if we’re happy and healthy in old age we can contribute in so many ways. Maybe by leading a revolution or supporting a community group. Maybe by working. Maybe by mentoring or teaching. Maybe by babysitting or knitting or writing a poem. Certainly by pulling our weight in a pandemic.

First step: one small change, one tiny habit

If you’re ready and you know what to do, do it!

The thing is to do something, not nothing. Choose any one of the ubiquitous tips on positive aging and take the hint, follow through. Just one. That’s all. Don’t think about the journey of 1,000 miles: think about that single step. (You can talk about positive aging until the cows come home but if you do nothing, nothing will change.)

You know what to do but how on earth will you do it? That’s the tricky bit, isn’t it? But it can done and it can be fun. No need to rush or strain to change your lifestyle: taking the easy path is (strangely) more effective.

If you’re ready and would like some guidance, try Almost Old, a DIY programme for positive aging.

Lyall Bay, Wellington in winter

A winter beach: young and old walking and surfing in the sun





24 thoughts on “Lockdown is a wake-up call: time to start aging positively

  1. Nyla Carroll says:

    Another wonderful pearl of wisdom from someone obviously living the dream! Thanks so much for posting and sharing and being such a wonderful reminder of all that is good and positive and free in this beautiful country we live in! KIa Kaha…

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Kia kaha, Nyla. I so appreciate your encouragement. That’s positivity in spades.

  2. Catherine de Seton says:

    Definitely had defining moments during lock down 4 and now back to 3 ( I’m in Auckland region).
    I wasn’t expecting the powers to be to decide that my health issues were “underlying” which would place me in with the over 70s. I’m not quite 70!
    Yes, I have those issues but all are under control and I’ve never thought in terms of “underlaying”.
    Which in a way caused me grief. I couldn’t seem to make any decisions… especially to do with getting food in but also taking a walk in my unfamiliar neighborhood…
    When we got to Level 1…still had issues. Besides the underlaying ones, i I could now add a head space fog… 2weeks ago it started to clear and I make catch-up with friends TOO suddenly have us return to Level 3 here!
    BUT I’m more organized now, and still function properly…

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Two friends said that lockdown made them feel old, or feel their age. It was tough and it was weird. And decision-making can become hard as we age. So I’m glad you are managing better this time round. It’s all about management after a certain point, I find. Thanks for your comments.

      1. Anonymous says:

        I had a variety of strange remarks…ranging from you’ll get it because of your health, you shouldn’t be on a local bus (I’ve no car), you shouldn’t be eating that or for that matter spending that much to eat. Most couldn’t grasp that I was actually home “alone” in the bubble and it will remain that that way 🙂 Not one member of my relations came by to check, still haven’t seen any – and when I asked for help, odd response. Thank heavens for good younger friends…

        I don’t feel much difference to this time last year – other than I’ve got fitter due to the walking that I put in place to overcome headspace fog. I’ve found out about my ‘hood – I miss roaming off bus-hopping & going to some lowkey groups but that will come again…

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        This is hard for you. But as you say, thank heaven for your younger friends. Take care.

  3. auntyuta says:

    Thank you very much for this post, Rachel. I am going to put a link to it here:


    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thank you so much, auntyuta! I hope your readers like the article.

      1. auntyuta says:

        Thank you. Rachel. Next month I am going to turn 86 and my husband, Peter, is 85. We are slowing down a real lot. Also, Peter has multiple health problems. But we both still enjoy blogging and good food and keeping ourselves informed with reading a lot and watching some programs on TV. We love to be connected to family, but try to remember social distancing at all times. Here in the Illawarra of NSW we still have a pretty good life dispite social distancing requirements. Hopefully we are going to have some beautiful spring weather soon. We are looking forward to that! Stay safe and keep writing!
        Love, Uta 🙂

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        Dear Uta, it’s clear that you and your husband know both the pains and the pleasures of old age. They’re all exacerbated in a pandemic, aren’t they? You have reminded me, again, of the many joys of blogging when we are older. When our circle of activity shrinks, we still have friends and vicarious experiences and mental stimulation at our fingertips. So, same to you– please keep writing! Sending you a virtual hug. Rachel

      3. auntyuta says:

        Thank you, Rachel!
        HUGS from Uta 🙂

  4. I love your positive attitude. I’m happy with aging. The days keep coming on a regular basis, and I’m thankful for that. The virus lockdown knocked lots of people sideways. Our lifestyle changed very little, so we had few adjustments to make.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      You were well set up from the start. Yes, the days keep coming! You’re right and that’s fantastic!

  5. Thanks Rachel for this great post. I turn 59 on the 23rd of August. I have found myself thinking alot more about death and retirement over the last 15 yrs or so. Not that I want die before my time, but just that I’m more aware that the meter is running.
    I’ve decided I don’t want to be famous anymore, but rather be fruitful and make a difference in the lives of others.
    The Bible says in.
    Psa 92:13 — Psa 92:14
    13 Those who are planted in the house of the LORD
    Shall flourish in the courts of our God.
    14 They shall still bear fruit in old age;
    They shall be fresh and flourishing,

    That’s what I’m looking forward to in this latter stage of life To be fruitful, fresh and flourishing. By staying close to God and loving people. 🙏

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That seems like a fine development. The pressure to be famous was always kind of crazy, don’t you think?

  6. Cathy Cade says:

    it’s gonna happen. might as well make the most of it

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      So trues. And you do, Cathy!

  7. Alan Ralph says:

    Old age has been weighing more on my mind this year, as I turned 52 and my mum turned 81. She may have slowed down a bit, and needs my help with some stuff now that my dad is gone, but she’s still enjoying life. My thoughts are turning towards how I’ll prepare for my old age. My mum, touch wood, should be financially secure for the remainder of her life, thanks to the work my dad put into saving and investing. The outlook for both myself and my sister isn’t so rosy, but we’re doing what we can to prepare ourselves. At least we have had good advice and encouragement from our parents over the years, and in many ways we’re probably more secure than we think.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      It’s certainly a time when financial security looms large, but I think you’re reflecting on security at another level as well. How lucky your mother is to have you there for company and help.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    On a much more superficial note, it turns out that facial plastic surgery has surged here. It turns out that people are appalled at how they look on Zoom and realize that they can recover from the bruising, etc. now that they are stuck at home. Who would have thought that vanity would prosper right now?

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Oh my! That’s news indeed. I’m not judging but it’s hard for me to comprehend.

      1. Elizabeth says:

        I hate the way lifted faces look anyway. They are pretty scary.

  9. Marmi says:

    I accept I’m now part
    of the older generation
    As I steer my waka
    to my final destination,
    I grit my teeth
    with sheer determination,
    and rise to the challenges
    of degeneration
    so my mana might survive
    beyond my termination!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Divine. Perfect.

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