‘Attitude is everything’: How to feel great in your 60s
Maintaining good mental and physical health is key to staying young at heart
‘I don’t think anyone should worry about getting older – it’s just a number.’ Photograph: iStock
With better healthcare and an increasing awareness of how to look after our bodies, minds and, let’s face it, looks, we are often hard-pressed to determine the age of many people who would have been metaphorically put out to pasture a generation ago.
Recently, celebrity chef Nigella Lawson and our own Miriam O’Callaghan celebrated their 60th birthdays – a fact which highlights that age is merely a number as both women remain as successful, vital and relevant as ever.
Mary MacRory says the key to staying in good shape both mentally and physically is to enjoy life, eat well, drink in moderation and make sure to exercise. “I am reasonably active and in reasonable health and shape for my age but as I am approaching 63 years of age, I intend to work on it as I realise that I am not superwoman,” she says. “I play golf and tennis, dabble in yoga, swim and am going to restart Pilates classes. But I know that I need to cut down on the vino as too much doesn’t actually relax me. I eat well – by shunning processed foods and eating a lot of fresh berries, vegetables and fish – and I still enjoy meat even though I love animals.
“I have finally realised that being healthier and fitter is good for me and if I don’t look after me, nobody else will. I also think that women need to appreciate this as society, religion, partners, children and work will push our buttons. A firm ‘no’ is a hard skill to learn – but is an excellent one. There is nothing wrong with looking well but I find I look well when all the other things are in place, including the ‘no’ word.”
Indeed Mary, who has been married for three decades and has two adult children (Colleen, 26, and Shane, 23), believes that a positive attitude is vital when it comes to staying younger for longer. “Attitude is everything,” says the accountant and life/business coach. “Everyone needs to realise that if you think negatively, it impacts on your moods and emotions and can stifle you from going for the things you really want in both your personal and professional life. So it’s important to shift the negativity as we only have one life.
“I don’t think anyone should worry about getting older – it’s just a number. I recently had dinner with a woman who is approaching 70 – she looks stunning, has a 31-year-old boyfriend, lives her life to the full and is a lovely person.
“So I would encourage anyone who is worried about approaching 60 to just ‘go for it’. You may have setbacks but that’s part of being human. Don’t beat yourself up as it doesn’t achieve anything. And don’t limit yourself by ridiculous notions [regarding ageing]. Most women in that age group look far better than the male equivalents – but are the guys fretting over it? Of course not. So think like Joanna Lumley and kick ass.”
Dr Siobhán Ní Bhriain, national clinical adviser and group lead, HSE Mental Health, says learning how to cope with the normal stresses of life, getting the most out of everyday life and enjoying positive relationships with family and friends brings about good health. But if this is proving difficult, medical advice should be sought.
“Your mental health does not always stay the same and challenges can arise at any time in life, but detecting and addressing a problem early can help,” she says. “Maintaining good mental health will also help you deal with problems as and when they arise, or during tough times. Like all stages of life, older age brings its own challenges, and mental health problems can arise for the first time in later life.
“Depression and other mental health problems are not a normal part of growing older and should not be seen as such. Detecting and treating a problem early can lead to significant improvements in your mental health with many positive effects on other areas of life, including physical health, relationships and even longevity.”
Martin Malseed says staying fit and active is the most important factor to help combat the signs of ageing and help him to stay positive. “I keep fit by doing super slow weight resistance training once a week, cycling 30 miles a few times each week in spring and summer and playing rugby once a month with Perennials RFC (a rugby invitational team aged 35-plus from all over Ireland),” says the 63-year-old from Down.
“I also have an eating plan which involves protein pacing and eating about 1,500 calories a day five days a week and intermittent fasting the other two days. This means I have loads of energy and confidence especially since losing 56lb over the summer of 2017 as prior to that I always seemed to be at the doctor and was on a waiting list for a gall bladder procedure. I needed to change as diabetes was around the corner because I weighed just over 21 stone. So I realised I had to make a few changes and losing the weight meant no operation was required.”
The tax specialist and network marketing professional, who has two grown-up children, Timothy (34) and Alice (32), says he has seen other people of his own age slow down and retreat into their own world as the years crept up, but he doesn’t want to go down the same route himself.
“I sense that a lot of my friends have slowed down as they rarely seem to go out for a drink or a meal and live in a comfort zone,” he says. “Too many people I know spend their lives watching TV and maybe at weekend go out for an early bird meal and they are shocked when I say I got home at 1.30am having been to a concert or event and then a few drinks afterwards.
“For me it’s not about looking better but feeling better as I am fully aware of people around me crumbling with diabetes or other health-related issues. Clearly fitness helps to clear your head and I feel this is important as I really enjoy both the rugby and the cycling. And of course, there is the risk of being dropped from the squad if I get out of shape or carting an extra 56lb up a hill on a bike – that was definitely a chore so I have no desire to go back there.”
Like Mary, Martin also believes that having a positive attitude is crucial and says it is important for people to give themselves a little push to get out and about and keep enjoying life to the full for as long as possible.
“If you see 60 as ‘the end’, I would suggest that in order to avoid going into a downward spiral you should set some health goals and write out a bucket list of fun things you want to do,” he advises. “Learn a new sport or take part in the many clubs for retired people around Ireland. Go on the trip you always wanted to go on, call that old friend you have grown apart from or volunteer with a worthwhile charity aligned with your mindset.
“Do not see the highlight of your day as buying the paper, having an 11am cup of coffee or an afternoon nap before tea. Live on the edge because that’s where the most excitement is.”
Ways to look after physical and mental health as we age:
– Keep active: regular exercise can really give your mental health and physical health a boost. By being more active, you can reduce the risk of as many as 35 chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis and depression.
– Being physically active enough to meet the nation guidelines can reduce your chances of developing a chronic disease by up to 50 per cent, as well as reducing the risk of premature death by 20-30 per cent.
– For older adults, the National Physical Activity Guidelines for Ireland recommend: at least 30 minutes a day for five days (or 150 minutes every week) of moderate aerobic activity such as walking, dancing or even pushing a lawnmower; with muscle-strengthening exercises on two or more days a week, for example, digging, carrying groceries, step aerobics, hand-held weight exercises and yoga.
– Eat and sleep well: having a balanced diet and a good sleep pattern will not only help the way you feel, but it will also help the way you think. Good food and regular sleep are essential for your mind and body to work properly.
– Drink less alcohol: avoiding too much alcohol is important, especially if you’re feeling down or worried. Drinking alcohol will not help you deal with problems in the long term. Alcohol is a depressant and overdoing it can increase anxiety and lead to depression. For more advice and supports visit askaboutalcohol.ie.
– Stay in touch: trusted friends and family are important, especially at difficult times. You do not have to face things on your own. It is good to keep in contact or reconnect with someone close. Social connections are crucial in preventing loneliness and a sense of isolation.
– Ask for help: asking for help is not a weakness but a sign of personal strength. Everyone needs help from time to time and there’s nothing wrong with asking for it.