…and life to those years

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What does a person do when they reach the ripe old age of 112?

They publish their first book, of course!

At least that’s what Henry Allingham, Britain’s oldest person, who died last December (2008) when he published his autobiographical Kitchener’s Last Volunteer.

Henry’s life spanned a period of incredible world change.  He was born in 1896 – the year of

  • Britain’s first speeding conviction in the UK (for exceeding 2 mph)
  • And when they repealed the law requiring a man with a red flag walk in front of each car
  • The Second Boer War was still in progress in South Africa
  • In the US Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show was touring
  • Chief Sitting Bull had just been shot
  • And the Klondike Gold Rush was about to begin.

We’re living longer

  • When Henry Allingham was born just 1 male in 7 was expected to live beyond 70. Since then things have changed dramatically.
  • In 1911 there were about 100 people in the UK over 100 years of age. Nowadays it’s nearly 10,000.
  • Because of improvements in lifestyle and health care etc. by 2028 we will have around 30,000 centenarians in this country.
  • On the BBC Today programme Geoff Mulgan of the Young Foundation suggested that one child in five who is born today will live to over 100.

Nobody wants to die… yet nobody wants to grow old…

I’ve been running training and personal development courses since 1983 and in the 34 years since i begin I have asked hundreds of people the question “Would you like to live to be 100?”

The majority, by far, reply “No – definitely not!”

When we then chat about this it turns out that these people have a belief that old age will inevitably result in decrepitude!

They think of being 100 years old and being bed-bound in a nursing home and cared for round the clock.

This is not surprising when you consider how such self-destructive beliefs are formed – through seeing decrepit elderly people and through the media focus on the ‘problems of an ageing society’.

The belief in the inevitability of decrepitude is also supported by the reality that people who are ageing healthily are in a minority – and because those who are ageing healthily are simply not noticeable! After all a healthy 85-year-old who is quietly getting on with her (or his) busy life and who looks and acts like a 70-year-old will simply be taken for a 70-year-old.

Their beliefs are ‘theirs’

One of the qualities (see the list below) of people who age healthily is a tendency to mis-match, or reject, or rile against the prevailing attitude to age. They have a “this doesn’t apply to me!” attitude to the doom laden messages.

Good for them – because maintaining such a positive attitude does require effort.


  • when surrounded by people who are already looking forward to retirement once they reach 40,
  • when surrounded by people in their 50s and 60s who make their illnesses and aches their hobby
  • And, of course, have been subject to lifelong messages to “act your age” and not challenge prevailing attitudes to what is appropriate and inappropriate for people of a particular age..

So how much time have you got to look forward to?

Let’s say that with the improved quality of life in the Western World, with more information about ways of improving health and, with a determination to have more years in your life and more life in those years, we can all expect to live to Henry Allingham’s age of 112.

Now consider this:

If you’re now 20: When Henry was 20 the First World War was just halfway through and he, as an aviator, was already flying in aeroplanes made of canvas stretched across wooden frames. Look at how the world has changed since then and look at how the 90 years ahead of you will be filled with change.

If you’re now 30: You’ve got over 80 years ahead of you in which to enjoy life. When I reached 30 I thought ‘That’s it! It’s all the way downhill from now on’ yet, if you’re on the way to 112, you’re not even a third of the way there!

If you’re now 40: Instead of looking forward the 20 or so years to retirement how about looking forward to the next 70 years and how you are going to make them fun-filled and fulfilling!

If you’re now 50: On reaching 50 lots of people think ‘Oh well, I’ve had a good life – mustn’t grumble!’ and begin looking back on and talking about the good old days. Yet you could consider that you’re not even halfway there yet – and start planning for the next 60 years.

If you’re now 60: With over half a century ahead of you it’s really a bit too early to settle down in the armchair and start watching daytime TV…

And if you’re around 70 you might like to begin thinking about how you’re going to make the next 40 years rewarding, challenging, and exciting – and healthy.

Silly dreams?

Maybe. Or maybe not.

You could say that dreams are goals which have not yet been clearly thought through and supported by an action plan!

In the world of NLP Robert Dilts has done more research into and modelling of healthy ageing than anyone else. You can read his article here: http://www.nlpu.com/Articles/artic26.htm.

10 Practical steps for vital ageing

The following list includes tips from Dilts’ NLP modelling work, my own discussions with and observations of healthy elders, and on comments from people who have lived to a ripe age.

  1. Live a physically active life
  2. Search for and focus on the positive side of events rather than the negative
  3. Set your own standards for your life and mismatch the negative messages of others
  4. Have a sense of humour
  5. Have lots of goals – including the goal of continually improving your health and vitality
  6. Have a number of inspiring role models
  7. Have friendships with people of all ages
  8. Find ways of adding value to the lives of others
  9. Decide that old age is a benefit to be enjoyed
  10. Respect yourself and your uniqueness

Take the spirit of these tips, connect them with your personal lifestyle, and you’ve got the beginnings of an action plan for adding years to your life – and life to those years.

(Henry Allingham died in July 2009 aged 113 – the world’s oldest man at that time. )

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