Australian life expectancy has changed over the last century. In 1900 the average life expectancy for an Australian male was around 55 where as now its just on 80 years (women enjoy an additional four years). As I get older I’m becoming increasingly annoyed at societal expectations about how I’m supposed to behave; we go to school and get an education, get a job, get married, buy a house (if we’re lucky), have children, and finally we reach my age bracket where we’re supposed to be slowing down.
Now I know sometimes life throws a series of obligations at you that need to be managed but beyond that, who says we should conform to these preordained societal expectations? I mean who on earth came up with the phrase ‘over 50’s assisted living’? At 5o we still have around 30 years left to live and in no way am I going to ‘take it easy’.
Over the past ten years I, along with my sister, have cared for an ageing parent and have found our roles have shifted – with the parent now becoming the ‘child’. What this has highlighted for me is the importance of remaining both physically and mentally active. The phrase ‘use it or loose’ is now firmly fixed in my mind. I’ve now become very focused on keeping mentally and physically fit, and combined with an obsessive personality which pushes me along, I have my biggest hikes still to do over the next ten or so years.
Now as much as I don’t like to admit it I have slowed down as I’ve gotten older. While I was never the fastest hiker on the trail, I moved pretty quickly but these days younger hikers will typically outpace me, at least over the shorter distances. As I’ve aged my strength now lies in my stamina and mental toughness that allows me to power through most things any trail can throw at me. I have built up the ability to do big days, day in day out, and can maintain my pace and even speed up when going up hills. Going down hills is a different matter because my knees start telling me in no uncertain terms how unhappy they are on steep downhill sections.
The other thing I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older, is injuries that barely phased me when I was younger now definitely take longer to heal. The flip side of this is I know, down to the finest detail, how my body reacts to given situations so I can plan accordingly to minimise issues as far as it’s possible.
The medical profession tells us that we should all be exercising on a regular basis, no matter what our age. As a form of physical exercise, hiking offers a number of health benefits and gets us outside and into nature. So whether you are into big hikes or not, it doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that as you get older you remain active and hit the trails on a regular basis and enjoy what you do.
In 2018 when I hiked the Bibbulmun Track, I came across a number of hikers in their 70’s hiking the track (mainly males) and while they may have been moving a bit slower than the younger crowd on the trail, they were still out there enjoying themselves. So you can if that’s what you want.
I’m mindful of the motto of the Ulysses Motorcycle Club which is ‘Grow Old Disgracefully’. In other words make the most of life and don’t let anyone tell you that you are too old to get out there and hike.
Watch this short inspiring video on Nimblewill Nomad an American long distance hiker in his 80’s still out there hiking
We recently reviewed the movie Edie with one of the key themes being societal expectations of what ageing means