Australian life expectancy has changed over the last century. In 1900 the average life expectancy for an Australian male was around 55 whereas now in 2023 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 a ten year period I, along with my sister, cared for an ageing mother in her end of life phase that included her eventual passing at the age of 92. What we both found was that our roles shifted – with the parent becoming the ‘child’ and with us providing the care that she did when we were young children. I watched as her mental and physical health declined and what this reinforced is the importance of remaining both physically and mentally active for as long as it’s possible with the phrase ‘use it or lose’ 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 of my life still to do over the next ten or so years.
Australian Life expectancy graph from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
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 and even with an 18.5kg pack on flat ground I used to be comfortable walking at a pace of around 4.75km/hour for extended periods. 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 even if its at a slower pace that I used to do. 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 that I know, down to the finest detail, how my body reacts to given situations so I can plan accordingly, and react to any issues to minimise the impacts 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. While cardio exercise is crucial weight bearing exercise has become the panacea to a long and active life. 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 can you 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.This movie is hard to find as a DVD but is available on free to air streaming (12/6/23)