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5 more ways we can rethink our views on aging and growing older




Last week, we identified five relatively new age-related words and described their meaning. Here are the remaining five: 


Healthspan: We typically talk about aging in terms of life expectancy, which is the average period of time a person expects to live. Equally, or even more important, is how well we live. That takes us to health span, which is the number of years a person lives without chronic and debilitating disease. The problem is we have a gap between life expectancy and health span. The average life expectancy in 2022 was 77.5 years, but the health span was 66.1 years. That leaves an average difference of about 11 years of possibly living with a chronic disease or disability in later life. Most folks want to live a long life if they are functioning well both mentally and physically. The good news is that we know about healthful habits and lifestyles that can increase health span.


Centenarian: The numbers are increasing. In 2021, there were just under 90,000 centenarians in the U.S. According to the Pew Research Center, that number is predicted to quadruple in the next 30 years from an estimated 101,000 in 2024 to about 422,000 in 2054. 


Genes may be responsible for 20 to 30 percent of this long life, according to Dr. Peter Attia, author of “Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity,” (2023, Harmony Books). He writes that the older you get, the more genes matter. Having centenarian siblings helps; the next best thing is having long-lived parents, according to Attia. But genes aren’t everything. The Blue Zones project studied long-lived people worldwide and found centenarians predominantly consumed plant-based diets, were physically active, had a strong social network, a purpose in life and more. 


Middlescence: This is a period in life between about 45 to 65 years. It is considered a new life stage with beginnings and endings. Like adolescence, it can be a time of frustration, confusion and alienation but also a time of new directions and beginnings. The word has become more popular with the work of Ken Dychtwald, founder of Age Wave, and gerontologist-leadership coach Barbara Waxman. In a CBS interview, Waxman notes that middlescence is like a second adolescence with wisdom, a time to reevaluate decisions. 

Chip Conley, the founder of the Modern Elder Academy, thinks middlescence might be the best time in our life. His recent book “Learning to Love Midlife: 12 Reasons Why Life Gets Better with Age” (Little, Brown Spark. 2024) offers another way to think about living in our 40s, 50s and 60s. He finds it a time of perks; a time to feel empowered to celebrate this period of life


Romeo: This term that may not be familiar to many. It stands for “Retired Old Men Eating Out.” It’s a club with about 100 chapters throughout the U.S. Tom Brokaw mentioned it in his book “Generations.” These men may not miss their work, yet they miss the male companionship from their working years. So they get together to eat out, have fun and keep friends. There are no rules, causes or membership restrictions. They meet for breakfast, lunch or dinner once a week or once a month. Some have outside speakers; others just enjoy the good conversations and company. https://romeoclub.com/ 


Renewment: This term is a combination of retirement and renewal. It’s a word and concept my co-founder Bernice Bratter and I made up to focus on career women and the period of time after their primary career. It was developed in 1999 because there were no retirement role models for career women who were successful and passionate about their work. Renewment is a forum and process that supports and inspires career women in their transition from work to retirement and beyond. (See Renewment.org) For the past 20 years, small groups have been meeting in person. Since the pandemic, more than 100 women from across the country are meeting over Zoom in what we call virtual renewment roundtables. Once a month, a topic of interest is discussed. (See “Project Renewment: The First Retirement Model for Career Women,” (Scribner, 2013). 


These terms are in response to our increased longevity, changing environments and individual aspirations. Furthermore, we are more aware about the subject of aging with increased communications about research studies and reports in print or on the internet that focus on Hollywood, politics or just looking for the Fountain of Youth.  

So dear readers, live long and live well. And, of course, be kind always. 


Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity

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