Exploring Retirement

- the online magazine for retired people

"The fact that an opinion is widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible."

Bertrand Russell, Nobel Laureate


Welcome to the fourth edition of Exploring Retirement!

Each month we aim to provide articles on well-being in retirement and also feature an activity to explore. This month we are looking at the negative effects of accepting ageing stereotypes. You probably know people who are the same age as yourself but who behave as though they were much older. This might seem harmless enough but, as the research shows, it can have a very serious impact on our behaviour and subsequently on our health.

As the magazine grows we hope to include articles from our readers and this month we are delighted to include a humorous contribution from Michael McSorley. Michael is a retired town planner with a slightly ribald take on ageing stereotypes. If you would like to make a contribution to Exploring Retirement, do get in touch. Feedback from readers is always welcomed. To add your thoughts on well-being in retirement or share your experience of an activity you have enjoyed since you retired, e-mail editor@exploringretirement.co.uk

Ageing Stereotypes

A major research study published in 2002 found that older individuals who held more positive self-perceptions of ageing (as measured 23 years earlier) lived, on average, seven and a half years longer than those who held less positive beliefs in earlier life. This effect held even when allowing for age, gender, socioeconomic status, loneliness, and functional health. It is noteworthy that a seven and a half year difference in life expectancy is greater than that predicted by smoking/non-smoking!

Professor Becca Levy, who was the principal investigator for this study, suggests that self-believe impacts on our health through a three-stage process -

  1. Age stereotypes are internalised from our culture at a young age.
  2. At some point these age stereotypes become self-stereotypes about oneself as an ageing individual.
  3. These self-stereotypes are then consciously and unconsciously activated to exert their effects on individual health.

One way the ageing stereotype can work to our detriment is when we heed advice such as "You should act your age. At your time of life you should be taking things easy". This viewpoint is based on out-of-date ideas about ageing.The perception that older people need to "take things easy" is so widespread in our society that it can be really difficult to challenge, yet challenge it we must. Studies of long lived populations from around the world have found it to be a universal truth, that where people are physically active they continue to live a healthy life into extreme old age.

If you are in good health, then not only is there no reason to slow down, but in fact the scientific evidence is now extremely strong that says you should keep on going. Being physically active has been shown to be more important as we grow older, not less important. So, if you have just bought a rocking chair, chop it up, the exercise will do you good!

Avoiding stereo-typical thinking

The influence of stereotyping is so strong and insidious that we need to be constantly vigilant to realise when it is present and to challenge it at every turn. For instance, if you find yourself thinking "I would love to have a go at that, but people will think I am too old", ask yourself why should it matter what other people think - be a trend setter! Those same people are probably thinking "I wish I had the courage to have a go".

Research suggests that a primary source of ageing stereotypes is television - you only have to think of shows such as One Foot In The Grave and Grumpy Old Men (and Women). The reality is that older people are generally happier than young people these days. I am not suggesting you shouldn't enjoy these programmes, just don't believe them!

Here are some suggestions for combating the internalisation of stereotypes.

  • Take a good, hard look at your social life. Always associating with older people will make you feel and act older. Try to have some friends who are younger than yourself.
  • Try taking up a new interest, preferably one that requires you to engage with other people.
  • When was the last time you redecorated your living space? Even moving the furniture around can refresh your environment.
  • Pay attention to how you present yourself to the world. Don't dress old - this advice is aimed squarely at the men. No "Victor Meldrew" caps or little zip-up jackets and donate those grey flannels to your local charity shop!
  • Take pride in your appearance ie get a haircut. Would you have had your hair growing over your collar when you were at work? It is not trendy, it just looks like you have given up caring about your appearance.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome - what else "ages" us? Please send your thoughts on this topic to editor@exploringretirement.co.uk

References: Levy BR, Slade MD, Kunkel SR, Kasl SV. (2002). Longevity increased by positive perceptions of ageing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Aug;83(2):261-70.

Featured Activity


"Up through the atmoshere,

Up where the air is clear,

Oh, let's go fly a kite!"

Mary Poppins

If we are going to counteract the ageing stereotype, why not start with an activity where you sit down the whole time! Northern Ireland's only gliding club is situated at Benone where Lough Foyle meets the North Atlantic ocean and beneath the shadow of Binevenagh mountain. It is a area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a perfect spot to experience your first taste of going gliding.

To answer the obvious questions first - "Is it really only for young daredevils?" Actually, most members of the Club are retired and anyone wishing to experience the thrill of soaring "up through the atmosphere" is made very welcome. The second question that usually springs to mind is - "Is it expensive?" At GBP65 for a trial lesson it is, but if you look on it as a once in a lifetime experience, it is probably worth it. Perhaps you might buy it for yourself as a birthday present? What better way to celebrate being a year older and not a bit wiser!

Lessons last from around 20 minutes upwards according to soaring conditions, however club gliders are usually limited to a maximum of one hour as there is often another student waiting. You will be accompanied by a qualified instructor in the two-seat dual-control glider. Your glider is towed into the air by an aeroplane and at an appropriate height, typically 2000 feet, the instructor will release the towrope and you will be gliding. You will be shown how to operate the controls and will be given "hands-on" control of the glider under the watchful eye of the instructor.

No special clothing is required - just bring a warm coat, hat and footwear suitable for walking on grass which may occasionally be wet. Ladies should wear trousers if they intend to have a trial lesson.

To learn more about gliding, have a look at this video, provided courtesy of the Ulster Gliding Club: