“Turning 60 feels like such a big number. It has tweaked something in me that 50 and 40 and 30 didn’t. It’s hard to get my head around. It’s that realisation that in 20 years’ time – 20 years ago feels like a blink ago – I’ll be 80. I’ll be my mother’s age and the age that people go into nursing homes. I don’t expect to be doing that. But the finiteness of life comes and I realise I’m not here forever.
It’s a pretty stable patch in my life at the moment. Pete and I have been married sixteen years in October. He’s a bit older than me and he had a ‘When I’m 64’ party this month. We are talking about travel and going to Italy next year. We’re both imagining that we’ll work for a long time. We are really content
Having not had children, I haven’t experienced that sense of generational movement that one has if you have kids. Time was rolling along and it felt like I was an eternal teenager. Suddenly there were these things to deal with and I couldn’t get away from them. And sensing, hold on, I’ve grown up and now I have to deal with grown up things.
I have no idea what’s around the corner. So I appreciate the little everyday stuff. Or, the not-so-little-things like nature and sunsets. They are every-day and they’re extraordinary at the same time. When I go on holidays or somewhere overseas, I think to myself, ‘I may never be back here again’. I try to soak it into my being so that I don’t lose it.
Yes, turning 60 is a bit of a wake up. Physically speaking I’m not doing things that are dramatically different. To a large extent I still do the things that I loved doing decades ago … well, I can’t run now like I could run in my twenties or in my late teens. I mean in some subtle ways things have changed but not in huge ways. I’m very lucky for that.
As an athlete I have always been interested in how to get the most out of my body. I’ve been doing yoga since I was in my middle twenties. Health to me is that bright light thing that goes hand in hand with the whole of life. It’s vitality.
People will always say to me, ‘Oh you’re so good around the disciplines of exercise and food’. But for me it feels good to do. It wouldn’t have occurred to me not to. It doesn’t cross my mind. I found the same thing applied to ageing healthily. Most of the things that we attribute to getting older are not about age at all. It’s about long-term bad habits.
My dad is a really good illustration. When he was younger he played football, cricket, you name it. He then prepared the local cricket wickets, which became his exercise until he was about 70 and then he stopped doing that. In his era, he played sport but exercise was a naff thing to do. He would never … he thought that was stupid. He could not get his head around that.
About May last year he had a fall at home and my mother said, ‘I can’t look after him, I cannot deal with this anymore.’ She would’ve been worrying the whole time around that. And, he was a big guy. She’s tiny. Luckily they were in a freestanding house in this retirement village and the nursing home facility was literally across the road. He was really pissed off to have to move to there. He did not want to go there at all.
In October he fell in the bathroom. Broke his hip. Got taken through to hospital. Survived the operation and they said to us, ‘He’ll be fine, he’ll recover from this, he’ll be okay.’ That was on a Friday night, and he up and died on the Sunday morning. It was as though he came-to enough to think, ‘I don’t want to go back to that nursing home and go through rehab. Nah.’
My theory is, stay out of those places. Stay out of the system because the system is not well set up. It doesn’t necessarily treat people well. Better if you can avoid going to hospital or a nursing home, and stay independent. But in order to do that, especially at this time with our kind of culture and our lifestyle, you’ve got to swim against the tide. If you go with the flow, you’re not going to end up in a particularly good place because that’s where the flow takes you.
So you’ve got to go out of your way and do things that maybe you’ve never done before. Things that don’t feel particularly natural. You do have to go and exercise, build strength and get some muscle when you’re an old lady, because you don’t want your body to be weak. It tends to not go well.
Presuming we only get one round at this, I want to make it count. To make the most of life, I want to be healthy and give myself the most options that I can, to not be limited by things that I actually do have control over.
If I can help people see the alternative, then that’s time well spent.”
Rhonda Anderson is an exercise physiologist specialising in healthy ageing for women, and can be found at www.fitandwell.com.au.
Photo & Story by Beth Jennings Photography www.bethjenningsphotography.com