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14 August 2009

The Irish Times, August 2009

New Age Ageing

On a crisp Saturday morning, my wife, my sister and I joined our friends Harro and Gisi on their 1895 boat, the Grainne, in Ahakista pier for a spot of mackerel fishing.
Harro and Gisi are the sort of confident boatpeople who are expert at looking after those whose sealegs are not so well established.
“Hold on here”. “Give me your hand and step down onto this”. They also had the mackerel lines all ready, and the picnic was prepared and the rosé wine cooled. After we started hauling in the fish, Harro showed us his filleting and gutting technique, whilst scores of seagulls clamoured all around the Grainne hoping for the fish guts.
Fourteen mackerel and three pollock later, and we were back in Ahakista with Harro and Gisi helping us off the boat, looking after us as if we were keen, but slightly infirm, pensioners.
Of course, we aren’t pensioners, but Harro and Gisi are. Hale and hearty, and happily in their 70’s, they ooze health and wellbeing. Maybe it’s all that fresh fish.
Next day, I sat down to waste a few hours whilst Tom Watson, his face a strange mixture of grimace-meets-bemusement, came within a ten foot putt of pulling off what would have been the most astonishing victory by any sportsman in a blue riband sporting event. At 59 years of age, Watson was, until the very end, stable where younger men were erratic, calm where the youngsters were equivocal. He didn’t win, and it’s a genuine shame that he didn’t.
And then on Wednesday we took the train to Dublin to see Leonard Cohen. Like everyone else who missed his 2008 Kilmainham gigs, we have grown tired of the stories about those “spiritual” events, and so had to see for ourselves what Lenny was up to.
Well, what Lenny is up to is simple. He is, typically, writing his own life script in his own hand with his own melody and rhythm accompanying him as he goes along. Aged close to 75, Cohen sang every word with a passionate conviction that was bewitching. At the interval, and before he came back for the five encores he and his band played, he bounced and danced offstage like a kid.
Whilst singing, he hunkered down in the sort of knee bends that one associates with the late James Brown, not the Canadian bard of melancholia. His focus, his concentration, his stamina and his communication with the audience were so remarkable that you had to conclude that, in the middle of his eighth decade, Leonard Cohen is actually in his prime.
Just think of what a new paradigm that is: in your prime at 75. Your 70’s may not be socialist, but they will be social.
And just think what these examples mean for our society, where the demographic of the country is changing rapidly, and where we are expecting a smaller working population to support a growing ageing population.
That demographic will bankrupt the country and overwhelm our health services, unless our 70 year olds can skipper boats and catch fish like Harro and Gisi, play golf at the competitive level of Tom Watson, or sing and dance like Leonard Cohen.
And the way to do this, I suggest, is through the Healthy Eating Pension Plan.
Like any pension plan, the HEPP (for hepp cats, see?) works best when you start it young. Like any pension plan, it’s about prudence, and recognizing what you need for when you get older.
With each meal, you are putting aside a little for that rainy day, by eating fresh oily fish, by eating food rather than foodstuffs, by eating lots of green plants, by staying away from heavily processed foods in favour of fresh, naturally-grown, local foods.
So ask yourself what part of your meal is working to avoid the illnesses of ageing. Are there good dairy products to ward off osteoporosis? Are you drinking some red wine to keep the arteries lean? Are the foods you eat fuelling your health, and building up reserves that you can dip into when you are just about to beat your grandchildren at a game of tennis? Are you walking and golfing and sailing so that arthritis is kept at bay, and so that your weight is optimal?
Or are your mealtimes doing the opposite?
Is your weight going to be a problem as you age? Will you be worried every time you walk down stairs, or step onto a boat, that you are going to slip and bust a hip because your bones are brittle? Are the arteries lean, or unclean?
With a good HEPP supporting you as you age, you too can peak at 75 years of age. You too can be as cool as Leonard, or Tom, or Harro and Gisi.
We think of pensions as involving nothing more than money, and the investment of money. But it is our health that is our wealth, remember, so make sure you have invested well, and are wealthy in the way that really counts. That way, you will have reserves for when you really need them, for when you hit your real peak.
Otherwise, you just won’t manage that fifth encore.