A commonly held belief says that, as one enters his or her senior years a decline in strength, mobility, reflexes, perception, memory and alertness should be expected. Yet the exceptions are proverbial. Who hasn’t heard of persons in their 70s, 80s, 90s, or even 100s completing marathons, Ironman events, and other athletic endeavors? Likewise, the accounts of persons continuing to fill vital positions in their professions or assuming leadership roles in government, business, education, the arts, science, religion, etc. well into what are thought to be the retirement years are prolific.
Pablo Casals, once known as the world’s greatest cellist, even in later years still practiced four or five hours every day. Casals was once asked why at age 90 he still worked so hard on his music. He replied, “Because I think I am getting better.”
Senator Frank Lautenberg, the last World War II veteran in congress, represented New Jersey from 1982-2001. He was re-elected to the United States Senate again in 2003 at age 79 and served until his passing in June of this year. Likewise, Senator Strom Thurman represented South Carolina in the U.S. Senate for 49 years, still serving at age 100 before his passing in 2003.
Anyone interested in running is likely aware of 102 year-old British marathoner Fauja Singh. Singh began running at age 89 to help get over the loss he felt following the passing of his wife and son. He completed his first marathon in 2000 and has run many marathons around the world, with his best time of five hours and 40 minutes coming in 2003 at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon at age 92. Singh returned to Toronto in 2011 at age 100 to compete in the same marathon. Now at age 102 Singh remains active walking four to five hours every day. He has never suffered an injury from running. In a February, 2013 interview with CNN, Singh stated that when he hits the dreaded “wall,” a term distance runners use to describe the onset of sudden fatigue that makes continuing to run seem very difficult, he meditates and thinks of God. Singh believes that running makes one more spiritually aware and in-tune with their inner self.
Participation in sports, fitness and leisure activities among Americans of all ages is booming. In 2011, 217 million persons participated in 119 athletic activities (Cove, T. “An overview of the research and insights into the numbers,” 2012 Participation report: The Physical Activity Council’s annual study tracking sports, fitness and recreation participation in the USA). In some areas of sport, persons born between 1945 and 1964 (Boomers) equaled or outnumbered those born 1965-1979 (Gen X) and 1980-1999 (Gen Y/Millenials).
Mary Baker Eddy, a 19th and early 20th century religious leader and founder of the Christian Science church, took the view that “[m]en and women of riper years and larger lessons ought to ripen into health and vitality instead of lapsing into darkness and gloom” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 248). Eddy understood man to be made in God’s image and likeness as stated in Genesis 1, and taught that as one gains a better understanding of God and man created in His likeness, limitations and burdens drop away. Living in a period where the life expectancy of an American woman was 49 years, Eddy’s most productive work came during the last 40 of her 89 years. During this latter period, she began a worldwide religious movement, wrote prolifically, and lectured throughout America. In her 88th year she founded and published The Christian Science Monitor, an international daily newspaper, which has won seven Pulitzer Prizes for excellence in journalism.
Is there a law mandating that we have to experience a decline in our physical and mental abilities? Science has never shown a correlation between the revolutions of earth around the sun and the aging of the body. But people’s beliefs regarding age and decline tend to be fairly adamant, and these beliefs are reinforced continually through the media, advertisements, and the opinions of our friends and acquaintances.
As with many aspects of our well being, when it comes to age our beliefs and expectations can determine our experience. So, when tempted to think we’re too old for an activity, why not challenge it!
Henry Teller, C.S., Ed.D.
Christian Science Committee on Publication