by Colin Milner
About halfway into my daily walk around the neighborhood, I had a revelation of sorts. It occurred to me that, in our world of experts and talking heads, we know more about planes, trains and automobiles, than we know about older adults. Think about it. We have built and repaired these machines for much longer than we have studied the health and well-being of this age group.
Going back 113 years, the average life expectancy was around 47; we have since added 30 years to this measure. So old age as we know it is relatively new. In fact, it wasn’t until 1996—when the first Baby Boomers faced their 50th birthdays—that the media spotlight started to shine on the positive side of aging.
Active aging shared a watershed year with the Boomers. More research started to come out showing that health issues and disabilities associated with old age were actually more the result of disuse. The US Surgeon General released his report on physical activity and health. And a landmark study from Tufts University demonstrated that adults could exercise in their ’90s and still achieve results quickly.
Since that time, we have seen many vigorous men and women pushing the limits and doing things previously unheard of for older adults. Former astronaut and US senator John Glenn went back into space in 1998, at age 77. Attracting legions of athletes, the Senior Olympics/National Senior Games emerged, as did many sporting opportunities for the 50-plus competitor. Furthermore, a massive amount of research has reached the public, due to the media’s insatiable appetite for Boomer-related news.
What am I getting at? Many perspectives on aging are still new. So, too, is much of our knowledge about older adult health and wellness and how to promote active aging in individuals. But we have come far in nearly two decade.
In 1996, only cutting-edge retirement communities and health clubs had fitness facilities and programs geared to an older audience. Today, you can find health clubs just for the 50-plus market, while senior centers are adding state-of-the-art facilities. YMCAs, JCCs, and many corporate fitness centers also offer comprehensive programming for older adults.
The last 17 years have shown us that abilities may remain untapped in the second half of life unless, as a society and as an industry, we continue to encourage individuals to reach for more. In the next 10 years, with more people living longer, we are certain to see not only unprecedented change, but also unprecedented opportunity.
Mining such chances will require you to know what is shifting, how it will affect you, and what you can do to help your clients and your business thrive from these changes. That is why this blog exists, to helping you along the way and discovering with you the full potential of adults in their later years.
Watch for my next blog that will help you assess your knowledge of your older consumer.
Until then, much success.
Colin Milner, founder and chief executive officer of the International Council on Active Aging® (ICAA), is a leading authority on the health and well-being of the older adult. For the past five years, the World Economic Forum has invited Milner to serve on its Network of Global Agenda Councils, recognizing him as one of “the most innovative and influential minds” in the world on aging-related topics. An award-winning writer, he has authored more than 250 articles.
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