For the past 20 or more years, Cathy and I have been rising early twice a week to join a 6:30 a.m. aerobics class. The participants have become like family over the years — to where we must know your date of birth before you can join. This is because the fellowship of gathering to celebrate one’s birthday after class is just as important as how much weight you can lift or the number of sit-ups accomplished. A more recent class tradition is to present the coveted YNY Medal at our annual Christmas party. YNY is an acronym for Younger Next Year, which refers to a book with the same title. The idea is that one’s age is simply a number relative to physical and mental areas that can change for the better each year. What normally comes to mind is weight, but this can be expanded to include heart rate, cholesterol level or the number of 5ks completed. You see, we can become Younger Next Year depending on our mindset.
Last year, while traveling through an Atlanta airport, I picked up a book by a Yale professor and leading expert on the psychology of successful aging. In her book, Breaking the Age Code, Dr. Becca Levy draws on her research to state how age beliefs can be improved in order to benefit all aspects of the aging process. Many of our beliefs about aging are taught at an early age and can result in a bias we have about ourselves, but also how we may direct that bias toward others as they age.
In the first chapter of her book, Dr. Levy shares that she begins her Health and Aging class each year by asking her students a simple question: What are the first five words or phrases that come to mind when you think of an older person? If we’re honest most responses would be negative — sluggish, irritable, sick, cranky, tired — because of the age stereotypes that dominate our culture. As Dr. Levy shares in her book, there is a vast range of beliefs that determine how we act toward our older relatives, organize our living spaces, distribute health care, and form our communities. She goes on to say that our beliefs can also determine how older people think about themselves, which can adversely or positively influence their physical and cognitive health and life expectancy. Those with a more positive perception of aging generally remembered better, walked faster and even lived longer.
This past year our office has experienced a record number of clients reaching out to say they feel it is time to retire. The season of COVID restrictions placed an unprecedented stress on many, especially those operating businesses and medical institutions that were understaffed. The reaction is understandable. As a financial planner, my first concern for clients preparing for retirement is for them to have a sound financial plan to ensure expenses will be met to live fully while in retirement. Secondly, is the need to encourage them to plan for daily living activities. We have found this especially true following the first 3-6 months of retirement.
In the movie The Intern, Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) is a 70-year-old widower who has discovered that retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Seizing an opportunity to get back in the game, he becomes a senior intern at an online fashion site founded and run by Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). Early in the movie, Jules sees Ben as past his prime and lacking in any business capabilities. When she later finds out the executive-level positions he held in the past, she is intrigued. Over time, she comes to value his vast knowledge and experience and looks to him for wise advice in her business.
Dr. Levy’s research discovered older workers like Ben Whittaker are not only capable of remarkable breakthroughs, but are also more dependable, have less turnover and absenteeism, and have fewer accidents on the job. In a recent study by AARP, more and more employers are expanding their search because they are struggling to find committed and competent workers. With a growing older population, the labor force participation rate among older workers is on the rise as people opt to delay retirement and continue working past traditional retirement age. Some may have other reasons, such as being unable to afford to retire. Whatever the reason, the Bureau of Labor Statistics still projects that those aged 65 and older will be the fastest-growing age group in the workforce in the decade ahead.
Someone recently asked if I would be retiring soon. As I often say, true retirement readiness is about more than savings and investments — it’s about living and aging well. Age should not be the determining factor in the retirement decision-making process. Age-related stereotypes often seen today can be easily debunked by shifting one’s mindset. This is what Cathy and I are striving to do in our 6:30 a.m. aerobics class. I hope you, too, will always look for ways to become Younger Next Year.