I’m writing this unrest column three days after I turned 66 (and four months before I hit my “full retirement age” on Social Security). So my 70s are just around the corner. That was something that got me thinking until recently.
But after seeing what people in their 70s were saying in the recent AARP/National Geographic “Second Half of Life Study” and interviewing seven experts on aging – four between the ages of 70 and 81 – I’m now excited for my next one Decade.
After reading what I’ve learned, I think you’ll become more excited about prospects for your 70s, too. (Some of today’s famous septuagenarians: Jeff Goldblum, Mick Jagger, Dolly Parton, Helen Mirren, and Bruce Springsteen.)
“A Kind of Golden Decade”
“You could really say that the ’70s is kind of a golden decade right now,” said Neil Wertheimer, the 60-year-old editor of the AARP article about his survey of 2,580 US adults, who also helped design his questions.
When asked to imagine their quality of life as a ladder with 10 steps, people in their 70s told AARP and National Geographic that they were on a higher step than theirs Everyone younger said.
The level of satisfaction and optimism among respondents in their 70s “was much higher than we expected,” Wertheimer said.
According to the survey, happiness now generally increases in their 70s: 90% of respondents in their 70s said they were happy, compared to 81% in their 60s and 80% in their 40s.
“What that said to us was, ‘My life is very good right now and I don’t expect it and the world to necessarily get any better. But I don’t need it because I’ve found my peace, I’ve found my purpose and I’ve learned to live within my means,'” says Wertheimer.
Around 51% of respondents in their 70s are optimistic about the future.
“The biggest surprise is that older people have remained stubbornly optimistic even after COVID,” says The Super Age author Bradley Schurman.
Your 70s: The Generation X of the Decades
And yet, for all this happiness and optimism, I would describe our 70s as the Generation X of the decades – often overlooked.
Those 10s get far less attention than either our 60s, when retirement often begins and health insurance and Social Security kick in, or our 80s, which are generally viewed as problems of frailty, mobility, and cognition.
“Our 70s is a time period that’s been kind of undervalued,” says Karl Pillemer, a gerontologist at Cornell University, 67, author of “30 Lessons for Living” and leader of the Legacy Project, which provides life lessons for people over 65 collects.
Helen Dennis, the 81-year-old author of the syndicated Successful Aging column, jokes that the decade of your 70s “takes you from 60 to 80 like the highway in between.”
Pillemer notes, “Because society is so age-appropriate, people think of life after 70 as this kind of Dickensian horror. And we’ve heard it over and over again [in Legacy Project interviews] that it turns out to be much better for most – it’s an extraordinary surprise. It’s a potentially very rich period on a resume.”
Maybe it’s time our 70’s got some love.
Read: These are the best new ideas in retirement
Recognize what is of value in life
Paul Irving, a senior fellow at the Milken Institute and past chair of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, calls our 70s “that wonderful little window where we really realize, more than at any other time in life, what’s important — what really matters is value.”
Irving, author of The Upside of Aging, who recently turned 70, observes, “I think I have a different and frankly more sophisticated and nuanced ability [than when I was younger] Seeing through challenges and understanding the range of solutions that can come to fruition and not being intimidated by the complexity of work or the complexity of life. I don’t think I’m unusual in that regard.”
Pillemer says our 70s are an important time “for people to engage in experiences they want to remember and lay the groundwork for the rest of the last third of their lives.”
A time of regeneration when you exert yourself
Dennis believes that if you do it like she did (like she did), your 70s can be a time of regeneration and opportunity.
In her 70s, Dennis said to himself, “I have to deal with things that I think are important, with what I call ‘good people,’ ‘interesting people,’ people who are doing a good job.”
For her, this included conducting retreats for the head of a monastery.
“I think the path to fulfillment is that instead of trying to seek happiness by saying, ‘How can I spend my money on a trip to the Caribbean and what can I buy?’ it’s better to think: ‘What can I do for others?’” says Douglas Kenrick, 74, a professor of evolutionary social psychology at Arizona State University who is currently on sabbatical.
Americans in their 70s often decide, “They want to get involved in activities that might create a better future that they won’t see for themselves,” says Pillemer.
In the words of the Greek proverb Encore.org likes to quote Marc Freedman: “Society grows great when older people plant trees that will never give them shade.”
Happy with their relationships
The AARP/National Geographic survey found that Americans in their 70s were particularly satisfied with their relationships with friends and family; 81% rated these relationships as excellent or very good. Only 69% of those over 60 felt this way.
Ponytail-Kenrick told me, “Now most of my happiness and fulfillment depends on how my two sons and grandchildren are doing.” He and his son David have just finished the book Solving Modern Problems With a Stone-Age Brain ” released.
But the number of the relationships people have in their 70s has declined over the years, according to the AARP/National Geographic survey.
“It gets harder to form meaningful relationships later in life,” says Schurman. “That makes sense, because older population groups are more likely to experience the loss of friends and the narrowing of their circle over time.”
Wertheimer agrees, saying that many working relationships are temporary and transactional. In your 70s, relationships are often what he calls “more authentic.”
Concerns about health prospects
The clouds hanging over the heads of people in their 70s, according to the survey: Fears about their future health.
They are concerned about the likelihood of decreased hearing, heart health, endurance, bowel and bladder control, risk of cancer and autoimmune diseases, and problems related to mobility and cognition. According to Pillemer, the risk of dementia increases from 5% in 65 to 17% for people between 75 and 84 years of age.
In a 2020 YouTube video, consulting firm Age Wave founder and CEO Ken Dychtwald reflected on what it was like for him to turn 70: “I have to say, physically, it’s been a bit of a descent. I’m concerned that the incline of this descent will become steeper.” But emotionally and spiritually, the author of the new book Sages of Aging said, “I feel like it was a beautiful kind of ascension.”
The advice from aging experts in your 70s and 80s is to do whatever it takes to stay as healthy as possible.
“During the pandemic, I saw two people,” says Dennis. “My daughter and my fitness trainer once a week.” She likes to quote the sentence by geriatrician Walter Bortz: Illness in old age is not the enemy; it is frailty.
Dennis says, “I want to push frailty to 100.”
To keep fit, Kenrick goes on long bike rides and walked 10 miles just after his last birthday. Irving said to me, “When you and I are done talking, I’m going to get on my exercise bike and do 10 miles.”
In his interviews with older Americans, Pillemer says, “I’ve heard over and over again that someone who started out as a tennis player becomes a pickleball player; A hiker becomes a walker. People who age successfully at 70 optimize what they can.”
Boomer attitude reaches 70+
Wertheimer believes part of the optimistic attitude of many people in their early to mid-70s is that they are boomers. That’s how they lived their adult lives, he believes.
“Your sense of exploration, hope and curiosity – I think these are qualities that will stay with you for life. And I really believe that influences the way they think,” he says.
“I see it anecdotally all around me,” Wertheimer adds. “The number of people in their 70s who take trips to visit museums instead of just resorts? you learn; they are curious. They want to try new things. I think the seeds of being boomers in their youth don’t perish. And if they can apply that in their 70s, that’s a beautiful thing.”
The “U List” – worth seeing
From time to time I like to point readers to movies and TV shows that deal with retirement or older adults, and there are two that are worth mentioning now because we could all use a laugh.
Streaming on Paramount+, Jerry and Marge Go Large, a new comedy starring Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening, tells the true story of retirees Jerry and Marge Selbee as they find a way to win the lottery and revitalize their Michigan town Proceeds. My favorite bits are when Cranston’s character has just retired from his job running an automobile production line and has to find a way to spend his newfound free time with his wife – a transition that’s often difficult.
And, just for fun, I’d suggest giving the new ABC game show Generation Gap a try; it’s 9 ET/8 CT on Thursdays. Generation Gap pits a grandparent/grandchild team against a similar team. Host Kelly Ripa asks older contestants pop culture questions about the world of Gen Z and younger contestants about the people, places and things boomers love.