Recently, I was looking through a book that listed the “most amazing places” to visit around the world. I remember thinking, “Will I really get to see all 35 in the time I have, or will I need to pick and choose?”
It’s scary to think that our time here on earth is limited. Many people, including myself, have a massive list of things they’d like to do or accomplish. If I could have five careers, for example, I would. Although I’m a health and fitness coach and social worker, I’d also love to support my community in other ways. Rehabbing abused animals and working in prison advocacy immediately come to mind.
When I consider the possibility of living to be 100, I can’t help but think, “Why not?” It sounds awesome — just think of how much more time we’ll have! But to enjoy it, we’ll need to take care of ourselves.
People in my family live long, healthy, happy lives. My great-uncle, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, lived to be 95. We used to spend an afternoon each week together. Mentally, he was very sharp until his last few months. His sister-in-law, my great aunt, lived to 99. She went skydiving for her 85th and 90th birthdays.
Today, the oldest person I’m closest to is my father, who just turned 84. He’s very active, both physically and mentally. He does callisthenic exercises every morning, walks the family dog, and mows the lawn and cleans the gutters on his own. A former judge, he’s still an avid reader and thinker, and actively works to keep his mind sharp. My mom’s only 71, but she’s on the treadmill every day.
Because I was adopted as a baby and don’t know much of my biological history, I’m unsure what I can reasonably expect in regard to my own longevity. But I deeply believe that it will depend on a lifestyle that places value on physical and emotional health.
If people are going to live to 100, healthcare will have to improve. Not only should it become more accessible and affordable (that’s a given), but people should be rewarded for paying attention to preventative care, such as annual exams.
I’d love to see a broader range of medical treatments in everyone’s health plan. Along with prescribing drugs to control symptoms, an emphasis should be put on using nutrition to help people manage issues like high blood pressure. In an ideal world, doctors would receive nutrition counseling to help them discuss it with their patients.
We’ll also need more acceptance and education about mental health issues. They impact large swaths of our society, and yet we continue to behave as if that’s not the case. As a result, more and more people go without getting the support that could help them build meaningful, fulfilling lives.
Staying active is a key part of being physically and emotionally healthy. I fully intend to remain active throughout the course of my life. I currently run triathlons, and I am planning to start yoga soon. Ideally, I’ll still be doing triathlons when I’m 80 — or 100 — but I’ve had three surgeries already on my knee, so I need to be open as to how things play out. If I can’t do a triathlon, then I’ll walk every day — and I’ll be the best walker I can be. Aging isn’t about what you can’t do. It’s about keeping up with your own parameters.
I think gym memberships should be part of healthcare plans. People need to find a way to move their bodies that make them feel good. In the decade I’ve spent in the social work field, I’ve routinely found that older adults who maintain active lifestyles are able to rehabilitate and return home from the hospital far faster than those who don’t.
My understanding is that women generally live longer than men, so I do have some fears about outliving my husband if I were to live to 100. I don’t intend to have children, so I hope I won’t be alone. I have 14 nieces and nephews that I’m close to, who range from newborn to 30 years old. Some I babysit. Others train with me for triathlons. “Will you be on the hook for me when I’m older?” I tease them. (“Is that why you’re spending so much time with us?” one of my nephews asked the other day.)
The answer, of course, is no. At the present time, my vision for living to 100 involves living independently in the Shenandoah Valley, on the acres of farmland I own. I hope to be homesteading and growing my own fruits and vegetables. Whether working or volunteering, I want to still be helping others. And maybe visiting all 35 of those “most amazing places” in the world.
Marianna Johnson has spent her career as a social worker and a certified health and fitness coach supporting people improve their quality of life. She was raised in Northern Virginia and spent time living internationally with her Foreign Service family. She’s been an athlete throughout her life and is training for her first half Ironman race.
This post is paid for by AARP.