There are people who get better as they get older. You might not know it if you watch TV, where senior citizens are often depicted as inactive folk who spend most of their time fretting over their diminished hearing and discussing geriatric products. The fact is, plenty of older adults are out there accomplishing feats that not many younger people would attempt. There truly are seniors who have done extraordinary things.
Consider these headline-grabbing achievements from people who are making the most of their golden years:
- Japanese boatsman Minoru Saito sailed solo around the world non-stop at age 77.
- Yuichiro Miura summited Mt. Everest at 80. It was his third trip, and the fact that he had diabetes and multiple heart operations didn’t deter him.
- Dorothy Davenhill Hirsch reached the North Pole when she was 89.
- Kathryn Hodges of Seattle participated in a tandem skydive at the tender age of 103.
- Fauja Singh was still completing marathons at age 104.
- Hiromu Inada added biking and swimming to the marathon and finished an Ironman triathlon at age 85.
- John Glenn made a name for himself as a young astronaut, but also became the oldest astronaut when he returned to outer space at age 77.
- Rosemary Smith, an Irish racer, drove a Formula 1 car when she was 79.
Not all extraordinary senior achievements come in the realm of sports and physical accomplishments. There are folks in every field of endeavor who did their most memorable work in their senior years:
- Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until she was 78, and then went on to earn worldwide acclaim.
- Laura Ingalls Wilder began writing and publishing her “Little House” books in her sixties.
- Harland Sanders retired at 65 but decided he wanted to try something new. He founded the KFC franchise and became a multi-billionaire in his late eighties.
- Nelson Mandela was in prison until age 72. Four years after his release, he became the first Black President of South Africa.
Not every exceptional senior grabs the headlines. Some you have never heard of those people quietly plug away, showing us how age is never a barrier to accomplishment:
- Nola Ochs graduated from college when she was 95.
- British centenarian Ethel Davey continued to volunteer at a thrift shop past her 100th birthday, working more than 20 years without missing a shift.
What Makes for an Extraordinary Senior?
Though their achievements are widely varied, seniors who make their mark have certain characteristics in common. They remain physically active, socially engaged and they never consider themselves too old to learn something new. They approach life with the same relish and vigor they’ve always had.
Extraordinary Seniors Are Active
People who want to interview extraordinary seniors often have trouble scheduling a meeting. Why? Because these older folks are always busy! Whether it’s a continuation of a lifelong hobby or a venture into something they’ve never done before, the most exceptional seniors always have activities on their schedule.
Many of them keep working into their eighties and even nineties while others retire at a more traditional age before turning to new pursuits.
Extraordinary Seniors Are Socially Engaged
They maintain friendships that have sustained them through the years and continue to make new ones. Many of the happiest and most productive seniors are joiners. They participate in hobby clubs, political and religious organizations, and volunteer efforts.
The sharpest seniors converse with people who don’t share their opinions. Also, they don’t restrict their social contacts to their age group. They deliberately seek the company of those who are one, two, and even three generations younger. They especially strive to associate with high achievers. People of accomplishment tend to inspire and spur one another on to even greater achievements.
Extraordinary Seniors Continue To Learn
A person learns a lot by raising a family, working at one or more jobs over multiple decades, and participating in hobbies and volunteer activities. But no matter how much you know, you can always learn more. Many remarkable seniors are voracious readers. Others attend seminars and take educational vacations. Still, others leverage the freedom of advanced years by embracing and mastering technology. They know that you’re never too old to learn something new.
One of the most effective ways they learn is by traveling. Dealing with the details of trip organizing keeps the mind sharp, and new people and places enrich folks no matter how long they’ve lived. They don’t necessarily have to venture abroad. There are new experiences to be had in neighboring towns or neighboring states or provinces.
Extraordinary Seniors Take Care of Mind and Body
A few of these exceptional people are the “super-fit” who run marathons, climb mountains and jump out of airplanes. But even those whose accomplishments involve books and businesses tend to keep themselves in reasonable shape. This latter group is for the most part not obsessive about weight. In fact, they range toward the high end of the healthy body mass index (BMI) range. But they take care of their bodies and keep moving.
Any kind of achievement, be it physical or mental, requires energy. It takes a healthy diet and physical exercise to build and maintain stamina.
In addition, successful seniors are not mentally lax or lazy. Many enjoy games, puzzles and other cognitively challenging pursuits.
Extraordinary Seniors Maintain Their Positive Attitude
Older adults aren’t immune to the problems that confront people of all ages. Most have failed during their lifetimes, often more than once. They can feel stressed, depressed or generally out of sorts just like anyone else.
Still, they’re convinced they have purpose and something to give the world, and they’re willing to fight through day-to-day setbacks in order to do so. They treat failure as a learning experience and they don’t quit when the going gets tough.
Extraordinary seniors look forward. Sure, they have a wealth of past experience on which to draw, but they’re always thinking about what they’ll do next week, next month, next year. They know how rewarding it is to take on new challenges and improve at something even at 70, 80, or 90 years of age.
Not every senior can run marathons, climb Mt. Everest or explore outer space. Still, there’s a little bit of the extraordinary senior in every adult who reaches the golden years.