They’re older and loving it

When I first read about 105-year-old Agnes McKee becoming the oldest person to throw out a ceremonial first pitch at a Padres game earlier this week, my mind went to Carol Collins, whom I had met about a year ago at the National Senior Games. At 92, Carol won the 5K and 10K cycling time trials as well as the 20K road race for women in her age category. Yes, she was the only female athlete in the 90-to-94 age group for these events, but just that fact that she was competing in and completing these activities was inspiring.

Agnes, for months leading up to the professional baseball game, reportedly stretched and practiced throwing pitches with staff members of the retirement community where she lives, supplementing her preferred activities of art, bridge, bingo and dancing. The day of the game, her underhanded lob bounced twice before reaching the catcher’s mitt, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune, but the fans cheered her on just for being there and trying.

Many of America's older adults appear to be joining Carol and Agnes in their enthusiasm for life, according to the results of two surveys released this month. For the 2014 United States of Aging survey, conducted by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, the National Council on Aging, UnitedHealthcare and USA Today, most Americans aged 60 or more years reported that they are more motivated than in the past two years to improve their health by exercising regularly and setting health goals—two steps that also relate to reported increases in optimism among older adults. And when asked to identify the most influential person motivating them to live a healthy lifestyle, 39 percent of survey respondents credited themselves, 26 percent identified their spouse and 15 percent acknowledged their adult children.

In the other poll, more than 80,000 interviews conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index revealed that Americans aged 65 or more years are more confident about their appearance than those aged 18 to 34 years or those aged 35 to 64 years. Sixty-six percent of those aged at least 65 years said they agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “You always feel good about your physical appearance,” compared with 61 percent of those aged 18 to 34 and 54 percent of those aged 35 to 64.

“As people age, perhaps a different set of societal expectations and appearance standards lead to a renewed sense of confidence,” the pollsters write, adding, “Older Americans’ looks are generally out of sync with the youthful standard of beauty that prevails in American culture, and yet they are the most happy with what they see in the mirror. Perhaps it will come as a relief to many who toil over minute details of their appearance that they could become happier with their looks in years to come.”

Research also gives us reasons to look on the bright side when it comes to aging. Authors of three articles in the July issue of Perspectives in Psychological Science examined the scientific literature and found that several factors—including motivation and "crystallized knowledge"—can play important roles in supporting and maintaining cognitive function in the decades after middle age. For instance, one review found that when older adults choose not to participate in tasks they deem too difficult or not personally relevant, they might improve their performance on tasks in which they do choose to engage. A second study found that older adults’ reliance on prior knowledge to fill in gaps caused by failures of episodic memory could make them more resistant to learning new erroneous information. And the third piece of research found that, despite the implications of media reports citing cognitive differences, older adults actually may be less likely to be victims of consumer fraud than members of other age groups.

Back in California and after her Petco Park appearance, Agnes shared secrets to her longevity with the media. "Just keep moving," she told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

A healthy attitude also helps, she had told the newspaper in advance of the event. “I don’t dwell on anything or worry about something that might have happened," Agnes said. "If it is going to happen, it is going to happen." Indulging one’s passions is another best practice, she relayed.

Older adults such as Carol and Agnes are taking the fear out of aging and enabling people to look forward to their advancing years. Who inspires you, and how? Please comment below or send me an email at

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Topics: Activities , Alzheimer's/Dementia , Executive Leadership