It’s 9pm and I’m out for dinner with the man I am dating and he’s yawning. Am I boring  him? The opposite, he says. He’s finding it hard to keep up. He’s 63, retired and complaining that he never sees me and he thinks I need to slow down. OK, I admit it, it’s been a busy January. I’ve recently set up a book festival, I’m writing a book myself and I work as a journalist in my day job. 

Yes, I got various lurgies over Christmas and maybe haven’t allowed myself to rest enough. But I’m 55, my son has just left home for university and, finally, I have time to focus on what I want to do and I want to pack it all in. “But it’s ridiculous,” huffs my dinner date. “You were sick and you haven’t given yourself time to recover,  you’re always so busy. You’re not getting any younger.  You need to act your age,” he chided. 

It’s not just me that’s being told off. It was reported this week that the King did 516 engagements last year and Queen Camilla has said she thinks he should slow down, following a minor operation for an enlarged prostate. But like me, the King has no intention of “slowing down” and is keen to be “back up and running”, according to the Palace.

But should the King and I start slowing down? Here’s what the experts think…

1. Get fit

“Absolutely not – you shouldn’t slow down,” says Sir Muir Gray, 80, former chief knowledge officer for the NHS, still working as a director of the Optimal Ageing Programme at “Ageing exists as a normal biological process but until the age of 90, it has little effect on your ability to look after yourself, engage with others or get about independently. In fact, paradoxically, as we get older, we need to become more active – physically and mentally. Ageing doesn’t make you feel old – disease and loss of fitness will”, he says. Don’t slow down, he says, speed up!

2. Change your beliefs about what ageing means

“Psychological fitness is just as important as physical fitness,” says Gray. What you believe matters, he says. Specifically, what you believe about ageing. Studies show that the way we think about ageing can increase your lifespan by up to seven years. A study from the Yale School of Public Health, using data from the Ohio Longitudinal Study of Aging and Retirement, found that people who had positive ideas about their own ageing (who agreed with comments such as “I have as much pep as last year” and who disagreed that as you get older you get less useful) lived for an average of 22.6 years after they first participated in the study, while the people who felt less positively about ageing lived for just 15 years more on average.

Keep psychologically fit by challenging yourself, says Gray. Learn a language, become a volunteer or get yourself on to a committee. “Think about [the late] Queen Elizabeth II; she had challenging tasks to do all the time including talking to Prime Ministers she may not rate at all!”

3. Rest when you feel you need to

“I’m 56, very active and play competitive sports with people in their 20s,” says Carl Honoré, the author of In Praise of Slow and B(older): Making the Most of Our Longer Lives.  “No matter how hard I train, however, I will never have the same juice I did 30 years ago. But I can still play, compete and enjoy myself. That is what really matters.” Is there a sweet spot which is the optimal pace to live as we get older? “When it comes to finding the right pace of life, there is no universal sweet spot because everyone is different. 

But no one should ever feel guilty about or ashamed of slowing down. Resting enough is the cornerstone of a life well lived – at any age.” Honoré toured the world interviewing active, accomplished older people in their 70s and 80s who continued to work, volunteer, start their own businesses, play competitive sports and have wonderful sex. Their secret? “To stay as active and engaged as you can. Ignore the doomsters telling you that it’s all downhill from the age of 35 – it’s not. These days, people are running marathons in their 80s and 90s. Welcome to the age of the centenarian skydiver!” 

4. Exercise for 42 minutes a day

Sky-dives and marathons?  I thought we were supposed to be slowing down. “You don’t need to do anything extreme,” says Gray. “Focus on the four Ss instead: stamina, strength, skill (balance) and suppleness.”  He advises us to improve and maintain stamina by brisk walking every day for 30 minutes. Plus increase your strength, balance and suppleness with a 12-minute routine – lift a few light weights, do some stretches every day plus work on your balance – stand on one leg for a couple of minutes every day. “Just make your exercises part of your daily routine,” says Gray. 

5. Don’t lie in your sickbed

What about poor King Charles recovering from his op? Isn’t he allowed to rest? “Slowing down when dealing with a health problem is a no-brainer. The body needs time to adjust and heal. That doesn’t mean Charles can’t return to doing 516 engagements a year after he recovers,” says Honoré.

Gray, however, doesn’t believe in a long convalescence: “Obviously, it depends on what you’ve injured but if you can, get out of bed the very next day and start moving. Yes, rest has a part to play in the acute phase of illness, but this usually passes very quickly. But if you stay in bed due to illness, you are at risk of ‘deconditioning syndrome’, a physiological decline where muscle strength can decrease dramatically if you are over 70.”  

6. Create balance 

But where do we find the energy? As I age, I do get tired more quickly. A colleague of mine, 60, working fulltime in a hectic office recently confessed: “I find rushing around five days a week exhausting and I worry about the stress and cortisol levels. But I also worry about giving it up as it keeps my brain engaged and active.”

Simon Alexander Ong, the author of Energize: Make the Most of Every Moment,  suggests it’s all about balance. “If you’re only working and not making time to rest or disconnect, you are inevitably going to burn out. But if you retire and only rest, you can become sedentary and you’re more likely to fall ill, feel disconnected and lonely so there needs to be a balance between the two,”  he says. “It’s not only increasing our lifespan, but also increasing our health span. The lifespan is your biological age but your health span is how much of those years you feel good. Creating balance in your life will help increase your health span.” 

7. Rediscover your purpose 

“I notice that many of us are exhausted not because we are doing too much but we’re doing too little of the things that bring us joy,” says Ong. When our kids leave or when we retire,  we may need to rediscover our purpose and the things that bring us joy, he says. “If life no longer energises us it’s often because we’re running someone else’s race – we’re on this hamster wheel of someone else’s making. When we get older, it’s time to start living a life of YOUR making. What are you going to focus on now? What is the purpose that gets you up in the morning? That purpose will power your years as you get older,” he says. The King has been waiting for 70 years to take his place on the throne and live his purpose. I doubt he will be slowing down any time soon. Me neither. 


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