55 to 65: the crucial years
(No. 143) This is the decade that determines the rest of your life
This feels like a huge New Year’s Eve for me. I have no plans for this evening, which is typical. I don’t drink and I’m not generally inundated with party invitations, so hanging out at home on the biggest night of the year feels normal to me. I will throw the windows open at midnight and listen to the shouting people and honking cars on the street below. I’ll work up some gratitude for all the good fortune in my life.
When I turned 55, I was newly divorced (for the second time) after nine eventful and sometimes excruciating years together. I was living in a new apartment in Manhattan with my three teenage kids and two coonhounds that had huge personalities. While my divorce left me bereft, it also filled me with energy for a new life. I did not think about getting old. I felt youthful, handsome and busy. My days were filled with responsibilities and a lot of friendship. My future seemed unlimited.
Stephen's People is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
In about 6 weeks I will turn 66, and I no longer have the same perspective on the future. These ten years have been momentous, with kids leaving home, books getting published (and some getting rejected), a couple of relationships and the passing of those old coonhounds. I am generally happy in my life, but I also see that my future is not limitless and that the decisions I’ve made in the last ten years will have a big effect on how my life unfolds in the coming decades.
I have readers who hate for me to talk about death, and I apologize in advance for upsetting their “I’ll live forever” world view. Yet, according to the actuarial tables, my life expectancy is a mere 7 more years, or age 73, as a male American. Women in this country currently have a life expectancy of 79. This is lower than in the previous few decades, and reflects the death toll from covid-19. It also reflects rising infant mortality rates, suicide and drug-related deaths, and more of the anti-progress our society is engaged in these days. But still, the numbers are shocking.
I’d like to challenge those stats, by living much longer. And I realize that much of what determines our lifespan is determined by our actions. In the years between 55 and 65, I worked in various ways to improve my health. I cut way back on sugar, and boosted my exercise. But I also gained weight and went through a few very stressful periods. Now that I’m leaving this crucial decade between 55 and 65, I’m going to make up for lost time, and continue to improve my health and mood. I encourage you to do the same.
In future posts I’ll write more about specific actions you can take after 55 to improve the chances that you’ll have a wonderful life after 65. In brief, these include losing weight, if you are obese, building muscle, and keeping your mind fit by writing, building, thinking and conversing. With the new year, we often make resolutions that are hard to keep. So I encourage you to just make one New Year’s resolution tonight, and stick to that until you feel like you can add another — maybe in February.
My resolution this year is to embrace my friendships and be open to new ones. That doesn’t mean I’ll soon become a social butterfly. I’ve never been that. But it does feel good to take actions to preserve and foster friendships as I enter the new year. Including with you who read Stephen’s People. I appreciate your eyes on my words.
Happy New Year. Let’s all challenge the statistics!