Life & Culture

Today, 70 is the new 20 and the proof is all around you

While you were munching your museli this morning, I ran five kilometres so I dare you to make ageist assumptions about me and my white hair


Peter is cycling 1200 miles from London to Valencia to raise money for research into kidney disease. Over 17 days he will power through France then over the Pyrenees. The training alone for this adventure has cost him two stolen bikes and one brush with death and, no, he’s not some strapping 20-something — he’s  a wiry bloke of 74 with what his wife calls a “dodgy ticker”.

Though the feat Peter is attempting is pretty gobsmacking, somehow the fact that he’s well into what used to be called the “golden years” of life is actually the least surprising thing about it. Forget 60 is the new 40, that’s yesterday’s story. Today, 70 is the new 20, and we are surrounded by the evidence.

The change has happened within my lifetime. When I was a child my adored Oma seemed to me the acme of grandmotherly perfection. With a halo of white hair, a double row of pearls on her cashmere jumper and her knitting never far away, she personified the older person — elegant but frail, a bit wobbly on her feet and very, very wise. She must have been in her mid-60s, pretty much the age I am now.

What a change a couple of generations makes! My wisdom is in short supply, but I can still turn the cartwheels I did as a kid. The only difference now is that I don’t care if people can see my knickers. Roll on my 70s!

Maybe with better food and healthcare and less of that tiring stuff like running for your life from the Nazis, we’re all staying younger and fitter. There are now over nine million 70-somethings in the UK  and they no longer feel obliged to rely on a subscription to the National Trust and the bridge club for kicks. It is time to live a little, and they don’t mind taking a leaf out of their children’s notebooks to do so.

I posed this question on a popular Jewish social media page: which of you behaves like a 20-year-old?

The answers poured in: Michael started rocking when he played the spoons at Maccabi in West Hampstead with Princess Anne and has never stopped; Lynda has been on First Dates and shops at H&M; Vivian loves dancing; Trish teaches judo; Jo, a mere stripling of 68, has parachuted out of planes and trekked to see gorillas; Richie is a gigging musician who plays Ibiza sax (who knew?) reggae and ska and who was last heard of in Marbella.

We are , after all, the generation that worshipped the Rolling Stones (who are about to have a new album out). But back when we were actually young, even as we crept home late from our gigs and parties, we were still growing up in an age of respectability, when there was crushing social pressure to conform to certain norms.

It was our generation that rebelled and dropped out, or just had the massive revelation that living together without being married wasn’t a sin, that you could be glad to be gay and adults didn’t have the monopoly on being right.

And so my peers have taken that thinking into retirement and beyond. Make ageist assumptions about me based on my white hair if you dare. I’ll be happy to take your seat on the tube, even though I’m the one who ran five kilometres this morning while you were still munching on your muesli.

Forget the pipe and slippers, crochet and tea dances, it’s time to live our best life. So, to all the 70 -somethings out there, savour the apple and honey, and I’ll see you at Glastonbury.

Peter Tenenbaum is raising money for research at UCL into the kidney condition FSGS:

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