“WE ALL FORGE OUR OWN AGE”
How can you grow older, yet still stay young? This is the question that has busied Sven Voelpel, expert in demographics and Professor of Business Administration at Jacobs University in Bremen, for more than a decade. Now he has compiled his scientific findings on the topic in a book for a broad audience. And the title describes the program: “You decide how old you are.” Privately, too, the 42-year-old has decided to stay young.
A turtle making a powerful leap, just about to catch a frisbee. The cover photo itself deals with the cliche of growing old. On the cover, the turtle, symbol of sedate longevity, becomes a dynamic athlete. Those who rest rust – the old saying is really true, and has been proven in multiple studies, says Voelpel. Participating in sports not only supports physical performance; it also enhances mental fitness. “The interesting thing is that different mental skills can be trained through different kinds of sports: For instance, tai chi promotes precision of phrasing, while Nordic walking improves reaction time.”
It is astounding research results like these that Voelpel has gathered together in his book. This look at the topic of age is broken down into the topics of calendar, biological, perceived, and social age. But no matter what perspective Voelpel uses to view the topic – one message stands out among all the others: Age has less to do with years of life and more with inner attitude than many people believe.
Plasticity – Sven Voelpel uses the word again and again, when he talks about the opportunities of aging. “The human brain, even at an advanced age, can still form new synapses, and our body is much more adaptable than we believe.” The 60-year-old who gives birth to quadruplets; the 80-year-old who climbs Mount Everest, the 90-year-old who is re-elected mayor, or the 100-year-old who runs a marathon – they are, of course, all individual cases for the researcher, but they all show that today it is no longer possible without encountering problems to associate many activities and lifestyles with particular age groups.”
The work environment also plays a role: “Those who repeatedly have to adjust to new people and new topics in their work life remain mentally fit more easily than those who have little variety in their jobs. So it is all the more important to keep turning to new things in your leisure time.” With his book, Sven Voelpel wants to give courage to people who are afraid of growing old. “Our capabilities for being healthy and happy as we grow old are greater than we often think.”
However, our image of growing old is often colored by preconceptions – particularly in the work world. “That has to change. Because we are an aging society,” says Voelpel and begins to speak about his involvement in the WISE Demographic Network, or WDN. Nine years ago, he founded the network at Jacobs University in collaboration with a number of prestigious companies. At regular meetings, representatives of the member companies regularly discuss how demographic change can be used as an opportunity. “It is important that older workers are not be given just routine tasks, because that makes them feel like they are being shunted aside – feel more and more like they can do less and less. They, like all workers, need tasks that are neither beyond nor below their abilities,” says Voelpel. This also offers an opportunity to use the potential of mixed-age teams more intensively than has been the case until now: Older workers often bring greater experience-based knowledge to the table, which stands them in good stead in meeting many challenges; younger workers are often able to adjust more quickly to new tasks and working conditions. “When multiple generations work together in one unit, they can learn a lot from one another,” emphasizes Voelpel.
The father of two children ages two and four keeps himself fit with short but intensive strength training and healthy nutrition. And how much does his perceived age deviate from that in his identity card? Sven Voelpel grins: “As far as curiosity goes, I sometimes still feel like a 17-year-old,” he says. “But when I think of all the things I have seen, experienced, and explored in my profession, then I feel a lot older than 42. That mixture feels pretty good.“
Further information about the book “You decide how old you are” and a free email coaching can be found at the web site www.alter-ist-kopfsache.de
Questions will be answered by:
Prof. Dr. Sven Voelpel| Professor of Business Administration
S.Voelpel@jacobs-university.de | Tel.: +49 421 200-4773/3467