Can old age be as exciting as youth?

What is the secret to living large in old age? This week Dateline meets a squad of octogenerian Japanese cheerleaders and a famous TV writer challenging assumptions about people in their 90s.
cheerleadingIn an article recapping this week’s feature on Dateline, Dean Cornish, Joel Tozer, Heidi Ewing, and Rachel Grady offer these powerful revaluations (originally published on SBS):

On this week’s Dateline we meet people in their 80s and 90s who are looking to the future, not the past – leading fulfilling lives and staying active as they approach their centenary.

In Japan’s capital Tokyo, a city with more than 9 million senior citizens and a rapidly ageing population, an urgent point of discussion is how to improve quality of life for the city’s elderly.

The gradual integration of robots into everyday Japanese life is seen by some as a solution to loneliness and boredom. But one group of elderly women are maintaining their youth in a surprising way; by cheerleading.

In ‘Cheerleading Grannies’, we meet 86-year-old Fumie Takino, the founder of Japan Pom Pom, a cheerleading squad with an average age of 70.

Once a week they get dressed in colourful lycra bodysuits, pick up their pom poms and dance.

“As long as you can dance normally, you’re okay,” Fumie tells reporter Dean Cornish. “Sometimes, some people lack co-ordination.”

“Apart from that there’s nothing; no height requirement. No need to claim you’re good looking. No requirements except the age.”

The cheerleaders have bright costumes, play their music loud, and are constantly smiling while they dance – though Fumie wasn’t always outgoing and confident.

She comes from a generation of social conservatism, which she adhered to for many years. But after witnessing her father’s death and hearing about his regrets, she decided to change her approach to life – which led to her ending a marriage she was unhappy in and moving to the United States. “I made a decision to walk out and lead my own life,” she says.

This philosophy, combined with seeing an elderly cheerleading group in the US, drove her to start Japan Pom Pom. Initially they were received with suspicion – “the Japanese expect old people to behave modestly,” says Fumie. But more recently, at least based on a survey of people in the street, their support has grown.

The instructor of the group, a young woman, says she is amazed at how powerful the Japan Pom Pom cheerleaders are.

“I think it’s one of the solutions to the ageing population,” she says.

“Not only does it keep them physically active to stay healthy, but it also offers a community to stay social.”

For Fumie, she cherishes this new social group she’s brought together. To her, every day is a gift – she didn’t expect to still be living large in 2017.

“I didn’t think I’d make it to 80,” she says. “I thought I’d die younger.”

“No matter what it is or how old you are, I tell everyone to start something. Stop blaming your age for being unable to do this or that.

“Start something. It may change your life.”

While Fumie is doing her best to stay active in her 80s, acclaimed TV writer Norman Lear is showing the world how to live an exciting life in your 90s.

In ‘Not Dead Yet’, the writer of ‘The Jeffersons’ and ‘All in the Family’ lets us into his daily life, which still involves producing TV show – on the day we visit him he’s watching auditions for a new sitcom, focused on the lives of elderly people.

He has a constantly energetic attitude despite his age (he was 93 years old at the time of film), which may be due to what he believes may be the secret to longevity – “I’ll sing and dance, alone, in front of a full length mirror.”

Lear says old age has been a disadvantage when it comes to work.

“I wrote this five years ago,” Lear says of the sitcom he’s taking auditions for. “And the right people read it, I know, the right people thought it funny, I know. But the right people said, ‘it’s not our demographic’.”

The lack of interest in television shows focused on the elderly has a knock-on effect for actors. One actress who auditioned for Lear’s sitcom, ‘Guess Who Died’, says; “I’m not up for anything, all you’re right for are little grannies, but it’s not how I go through the world, you know?”

For Lear, he sees old age as a gift, and believes life doesn’t slow as you age – you continue to grow with it.

“Why would you be less expected to grow when you’re 80?” he says. “The culture dictates how you behave, and maybe the elderly buy into it the way they grow old?

“My role here now is to say, ‘wait a minute, that’s not all there is’. There’s a good time to be had at this age.”


Click here to watch the original dateline story.