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What to do when you live to become a 100?

What to do when you live to become a 100?

Lecture by Rudi Westendorp at Mosa Conference

MAASTRICHT. Students of today will live to be a 100 years, on average. What does one do with all that time? Rudi Westendorp, professor in geriatrics medicine at Leiden University and director of the Leyden Academy on Vitality and Ageing, advises them to start thinking about it now. “Don’t assume that you will retire and buy a boat when you are 65, it’s not going to be like that anymore. Keep an open mind about the future.” On Wednesday, 18 June, he will give a lecture at the annual Mosa Conference, organised for and by (bio)medical students.


In his lecture, Westendorp talks about ageing in a healthy way. But what is healthy, really? “If you were to ask ten people that question, you would get ten different answers. A doctor will say that you get less and less healthy because the older you are the more ailments you usually have. That is a very narrow definition of health. It also has to do with whether you can do the things you want with the body you have. Older people usually manage to do this. With some help and resources, to be true, but they do manage.” He thinks that this is because older people know much better what they want. “You become more focussed on what you find important and what you don’t.”

Despite this positive message, the number of years spent in sickness is rising in the Netherlands. “That is because we carry out medical interventions at a very early stage, to prevent complications. A side effect is that people think that we are all getting sicker. But the figures show that the average age increases every year. These days, our bodies show less signs of wear than 50 or 100 years ago and that which wears out, we can replace much better.”

Not only the average age, but also the maximum age is rising. “The present record of 122 years is going to be broken. It is just like with Sven Kramer. Every season people think he cannot skate any faster than he already has, but time and time again he manages.”

Westendorp feels that vitality is a state of mind. “That is now being linked to health. In my book ‘Ouder worden zonder het te zijn’ (Ageing without getting older) I have split that up. Vitality means being able to make something out of life. It is your own responsibility, although we can of course stimulate and inspire each other.”

He is calling for a proper discussion in society. “Governments are always lagging behind, there will have to be a popular movement. For example, it should be normal to start a second career after the age of 40. If you are a mother of 35 now, you have a problem. You have to combine work and children, because otherwise you can forget your career. Such nonsense.”

Everyone will have to start thinking about what they are going to do with the second part of their lives, when the children are grown up and have left home. “Stay involved with society, whether as a worker or not. Taking things easy has dramatic consequences. Don’t assume that you will retire and buy a boat when you are 65, it doesn’t work like that anymore. Keep an open mind about the future. Think about what you want to do most of all. That is what people benefit from.”

In addition to Westendorp, speakers at this eighteenth edition of the Mosa Conference include emeritus professor of child and adolescent psychiatry Theo Doreleijers (about the adolescent criminal brain), and cardiologist Janneke Wittekoek (about preventing cardio-vascular diseases in adults). There are also workshops and students will present their research. The theme is ‘Circle of Life – The Journey from Creation to Degeneration.’


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