Helen L’Orange imagined old age as a succession of days spent in recline, reading books while waiting quietly by windows. Now at 72, this is far from the truth. Every morning she walks 4000 steps, each one counted on the Fitbit she wears round her wrist. Her previous day’s tally was 18,000 steps, the day before that 10,500.
She attends daily stretch-and-tone exercise classes which includes nine women, aged in their 60s and 70s – the oldest turning 80 next year.
"We want to age meaningfully. We don't want to go into retirement villages and nursing homes. We're a generation which has had meaningful work and don't want to suddenly sit and have a meaningless life."
Older Australians should be recognised as active contributors rather than drains on society, she says. "We're out there looking after ourselves and trying to be self-sufficient and also making contributions – helping to care for grandchildren and volunteering in our thousands.”
Kate O'Loughlin, an associate professor in the ageing work and health research unit at the University of Sydney, says seniors are often perceived as unproductive and frail, or as "lovely, cuddly old people who aren't very mobile".
"Once people leave paid work they are put into this basket of being has-beens, whereas they are consumers of goods and services, and providers of services – particularly caring and volunteer work," she says.
L’Orange retired from paid work at the age of 70 after a long and lauded career, including roles as head of the Office of Status of Women and chief executive of the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission.
In 2013, she co-founded The Waverton Hub for older residents and helps organise various activities for the almost 300 members to keep them active and engaged, such as tai chi, trivia nights and zumba classes.
"We want to stay active contributors. I don't think there is a member of The Hub who would identify with the word 'burden'."
In her spare time L’Orange runs yoga classes and can even stand on her head! She’s also the secretary and building manager for her apartment building, and helps care for her four grandchildren, whose photos are on the fridge in her home.
"I can't do as much as I did and I can't do it as fast but I want to stay engaged," she says.
Who said that age is a barrier to staying active? - Not us!