Whoever says life begins to dwindle at the age of 75 has not seen Japanese swimmer Mieko Nagaoka. This 99-year old only started swimming when she was in her 80s, and she is already an 18-time world-record holder who still intends to add more medals to her collection and continue breaking records.
Nagaoka’s example is not unique in Japan nowadays. The country holds the world’s longest life expectancy rate of 84 years, but a low birthing rate has caused a demographic crisis. With the growing number of elderly – 65 and older, reaching around a quarter of the country’s population, more and more senor citizens are seen taking active participation in the work force and less in retirement. The rise in pension costs has forced the country to raise their retirement age from 60 to 65.
Boredom and financial reasons were cited by the senior citizens when asked why they continue to keep an active lifestyle outside their homes. A cheerleading squad composed of women with an average age of 67, the “Pom Pom Grannies”, said that aside from the fitness they get from their routines, the activity helps keep their minds sharp despite their age. Though not something they purposely strive for, these senior citizens are challenging and defying stereotypes of what it means to age in Japan.