Action hero … Liam Neeson in Taken 3. Extreme stunts … Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation.

Looking fit … Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator: Genisys.

Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War.

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It could be Tom Cruise, now in his 50s, performing extreme stunts in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

Or Liam Neeson, as he approached 60, using a particular set of skills to become an action hero in the Taken movies.

Or Arnold Schwarzenegger, having already returned as the Terminator, planning another Conan the Barbarian movie at 68.

Even if these Hollywood action heroes rely on body doubles for their stunts more than they once would have, psychiatrist Dr Julian Parmegiani​ believes they should be role models for ageing Australian men.

He believes the new breed of over-50s action hero, which also includes Sylvester Stallone (69), Denzel Washington (61), Harrison Ford (73), Robert Downey Jr (51), Bruce Willis (61), Sean Penn (55) and Keanu Reeves (51), are a rare group in society for how well they are ageing.

Watching their movies in a different way – taking note of the star, how old he is and the shape he is in – can help overcome what he considers an epidemic of “learned helplessness” for males of a similar vintage.

In other words, instead of just accepting that physical and psychological decline is inevitable, we can see it is possible to stay fit well into our 50s, 60s and even 70s.

Parmegiani believes the health of ageing men is “almost a public health emergency” in Australia.

“When you look at men over 50, there are very few relatively speaking who make an effort to keep some sort of fitness and particularly a low body mass index,” he says. “Most of them, even if they’re fit, tend to be overweight, which doesn’t bode well for a whole lot of lifestyle-related diseases.”

Parmegiani has delivered a report on the inspiration provided by Hollywood’s older action heroes at the annual congress of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists.

He suggests that instead of watching action movies as just entertainment, viewers pay attention to the star’s physical fitness.

“They have a psychological incentive,” he says. “Many of them are fairly narcissistic. And they get paid an inordinate amount of money to keep acting once they’ve established a certain persona in the movies.”

Sure, it’s true that many Hollywood stars get endless help to look good, including injections of human growth hormone, testosterone and steroids, cosmetic surgery, make-up, hair transplants and expensive dentistry. They are filmed from flattering angles, can be made to look better with digital effects and only have to keep in tip-top shape for a few weeks of filming.

And, it should be said, they look more vibrant and youthful when directors cast decades-younger actresses as their love interests.

But Parmegiani believes these action heroes are still realistic role models for us mere mortals.

“The reality is they achieve a lot through diet and exercise and lifestyle changes,” he says. “Some of them go a step further and do cosmetic things.

“But they are what they look like. Liam Neeson might use a double for some of his stunts but generally he is who he is. He looks pretty fit and certainly quite flexible.

“From a physical health perspective, just about every man should look at these guys and see what they do and what they eat and how they train.

“And once they accept what’s achievable, get on with it fairly quickly before they die of a heart attack, stroke or get dementia or a whole range of cancers that are associated now with obesity.”

While his advice  is contrary to years of warnings about Hollywood actors and models creating unrealistic expectations about body image that have led to eating disorders, Parmegiani says he has successfully applied the theory in his own life. He was inspired to lose weight by seeing how many kilograms Nicolas Cage lost to star in 2007’s Ghost Rider.

“It really got me motivated,” he says. “I thought, gosh, if he can do it then it’s achievable. It’s no longer an impossible task that I’ve got to forget about because I’m no longer 22.”

So should older women see Susan Sarandon​ at 69, Helen Mirren at 70 or Judi Dench at 81 as similar role models?

Parmegiani believes that is less necessary because women often look after themselves better than men as they get older.

But these actresses are better role models than “someone who’s unhealthily underweight or looks unwell” and there are benefits in noting the increasingly wide range of roles they are playing, although only rarely in action movies.

Both men and women of a certain age should take inspiration from the acrobatic character that Antonio Banderas​, 55, played in The Expendables 3.

“The number of falls the elderly experience through loss of balance, which is part of the ageing process, is enormously costly to society,” Parmegiani says. “All those broken hips which leads to a higher mortality through bed rest and pneumonia are mostly preventable by regular balance training exercises.”


Harrison Ford, 73, is filming a Blade Runner sequel soon and is down for another Indiana Jones movie.

At 63, Liam Neeson’s latter-day move into action roles includes three Taken movies, Non-Stop and Run All Night.

Sylvester Stallone, 69, has shot three Expendables movies since 2010 as well as an Oscar-nominated role in Creed.

Jet Li, 53, continues his action career with Hong Kong’s League of Gods this year.

After The Expendables 3 and Terminator: Genisys, Arnold Schwarzenegger, 68, is scheduled to star in The Legend of Conan.

Pierce Brosnan, 63, and Jackie Chan, 62, star in the action-thriller The Foreigner which is out later this year.

Bruce Willis, 61, has two action movies out this year, Precious Cargo and Marauders, and is rumoured to be making another Die Hard.

Two-time Oscar winner Sean Penn, 55, played a stripped-to-the-waist action hero in last year’s The Gunman.

At 60, Mel Gibson has a Taken-style role protecting his daughter in this year’s action thriller Blood Father.

Tom Cruise, 53, shot another Jack Reacher movie recently and is down for another Mission: Impossible.

At 51, Keanu Reeves has just shot another John Wick movie.

Nicolas Cage, 52, recently played a Gulf War veteran seeking revenge in Vengeance: A Love Story.

While no longer as svelte as he was, 52-year-old Russell Crowe has a comic action role in The Nice Guys.

At 61, Denzel Washington is down to shoot another Equaliser movie.

Robert Downey Jr, 51, remains one of Hollywood’s highest paid actors for playing Iron Man.

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