When do we start “getting old”?
If you’re in your 50s, and have a sudden decline in what you’re physically capable of, you are probably more likely to attribute the loss of function to age-related decline than if you were to have the same experience in your 20s.
I’m mainly referring to scenarios in which there was no abrupt injury. Things like plantar fasciitis, sciatica, rotator cuff tendinosis and back pain (i.e. foot pain, back of the leg pain and shoulder pain).
Why do we start to attribute physical decline to our age once we hit our 50s?
We’re affected by seeing the process of aging that the older adults around us are going through. And we’re affected by messaging in our culture about what to expect.
For instance, take the idea of retirement.
Retirement hasn’t been around all that long. It started in the mid to late 1800s in Germany and the United States, and became a government policy in the U.S. in 1935. That’s 4 – 6 generations.
Since that time the idea that an individual’s uselessness and weakness starts at the age of 65 has become generally accepted. A more generous view is that we aren’t in fact proclaiming the need for older individuals to withdraw from the working world, but are giving them the opportunity to enjoy their much earned leisure time.
The idea that we start enjoying life once we retire seems like a total non-starter to me.
Luckily we are rewriting that story.
My question, “Why do we attribute limitations to aging?” seems to have some roots in the decisions of governments, which have affected cultural perceptions.
We see the usual process of aging that gets enacted by neighbors and on television, but what does that mean about what’s possible for us? Group think and cultural assumptions to not make truth, or even evidence.
Biological aging does exist, and it does affect many of our bodies systems, but chances are it’s not as big a factor as you might be thinking it is.
In fact our genetics and our biology account for a “whopping” 20% of the variability between one person and the next in the quantity and quality of life that they will experience in their 3rd phase of life. You all may have seen some videos or heard some stories of exceptional older people, like the 93 year or gymnast, the 67 year old pole dancing champion, the 99 year old runner, the 75 year old world record holder for pull-ups,
So what accounts for the remaining 80% of the difference between myself and these extraordinary human beings?
It’s called Secondary Aging. This is the type of aging that’s brought about by lifestyle factors. These are; physical activity, nutrition, use of substances like alcohol, tobacco and drugs, disease processes, exposure to environmental toxins such as air pollution, and injuries.
While we can’t control whether or not we’re raised in areas with a lot of pollution or born with disease processes or not raised with ideal nutrition, many of these factors can still be affected by our efforts, even much later in life. Starting a program of physical activity will still positively and measurably change the neuromuscular system (and many other systems) at 90 years of age.
Because these lifestyle factors are changeable, there is the potential for us to take a lot of control in changing them, and it’s not too late to start.
At what age does “old age” start?
What do you expect that to look like for you?