What does age mean?


Age is, like beauty – all in the “eyes of the the beholder”, while this may be a slight exaggeration, to consider the concept of age and aging as largely perception is gaining belief. 

We are better educated and want more from life. Living longer needs consideration to health in other areas too, preventative actions to improve health in the areas of physical, mental and emotional health are encouraged. However, as we live longer, our long-term financial health needs increase. 

The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm.” Aldous Huxley

The perception of age.

I’m sure that we all remember when we were in our teenage years our parents seemed to be quite old, certainly middle-aged, even though they may have only been in their 30’s.

Our grandparents who were likely in their 50s or 60’s at the time were positively ancient and as kids we could never imagine ever living that long, nor would we certainly have wanted to – even if they seemed ‘relatively’ active to us back then.

Well we did, we passed through our 20s and into our 30s shocked at how quickly it had happened and dismayed at the prospect of 40 and beyond. Well, guess what, that happened too even though for me it seems ages ago now. I don’t know about you but my 50’s were a ‘bat of an eyelid’ and seems ages ago now.

Well things have changed, dramatically. First, we heard the comment, “50 is the new 40” although at the time we wondered how old those were that actually said it, but back then who cared.

Now we think “60 is the old 50”, but we’re too wise to believe it. Fortunately, along with this wisdom is the acceptance that it’s not the new anything, but an opportunity to make the most of it.

Tomorrow? Well, plan, but don’t plan on the outcome as they say, living in the day is the answer.

“To me, old age is always fifteen years older than I am.” – Bernard Baruch

While it makes good reading – laughing about frequent trips to the bathroom, sexual dysfunction and forgetfulness isn’t funny to me. I’d rather know, investigate, fix where possible, accept and move forward.

The population is ageing and while I’d like to believe it is due to better food, better lifestyle choices and modern medicine, I’m not totally convinced although I’m sure some of it must be.

My father died at age 45 in the 1970s, (heart attack) after smoking, highly stressed to maintain his job and suffering from severe snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. I think this can be changed.

“Attitude is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than what people do or say. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill.” – Charles R. Swindoll

So, people are living longer and getting older. An interesting statistical perspective provides a new perspective on what constitutes the different age groups we previously considered early middle, middle and old age.

It has been suggested that age identifying may be made on more objective terms. [Shoven]

“If your chance of dying within the next year is 1% or less, you might be considered “middle aged” – the chart below shows that the threshold for men moving beyond middle age increased from about age 44 in the 1920s compared to around 60 today.

Age to reach mortality – Men

“If your chance of dying within the next year is 2% or more, this might be considered “old.” The above chart shows that the threshold age for being considered old for men increased from about 55 in the 1920s to 70 today.”

 “Again, if your chance of dying within the next year is 4% or higher, you might be considered “very old” – the chart above shows that this threshold for men increased from about 65 in the 1920s to 76 today.”

Note that by these definitions, “old” in the 1920s was 55 and is now considered “middle aged” now and “very old” in the 1920s was 65 and is now considered merely “old” today.

[John Shoven as reported by Steve Vernon]

John Shoven, an economist and taxation and aging researcher goes on to suggest that reduced mortality rates correlate roughly with improved health and vitality at all ages, and can be used as a proxy measure for aging.

Age to reach mortality – Women

By these standards, women today move out of middle age around 65, a number that has increased from the late 40s in the 1920s. “Old” for women today is about 73, which increased from the late 50s in the 1920s. And “very old” today is about 80, an increase from about 67 in the 1920s.

Perception or reality?

While subjective, look at older photos to contrast and compare the boomers’ parents and grandparents when they were in their 60s and 70s as they look a lot older than today’s boomers of the same age.

We are experiencing a “longevity revolution” that we’ve been experiencing over the last several decades. The health span improvement is complicated, because aging itself has such variable trajectories.

While genetics is thought to account for about 25 per cent of how we age, other factors, including lifestyle, nutrition, socioeconomic status and environment, all play a role as well.

Researchers in aging at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada are working to better understand these varying paths through older age through institutes and centres like their own MIRA study and the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging.

The CLSA currently follows 50,000 Canadians between the ages of 45 and 85. Officially started in 2013, the study will follow participants until 2033 or until they die, and will collect information on the changing biological, medical, psychological, social, lifestyle and economic aspects of people’s lives.

The common denominator appears to be in retaining mobility.

The Online Resource for those 55+ wanting to look good, feel younger and live longer

Mobility is largely controlled by joint and muscle inflammation and inflammatory diseases – see antioxidants.

The statistics cited above point to the compelling need for people to continue working in some manner during their later years. As a society, we’ve chosen to set expectations which have become cultural norms as regards retirement.

Such ” appropriate retirement” has been handed down from decades ago, when many people in their 60s and 70s were unable to work and were considered too old to be useful.

Is it realistic to expect to fund 35 year and more retirements over a 35-year career?

Shoven – “It’s very expensive to fund 30-year retirements over a 40-year career,” a fact that points to the economic necessity for many people to work longer than prior generations did.

It’s simply too expensive to continue adding more and more years to the retirement phase of our lives. That requires savings levels that we just can’t afford, and it’s putting serious strains on Social Security and pension systems.”

Equally, it also doesn’t make sense to stop working altogether now that we’re no longer considered “old” in our 60s or 70s and are still capable of earning a living and contributing to society, yet still supplement their income with reduced social and health benefits when necessary.

All I can control is myself and just keep having a positive attitude.” – Rose Namajunas

Baby Boomer Statistics

“In 2011, the oldest baby boomers turned 65. Every day roughly 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65, which means that approximately twenty-six per cent of the population are baby boomers.

What’s more is that most people I know at the age of 60 are ready to move into the next phase of their lives, whether it is a different profession or pursuing lifelong passions which they never had time to pursue.”[Diana Raab].

The takeaway message. Clearly, although the exact reasons are unknown, our society is living longer and is generally healthier. The societal and lifestyle consequences may be good but there are concerns about health-care systems, pensions and social security.

Clearly we must at least make the assumption that we will live longer and plan accordingly in all areas of health, wealth, youth and happiness.


Picture of a Spitfire plane with pilot standing by it

Dr. Stephen Bray

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