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  • Writer's pictureJane Leder

You're Only As Old As You Feel

How often have you heard someone say, "You're only as old as you feel?" Personally, if I had a buck for every time someone responded to my age with this "sage" observation, I'd be a rich woman--or, at least, a woman able to pay for half of my airfare to some exotic island.

Sometimes, I feel better when a complete stranger looks at me and, basically, encourages me to keep doing what I'm doing because it's sure paying off. Of course, in their minds, they see me as an older--much older--woman who isn't limping to the finish line.

Then there are those times when I'm reminded by these youngsters that I'm only as old as I feel and I want to scream, "Oh, yeah, just wait!" It all depends on the day I'm in.

I've read a few very interesting articles about what the researchers dub as "chronological" versus "biological" age.

In an October 17, 2019 article in the New York Times, journalist Emily Laber-Warren wrote,

Each of us has a chronological age, the number we commemorate on birthdays. But some 50-, 60- and 70-year-olds look and feel youthful, while others do not. Scientists can measure these differences by looking at age-related biomarkers — things like skin elasticity, blood pressure, lung capacity and grip strength. People with a healthy lifestyle and living conditions and a fortunate genetic inheritance tend to score “younger” on these assessments and are said to have a lower “biological age.”

(So, how's your skin elasticity? On a scale from 1 to 10, I'd rate mine about a 3.)

Still, I stutter most times when I mention my chronological age because it seems so impossible. Where did the years go? I had just published my first book. (In 1988.) My husband and I had just moved from Chicago to the suburbs. (Twenty-five years ago!) My son had just gone to New York to work as a trader. (He's been back for thirteen years.)

And then there was the time maybe seven years ago when, while in Mexico, my husband and I decided to go to a blues concert. A taste of home. As is often the case when I depend on my husband to get anywhere on time, we were running late and took a taxi to get to the meet-up location before the van left for the small outdoor theater where the concert was to be held. As we pulled up to the designated corner and looked at the assembled group, I thought we had gone to the wrong address. This was the Woodstock generation? You had to be kidding. They looked SO old with their gray or balding (or both) hair, frumpy outfits, and weathered faces. I couldn't be part of this group, could I? I mean, I thought that I "scored" younger--a lot younger.

Surprise! I was on Medicare like everyone there. My son was a year away from turning forty. While I didn't have any grandchildren, I bet that many of those waiting for the van had married grandchildren with kids in college. I had "retired" years before.

In the New York Times article I referenced above, there is more news about the theory that we are as young as we feel.

Scientists are finding that people who feel younger than their chronological age are typically healthier and more psychologically resilient than those who feel older. They perform better on memory tasks and are at lower risk of cognitive decline.
At age 50, people may feel about five years, or 10 percent, younger, but by the time they’re 70 they may feel 15 percent or even 20 percent younger.

That's encouraging news! If my math is correct, that can mean that 70-year-olds can feel 10.5 to 14 years younger! Some days, that may be true: we can kick up our heels like we did in middle age. Other days, not so much.

In countries where elders are respected--where youth is not the end-all of be-all, many don't understand the concept that you're as old as you feel. They take their age in stride.

One last episode for now. I had my annual physical last week and had to fill out a lengthy questionnaire. Questions ranged from "How many times have you fallen in the last six months?" to "When was your last bone density test?", "How would you rate your balance?"

Maybe I've been asked these questions all along, but I don't think so. It was as if the physician had singled me out because of my age.

The last time I fell was almost two years ago, and that doesn't count. The door in a friend's house wasn't locked and, when I leaned against it, I went flying. Okay, so the results of my bone density test weren't so great. But they have been on a downward slide for years now. And my balance? Well, I take a dance class three times a week, and I haven't keeled over yet.

So there!


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