When Does Old Age Start?

IT DEPENDS ON where you live and your attitude towards ageing. For example, people in their 20s and 30s say middle age begins at 40, while those over 65 believe old age starts at 71. This disparity shows how people's perception of ageing changes with their age. People in their 40s like to think 40 is the new 30, and those in their 70s prefer the idea that advances in healthcare mean they are barely out of middle age.

This avoidance of labelling oneself as old isn't just vanity. Research suggests it positively impacts health. In 2003, researchers Hannah Kuper and Sir Michael Marmot found that people who thought old age started earlier were more likely to have had a heart attack or be in poor health when followed up six to nine years later. This finding was based on the Whitehall II study involving over 10,000 civil servants in London.

So, how does the age you consider old affect your health? One idea is that when old age starts, it gives insight into one's health perception. If someone thinks old age comes sooner, they might already feel unwell or lead an unhealthy lifestyle. Conversely, those who believe old age starts later may feel healthier and take better care of themselves.

People who think old age begins earlier might be more fatalistic and less likely to seek medical help or adopt healthier habits. They might assume decline is inevitable and start behaving in ways that reinforce negative ageing stereotypes. This behaviour could lead to actual health decline. Stress from holding negative views about ageing might also contribute to chronic inflammation and health issues.

Conversely, those who believe old age starts later might be more proactive about their health, leading to better overall wellness. They might stay active, keep learning new things, and maintain a positive outlook, creating a virtuous circle of better health and a youthful demeanour.

This positive attitude towards ageing has measurable benefits. Becca Levy from the Yale School of Public Health found that people with positive views on ageing lived an average of 22.6 years after participating in a study, compared to just 15 years for those with opposing views. This data offers a hopeful perspective, suggesting that a positive attitude towards ageing can lead to a longer, healthier life.

A study by Susanne Wurm from the University of Greifswald in Germany supports this, showing that while negative views on ageing don't necessarily shorten lifespan, positive views correlate with longer lives. The belief in continued mental growth and development is crucial, inspiring us to keep learning and growing as we age.

Of course, this research doesn't mean we can stop ageing altogether. Physical declines like reduced muscle mass, bone strength, and memory are inevitable. Older people are more vulnerable to illnesses. However, having a positive attitude towards ageing and focusing on the benefits of growing older can help improve the quality of life, empowering us to make the most of our years.

In his book The Expectation Effect, David Robson suggests focusing on the experiences and knowledge gained with age rather than mourning youth. Older individuals should not assume all health issues are due to ageing and should strive to stay healthy and active. A positive attitude towards ageing can help individuals live longer, healthier, and more fulfilling lives.

In conclusion, a healthy lifestyle and a positive outlook on ageing are crucial for avoiding premature ageing and associated health issues. Optimism and proactive health behaviours are linked to better health outcomes and longevity, affirming the saying, "You are only as old as you feel."

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