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AGING: WHEN IT BEGINS AND WHEN IT REALLY BEGINS

Aging: When does it begin? 

I suppose “aging” – technically in a scientific sense – begins at birth, right?; since we are living creatures with a defined life span and imminent death.  But on a more practical basis, and especially for women, I think there are two prime points at which aging begins.  One point has to do with physical changes that occur with hormonal changes: for most women this time period is defined as early menopause when physical signs occur. As our estrogen starts to decline, it is likely that body changes occur such as an increased concentration of fat in the middle abdominal area or beginning loss in skin elasticity or thinning of hair. Going on at the same time is loss of lean muscle and a slowing of the metabolism. It isn’t surprising, then, that women often appear to join our gym in their forties and early fifties announcing their fitness goals to be “lose weight”, “get rid of my tummy”(as they pinch those new love handles) and “tone up” and “sculpt my body like it used to be”(as they slap those new wings under the arms).  This is also a time when women develop new concerns for their health, since pre-diabetic and pre-hypertensive conditions in one’s thirties and early forties can transition to actual disease, requiring attention and medication management. Fifty is the age Americans are told they need to undergo a variety of health screening, so it seems increased attention is paid to diabetes, cancer, heart disease, arthritis, nutrition, and weight management.

Another prime point to define when aging begins is defined by society as age 65.  Age 65 is when people traditionally are thought of as senior citizens, since Medicare begins. I must admit that I tried to defy this stereotype as I proudly marched into Staples (dressed in my spandex workout pants) to have my newly arrived Medicare card laminated, happily announcing that I would be needing this insurance card for at least the next thirty years!  Being a senior citizen is synonymous in this culture with old age and old age is synonymous with declining health, so people start thinking they should be worried about their health. In addition, around the age of 65, life changes requiring adaptation are usually also occuring; such as change in employment status, change in residence, children out of the home, or new grandchildren in the family.

Aging:  When does it really begin?

When aging really begins is a more complex issue and, I think, is defined through the filter of one’s own mindset. And this mindset has been developed over many years by a complex interaction of factors, including peer and family and societal influences as well as life experiences.  I am often told by vigorous 80 something year old gals at the gym  “I can’t believe I’m 80, I still feel and think I’m 25”; (I could be wrong but I interpret this to mean that enthusiasm and interest are still happening with this gal).   On the other hand, I’ve had women in their late twenties tell me they think they are old (and the sad part is they really feel it!). I think, though, if we ask a person directly when she began to “age”, the response would most often be related to some  decline in functional performance – that is, not being able to do something that one could always do, or a change in self-perception.  Functional performance awakenings can include such things as not being able to get up from the floor or not able to climb the steps or not able to pick up bags of groceries.  Self-perception awakenings can occur when your favorite jeans don’t look hot anymore (where did my butt go?) or when arm sagging is really noticeable or when those laugh lines around the mouth aren’t so cute anymore.  The point is that when aging really begins is defined by you!

Aging:  Don’t stereotype 

It’s easy for younger people to think of aging adults as one big homogeneous pot of people, all with gray hair and grandchildren and constant visits to the doctor, but this is hardly the case.  Older women are becoming parents as well as grandparents. Though many are celebrating milestone wedding anniversaries, others are hitting the dating scene or becoming married for the first time or having a ball with their single girlfriends.  Although many older adults are “empty-nesters”, many are also living with adult kids returning home to live after a failed relationship or lost job.  Some might be running around the country in their RV while others are starting a new career or raising their children’s children.  And most important, while there are many aging adults who manage several medical conditions or are incapacitated with physical ailments or a negative mood, there are just as many feisty older women who are physically active, socially engaged, and passionate about living!  So how do you define your own aging? What do you think?

 

3 Comments
  1. AGING….often I hear ..’aging is for the birds’….I must say, many days it’s a bit rough getting out of bed, due to stiffness, numbness or just feeling tired… but with the gym as part of my routine, that’s what helps to motivate me and keep me going.
    BUT….you know you’re getting old when:
    all the names in your ‘black book’ have M.D. after them!! or
    you’re more worried about when the party ends than when it starts!!

    Thanks Joan, for your encouragement and inspiration.
    Rorie

  2. please answer me if you get this.

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