I was in my early twenties when I made, what I now realise was, a very insightful observation. Where I worked the majority of people were older than me. (That’s not the insight). Of course when you’re young you have no judgement of how old other people are. Thirty seems wise and mature when you’re twenty and anyone over forty is ancient like your parents!
Now while I didn’t go around asking people their age you get a feel based on their seniority. There were the people who did the actual work, like myself, and we were all under thirty. The people who were middle management were usually in their thirties and the senior managers were over forty. Of course there were some workers in their forties who only made it to supervisor or team leader level or not even that far.
I’d get an idea of their age based on their family circumstances or how long they’d been working and the stories they told about when they were growing up. Whether it was supporting a football team that had success in the Sixties, their drinking stories from the Seventies or being single in the Eighties.
Despite this inability to accurately age people, what I noticed about the men who were under forty was they generally looked similar to people in their twenties. Yet the men who were over forty-five were overweight, grey or bald and wearing spectacles. Something happened to men between the age of forty and forty-five and it wasn’t flattering. This was the big insight!
This forty to forty-five change isn’t quite as prevalent today as it was thirty years ago. There’s certainly some artificial manipulation going on with hair dye, shaving the head completely bald rather than a combover and eye surgery or contact lenses instead of spectacles. But generally people look after themselves a little better and fifty has become the new forty! There are even people looking amazing in their sixties – think Tom Cruise.
I decided then I didn’t want this rapid ageing disaster to befall me and I would stay fit and healthy as best I could. The prevailing wisdom was that you can’t stop the ageing process but I’ve never been one for believing that and you did occasionally see people who looked much better than their years.
As I exited my thirties I found the occasional grey hair and a very gradually receding hairline, but it wasn’t until I turned forty-five that I saw a photo where my hair looked notably greyer. Even then I looked good for my age yet my reaction was to start learning what I could do to slow the decline. I bought a copy of Joe Friel’s “Fast After 50” as I wanted a headstart on what I should be doing when I hit them. That’s all summed up in my “The Ageing Runner” series of posts.
I’ve continued to decline a little more over the past five years. My eyesight is declining but I’m holding off on the specs and have tried various exercises to strengthen them. My hair is beginning to grey up on top where before it was just the temples. I still have a decent head of hair but my male pattern baldness is following the same trend as my uncle who is now seventy-two and looks exactly like I recall my grandad looking.
Now at fifty, I’m thinking ahead again. I don’t want to be one of those people who reaches their eighties and stoops, shuffles, struggles to get up and downstairs and has a variety of illnesses that keep flaring up. I’ve seen my parents, relatives and neighbours hitting this age and it’s saddening to see the decline kick in more strongly because they haven’t done any exercise beyond the housework, gardening and walking around town.
It doesn’t have to be the end, I keep telling them they could build more fitness. Over the past few years the BBC has aired programmes taking groups of sedentary seventy-somethings and improving their health and fitness by having them doing appropriate weightlifting and fitness exercises. This is good news for those who’ve left it until later but it’s much harder to build up when you’re faced with a big reclamation project rather than an ongoing maintenance task. If you get too far overweight or unfit, you may struggle to be able to get an exercise programme started plus you’ll have lived your fifties and sixties with many of the effects of ill-health – aches, pains, getting out of breath on stairs, fatigued and possibly feeling unhappy when you look in the mirror.
It might seem strange to be thinking thirty years into the future but doing so gives you a chance to identify and build good habits and if you take a month off, it really isn’t going to cause too much decline. On the other hand, it’s not uncommon for sedentary adults to put on 1-2 pounds of fat each year (and that’s a conservative amount for people who don’t exercise) which will leave them two to four stone heavier in thirty years’ time with all the problems that brings.
This is why I’ve been training for the 800m. I think it’s the best blend of aerobic exercise and speed you can do. To support it, I do press-ups, bicep curls and corework to keep my upper body toned and strong. The trick to slowing the ageing decline is to make sure you maximise using what you have got. The reason others get slow is they stop doing hard all-out exercise at all, get comfy and think going for a jog or walk is enough. It really isn’t.
This all began the better part of thirty years ago for me when I spotted the rapid decline between forty and forty-five. Reaching fifty, I’m pleased to consider myself about as fit and healthy as I can be at this age. It’s worth pointing that I haven’t been obsessive about this over that span. There have been periods where I didn’t exercise or ate badly but it was never too difficult to get back into shape because I was never too far away from my best!