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Sunday, November 12, 2023

What Is “Old Age” Today?

The age at which someone is considered “old” is being pushed back – and for good reason.

Adults in modern times are pushing back on when they are considered old. Social security mortality tables are a good indicator of these changes. Research done by John Shoven, an economics professor at Stanford University, indicates that a person with a 2 percent or more chance of dying in the next year might be dubbed “old”.  Back in the 1920s men reached this age at 55. Today, that age has moved back to 70. For women, that age was the late fifties in 1920 and 73 today. 

Maintaining Quality of Life as We Age

Many of those gains can be attributed to modern conveniences that most of us have access to, like waste removal, vaccines, clean water, refrigerators, and improvements in health care. We now know how important things like diet, exercise, and sleep are for quality of life in old age. 

Quotes for the New “Old Age”

In the vein of changing mindsets with a little humor and insight, here are a few sayings that may remind us all to embrace our older selves!
  • “To keep the heart unwrinkled — to be hopeful, kindly, cheerful, reverent — that is to triumph over old age.” – Thomas Bailey Aldrich
  • “Youth is the gift of nature, but age is a work of art.” – Stanislaw Jerzy Lec
  • “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” – Abraham Lincoln
  • “Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.” – David Bowie
  • “The spirit never ages. It stays forever young.” – Lailah Gifty Akita

We’ve even dialed it down to the superiority of stimulating fast-twitch muscles through high intensity exercise versus spending long amounts of time building endurance. Why? According to Paul Holbrook, founder of Age Performance gyms that are specifically aimed at older adults, surges of more intense activity not only offer heart and lung improvement but also stimulate muscle fibers that we use to balance and keep strong. Yep, the same muscles that prevent us from falling or help us catch ourselves if we do stumble. 

Advances on the horizon should one day soon enable us to turn back the clock on some aging processes that happen in our bodies. One example is stem cell exhaustion, when stem cells lose their ability to divide. Some studies have shown that rejuvenating these cells could mitigate some of the tissue degeneration that occurs as we get older. 

Maintaining or finding a purpose in life has also been shown to correlate with quicker walking speeds and improved hand grip versus those who express a lack of purpose. Good mental health is now recognized as a factor that can increase life expectancy and quality. 


In fact, the pursuit of this sense of purpose has stimulated researchers to identify a new stage of life called gerentolescence. It’s defined as occurring from age 50 to 75, when many of us have a second adolescence as we embark on self-discovery and re-identification. Some may find new careers, a passion for volunteering or immersion in new hobbies. 

“The later stage of your life can be just as rewarding, even more so, than the previous parts,” says John Irving, Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the USC Davis School of Gerontology and the Chairman of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging. It is a time for new possibilities on a variety of fronts, whether you’re devoting more time to grandchildren and the garden or jetting off to foreign countries. 

“Breaking the Age Code” author Becca Levy, a Yale University Medical School professor and expert on the psychology of aging, is an advocate of using your mindset around aging to add quality years to your life – a little more than seven years, in fact. With ageism running rampant (how many commercials do we see every day for products promising to make us more youthful?), she draws on her own research to show how using the powers of the mind alone can enhance our experience of getting older. 

“Aging is a common denominator across the world,” says Dr. Pol Vandenbrouke, head of Medical Strategy at Pfizer. “While there are still many uncertainties on the aging horizon, we can take steps now to make sure old age won’t just mean living long, but living well.”