Age is just a number

Photo by Gerd Altmann on

“You can’t beat death

But you can beat death in life, sometimes…”

Charles Bukowski – The Laughing Heart

Being in your mid-50s is sort of a weird, transitory period. You’re not young, you’re not even middle-aged, to be honest, unless you think you’ll live to 110 years old. But you’re not old-old yet, if you get my drift. Depending on sheer dumb luck, genetics and some fortuitous lifestyle choices perhaps you’ve made it to this point relatively intact. Fatter than you were previously, but with no grave health issues. You might not be happy with your current lot in life, but if you were to stop and seriously take stock, you’d have to admit – it could be worse. However, you are the height of your professional and familial powers – everybody depends on you, so you can’t see the forest for the trees. Chickens have come home to roost. You didn’t take responsibility when you were younger – and now you’re taking responsibility for everyone and everything. And it’s a killer in a very real sense…this is the point that stress and your weakening body can collude to call it quits, if you’re not careful. So what should what should you do – and why should you do it?

Firstly, know that your job and even your family will continue to exist after you’re gone. You’re not holding up the skein of existence all by yourself, my friend. You will be missed, certainly, but life will continue. So should you be resigning yourself to an absolute hard slog of the basic existence – an unhappy and unholy mixture of basically living to work, too stressed during your free time to live in the moment in what is potentially the last meaningful decade of physical vitality of your life? Too stressed to appreciate your health and the last precious moments with your children before they vault into adulthood? The only sane answer is: “Fuck no”. You only have one go at this life. If you squander it, there are no do-overs.

I’ve reached the age that I’m experiencing the loss of friends I grew up with due to age related illnesses. I used to listen to my grandparents and then eventually my mother talk about so and so passing away and think, jesus, they’re morbid. I get it now. I’ve also run into, from time to time, former colleagues from 20 to 30 years ago and the reaction is always either “wow, they look great” or “Holy shit, what happened”. Like I said, if you’re lucky genetically speaking and you stopped partying like it’s 1999 in 1999 – you’re probably in the former category. If you kept it real and continued to eat and drink like you’re 22, chances are you are in latter category. But again, some of those people are just caught in the soul-crushing hamster wheel of modern life – working too many hours, coming home to KFC and Budweiser to try unsuccessfully to “unwind”…Week after week, year after year. Stress, cortisol and poor sleep quality making their metabolism even slower than it should be and taking a toll on hair and skin.

The good news is: it’s never too late to change. To quote another famous poem, it’s time “…to rage against the dying of the light”. It’s starts with shifting your paradigm. As much as I’m beginning to cringe at those self-congratulatory IG posts from from Gen-Xers about how hard we had it and how self-sufficient we were/are – there is obviously some truth to it. We were the last generation to kick it old skool; we’re mostly hardworking and we tend to just get on with things with no muss or fuss. So if life meant having to work hard, we worked hard without questioning, like workplace samurai . Slowly, however, the nature of work changed due to technology. Just as we were getting older (i.e. into our 40s) the expectation grew stronger over time that one had be more and more connected with work in the off-hours. Just as we were getting older and also had more familial responsibilities. This is not something previous generations experienced – and the effects, if left unchecked, are insidious. So your first job is to create boundaries in your life – Work life, “Me time” and family life are all equally important and should be kept separate as much as possible. Your life, and quality of life, depend on it.

“Me time” is where it happens. Dial in your diet, if need be. Avoid processed foods, period. Protein, fruits and veggies for the most part. Cook for yourself – if you don’t cook already, learn how. It’s fun, and you’ll pick up a new interest. I assume most people don’t smoke these days but obviously if you still do…WHY? Cut back on or eliminate the booze – if you’re drinking too much, you know who you are, and you know deep down what will happen if don’t rein it in. Take steps to make sure your libido is still, ahem, active. Sex is both a great motivator and a reward. Exercise – I cannot emphasize this enough – will keep you going for a few more decades with quality of life if you’re otherwise healthy. Strength training and more strength training. In our 50s we’re already, on paper, losing strength compared to our younger selves. Note that this is “potential strength” – you can still get pretty strong in your 50s…and doing so will dramatically slow muscular degradation as you age further.

By sheer serendipity, I choose to get into powerlifting in my mid-40s… Since my running career was cut short by knee problems, it was a way of going to the gym while learning a skill and setting goals. I’m stronger now at 56 than I was at 46 because I’ve been training for years. Whilst I’d have potentially been stronger at, say, 30 if I’d had some years of training under my belt – that never happened so I’m now the strongest I’ve ever been. Training for strength is means, in many ways, you’re anti-fragile. I’m not saying you should train solely like a fat, Haribo munching powerlifter. Swim, walk, jog, do yoga as well, but for love of all that’s Holy, strength train as if your quality of life depended on it. Another huge benefit of exercise is the major reason I’ve always trained some sort of sport my entire life: mental health. It is a major coping mechanism for me and doubtless scores of other people.


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