Saturday, December 1, 2012

Reflections on Turning 50

Earlier this year, I reached one of those dreaded milestones. I turned 50 years old.

Five decades. Half a century. Wow.

When you turn 30, you’re jokingly referred to as “over the hill.” But it’s only joking.

At 40, the joking has a hollow ring. You have the uncomfortable feeling that you've probably lived half your life already. The sense of a midlife crisis can become intense.

Then, there’s 50. All of a sudden, you qualify for your first AARP card. And the minor aches and pains you felt before can become lingering, even chronic issues if you’re not careful.

I’ve thought a lot about age and healing, especially after an orthopedist in Hong Kong cheerily told me about five years ago, after I described my knee pain symptoms, that I was over 40, my body was just going to go downhill, and I should accept that.

Fortunately, I didn’t accept that. I was convinced that there wasn’t some “ability to heal” switch that toggled to the off position when I reached a certain age. And, sure enough, after much perseverance, I managed to get better.

That’s not to suggest though that I believe in the saying “Age is just a number.” A realist has to concede age does indeed matter. Senescence is a real phenomenon. Older muscles, for example, don’t recover from hard exercise as quickly and are more prone to injury.

But that doesn’t mean age is a defining number. People can forestall and mitigate the effects of aging -- and it’s not that hard to do.

Vigorous exercise is a good way to slow the advance of the calendar. But, as you get older, it’s good to get smarter about how you exercise.

For example, in the weightroom, I warm up by doing 50 repetitions of an easy weight that’s one-half to one-quarter of the maximum I lift. When I bike in cold weather, besides warming up, I take care to keep my knees comfortable (unlike some cyclists I go out with, who wear jackets and arm warmers while leaving their knees bare!)

Also I’m more careful about taking part in impact sports or activities that involve a lot of jumping or running. It’s not that I can’t do them; it’s just I try to do them smarter (in my younger days, playing softball, I sometimes made leaping catches where I landed on my head -- these days, I’d let the ball drop :)).

So if your knees are bad, and not getting better, don’t blame your age. Blame your weight. Blame your job. Blame the fact that you don’t have a recovery plan, or if you do, it’s not the right one or you’re not following it closely enough.

Because age doesn’t matter nearly as much as others will tell you it does. Trust me here. This is something I happen to know firsthand.


  1. Hey. My PT told me cartillage heals (think I mentioned it) he was one of the guys doing the studies (in sweden) about it. He also told me to give up smoking cause the nicotine isn't really helping. You might want to write about that.

  2. Yes, I've heard about the smoking-cartilage link before. Best to give up smoking for a lot of reasons, I'd say!

  3. It's interesting how people just accept certain aches and pains as part of getting older and don't chalk it up to the types of activities they are now doing or not doing.

    I mean, i heard someone who is 30 and has an aching back will say its because they just turned thirty so, hey everyone knows that these things just happen when you get older and there's nothing one can do about it.

    I guess if someone has been taught that all their lives and doesn't have role models to the contrary, then it's a self fulfilling prophecy.