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Aging Ain’t What It Used to Be

Time marches on, but age may be slowing down, which is why today’s 50-year-olds often look and feel much younger than their parents did at age 50.

Is 50 the new 30? Probably not, but 50 may be the new 40. “It’s hard to quantify. What we do know is that people are living longer and more vigorously. And they appear younger,” says Jesse Roth, MD, FACP, professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and geriatrician-in-chief of the North Shore University Hospital/Long Island Jewish Health System.

Photographic Proof

A good reality check on this statement is the family album — especially a family album that includes pictures of several generations. Roth tells WebMD that most family albums that contain pictures dating back 50 years will reveal photos of 50-year-olds “who look old,” which often means gray makeup are a big part of the younger look, a point that is driven home by television shows like The Oprah Winfrey Show, where daughters routinely nominate their mothers for makeovers to “update” tired looks. Men, too, are no longer dressing like their grandfathers or their fathers. Mark Bloom, a 50-plus editor based in New York, points out that “when my father was my age, he was old. It’s the clothes.”

Appearance may be a factor, says Michael Freedman, MD, director of geriatrics at NYU Medical Center and the Diane and Arthur Belfer Professor of Geriatric Medicine at New York University School of Medicine. For example, Freedman tells WebMD that most of the grandparents in photos from the ’60s and ’70s did not have their own heart, live longer but wants to live healthier and more active “and has the resources to support that lifestyle.” Moreover, for boomers who have “grown up” paying dues at health clubs, “they don’t question continuing that practice even if they retire.”

Milner adds that medical advances, from cosmetic surgery to Botox injections to replacement knees and hips, also help “turn back time.”

While Looking Good Is Important, Feeling Good Is Better

Phoenix author Suzy Allegra, whose latest book is How to Be Ageless: Growing Better, Not Just Older!, says that “boomers” at 50 are like their parents were at 35 because boomers are a truly adaptable generation that “had changed with every decade that we’ve gone into, and we’re doing that with our aging.” Aging, she says, is mostly a matter of attitude adjustment — an area where boomers excel.

David Sands, MD, associate professor of Maharishi consciousness-based health care at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, tells WebMD that better and better nutrition are the main contributors to the slowing down of the aging process. But he builds on Allegra’s mind-over-sagging-body approach, saying that “>transcendental meditation reverses the unnatural acceleration of the aging process that is caused by stress.” So while a simple “don’t worry, be happy” attitude may help a bit, incorporating eastern practices like yoga and meditation may be more effective.

Bruce Van Horn of Spring Valley, N.Y., agrees that yoga and meditation can “actually slow down the metabolism,” which means that one can age more slowly. Ten years ago, Van Horn was a high-stress CPA who was plagued with ulcerative colitis. Rather than continuing his high-stress lifestyle, he tells WebMD that he decided “to go the holitistic route,” which is how he morphed from a CPA to a yoga instructor, who is now giving classes in yoga and tai chi at senior centers in the greater New York City area. While he says the change makes him feel at least 10 years younger than his chronological age — 42 — he says there are some drawbacks. “My kids were mortified when I was standing on my head at the town pool. They want me to act like other parents.”

Published May 12, 2004.

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