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Sixty is the New 40

November 24, 2013

I’ve heard this phrase many times, but I’ve never really paid all that much attention to it (or to variations on the same theme, e.g., ‘Forty is the new 30’, ‘Thirty is the new 20’, etc.) until I heard my doctor say it.

Ages And StagesWhen I went in for my annual physical earlier this year, the doctor took note of my birth year (1953) and immediately said, “Well, not to worry – sixty is the new forty”. I sat, a little dumbfounded, for a few moments before I asked, “What exactly does that mean?” He explained (I’m paraphrasing here) that (generally) people today don’t look or feel as old as someone of the same age did a generation or two ago. We tend to take better care of ourselves than our parents and grandparents did – we exercise more, eat healthier, engage in more social activities, have more fulfilling careers, better understand the importance of keeping our minds and bodies active and engaged. We also have access to better medical care, and there have been incredible advances in science and technology that have given rise to products and services that can help us look and feel younger than we are.

I knew he wasn’t just talking about all those ‘anti-aging products’ you see advertised on TV and in women’s magazines (which do not, by the way, actually prevent or slow down the aging process; they merely ‘reduce the appearance of’ [i.e., disguise] its effects) – he was talking about our whole approach to living, and how it’s impacting generational life spans (which has massive repercussions with respect to global population growth … but that’s another topic for another post).

I read an article not long ago that said a Canadian woman in the 1920s had a life expectancy of 61 years, whereas today we can anticipate making it to 83. To put that into perspective, a 40 year old woman today would be the same relative age as a woman of 30 in the 1920s (which means the statement, ‘Forty is the new 30’ is pretty darn accurate and ‘Sixty is the new 40’ isn’t far off [the math suggests it’s closer to 43.5, but who’s going to quibble over a few years at our age, right?])

Three Generations, 1960

Dad’s Mother on far left; Mom’s Mom on the right; Mom is centre rear; I’m the one standing in from of my Dad (circa 1960)

According to a new book (“The Long and the Short of it: The Science of Life Span and Aging” by Jonathan Silverman) the human life span has increased 15 minutes every hour for the past 170 odd years (for a total gain of almost 40 years since 1840 – about 7 ½  generations).  According to Silverman’s research, the average woman born in Sweden in 1840 (where he conducted his studies) lived to be 45; a girl born there today can expect to live to 84. The math behind those stats suggests that each generation will live about five years longer than the previous one (I once read that each generation could expect to live three years longer than the one before it, but Silverman has certainly done his homework, so let’s assume – for the moment – that he’s right). If you know the (approximate) ages that your parents and/or grandparents and/or great-grandparents died, you might discover (as I did) that you have the (statistical) potential to live to a very ripe old age (my mother was two weeks shy of her 94th birthday when she died in 2012; her mother was 94 when she died in 1980; my father’s mother was 90.5 when she died in 1967; therefore, it is conceivable that I could hit the big 1-0-0 if I take care of myself).

Of course, none of this really matters if you’ve stopped counting the years altogether, or if you refuse to take care of yourself, or if don’t give a fig about how many more years you might have left on this plane of existence.  Or you might be one of those people who only thinks about how you feel on the inside (vs. how you look on the outside). One of the best ‘quotes’ I ever read about the getting past the ‘angst’ of aging was this: “How old would you say you were if you didn’t know how old you were?” (My answer? 35.)

When I look back at my life, I sometimes have a hard time believing I’m 60 already, and I wonder (often) “Where did the time go?” But time, like everything else (including aging) is relative, so even if ‘sixty is the new forty’, I’m just going to keep telling people that I’m on … the other side of 55.

Since I most take after my mother and her mother, I thought I’d put together a little generational glimpse into all three generations of women at 20 year intervals (20, 40, 60, 80) to see how we’ve adapted to ‘relative aging’.

Grandmother in 20s Grandmother (40s) Grandmother at 60 Grandmother at 80
Mon at 20(ish) Mom at 40 Mom at 60 Mom at 80
Me at 20(ish) Mat at 40 Me (nearing) 60 Who Knows?

In Our Twenties

Around Forty

Somewhere Close to 60

At 80

  1. November 29, 2013 4:39 pm

    You definitely come from a line of good looking women with strong genes. Keep taking good care of yourself.

    My daughter (35) and I (61) were just discussing this age and generation thing this morning before she & my son-in-law took their two children (2 and 4) back home after the children spent a week with us. She can remember all that I was doing when I was her age and how driven I was to be successful and to have a clean house and to entertain, and the whole nine yards. She claims to be nowhere that driven.

    My lament, though, was that I no longer have that energy I did at 35. I was doing so much and got so much accomplished. Now, 5 days of meeting the needs of two small grandchildren (oh, and making Thanksgiving dinner) has worn me out. I’m taking the next couple of days off!

    • November 29, 2013 7:07 pm

      I definitely notice the same thing. What used to be ‘easy’ now takes a great deal of effort. At least I now have the time to ‘rest and recuperate’ after doing something strenuous!

  2. November 29, 2013 11:26 am

    Loved the photos. The first generation definitely looked older, comparatively.

    • November 29, 2013 7:06 pm

      I’m often surprised by how our ideas regarding how we should dress/look at certain ages has changed over the generations.

  3. November 25, 2013 10:31 am

    The progression photos were so interesting to see! You look fabulous at 60 just like your mother! 🙂

    • November 25, 2013 11:08 am

      I had fun digging out the photos at various ages; it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be to find ones for my Mom and grandmother. As for photos of me? Not so easy. I’m always the one TAKING the pictures!

  4. November 25, 2013 7:29 am

    Both my grandmothers were young in spirit, leaving a legacy of memories and stories. But it slays me that they seemed to have to align with the image of the old yet elegant matriarch. My mother on the other side of 85 still drives, teaches, travels and shops at Chico’s.
    I just lost my aunt this weekend who was younger than my mother. Sobering.
    Your mother is elegant in the photo above and you are youthful.

    • November 25, 2013 10:03 am

      Sorry to hear about your aunt. I have always looked like my mother and she was a vibrant woman up until the end; I hope to live at least as long as she did, and remain healthy and active (physically and mentally) until then.

  5. Melody DeBlois permalink
    November 24, 2013 4:56 pm

    I really enjoyed this article.

  6. November 24, 2013 4:18 pm

    I love the progression in the photos. I am amazed when I look at photos of either of my grandmothers at my age (62). They were ANCIENT. Whereas – I am YOUNG!

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