A few years ago, in a conversation with an athletic trainer about my sore shoulder, he ended the conversation with:
It seems to me you have a case of O.L.D.S.
Nothing came out of my mouth, but in my mind I let loose a string of indignant profanities. Old? At 35? Really? That’s the best you can do?
In his defense, as an athletic trainer he worked largely with high school and college athletes, the oldest of whom was probably 22. So yes, in his line of work, I was old. And let’s face it, 42 year old Tiger Woods has looked very old in some of his recent golf matches as he deals with chronic back pain.
But he also won the Masters at age 42. And as much as it pains me to admit this, Tom Brady is re-writing what it means to play football into your forties. So while I’m not a fan (and you wouldn’t be either if he wasn’t on your team), I love how he is re-defining what it means to age.
No, what bothered me most about various interactions I’ve had with health professionals over the past seven or eight years is the language they use.
There is a danger in telling people they’re old. Because what if they start to believe it?
A quick google search will give you links to a number of studies demonstrating that attitude has everything to do with how quickly you do age.
One study by researchers at the University of Exeter asked 29 people between the ages of 66 and 98 about their experiences with aging to determine what impact their attitudes and beliefs had on aging.
Participants had varying degrees of physical health. Some lived in care homes while others lived alone. The majority of participants indicated that they were in good shape, even though there were others in better condition.
Two people identified themselves as old and frail, even though they were in better physical shape compared to other participants. Their negative perceptions of their age led to a marked decline in health through participants removing themselves from social activities and exercise.
If you are familiar with the idea of the self-fulfilling prophesy, then you know the concept that your attitude affects the outcome. If you believe you’re going to fail at something, you’ll probably fail.
If you believe that you are too old to play golf, go to a gym, or walk you’re dog then chances are you will age faster than if you believe that you can still do those things.
Don’t get me wrong – one of the challenges of aging is adjusting expectations. I’m in the beginning of a challenge that has me doing two 30 minute workouts per day. Eleven days into the challenge and I’m feeling every bit of my 42 years. So I’ll adjust my workouts today to include walking and stretching.
My body is cashing in on many of those checks that I wrote in my teens and twenties.
But that doesn’t make me old.
I look to my 73 year old parents as the best role models in this department. (If you see Dad on Monday, buy him a beer for his birthday…) My mom still gets down on the floor to play with my niece and nephew. Dad golfs every day, mows the lawn, and they both pull weeds in the garden. They are both incredibly active.
They both navigate plenty of aches and pains, but my mom said it best when she turned 70:
Don’t ever call me old.
In fact, don’t every call anyone old. Because they might just start to believe it.
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