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August 26, 2015

Are There Any Benefits to Getting Old? [Of Course There Are]

benefits to getting oldGetting Old

It just happened, didn’t it? You knew it would happen, yet inexplicably you didn’t think it could happen to you. But, it did. You got old. One day you realized it. You looked in the mirror and said to yourself, “I’m old.” It was revealed in your face and neck area – wrinkles and sagging skin and a tired look around the eyes. There’s more to getting old than that, though.

Your hair changed colors, But, unlike autumn leaves that eventually turn brown, your hair became lighter becoming any number of shades of gray. Your bones and joints ached as well. Your energy level diminished, too. Getting old – it’s unavoidable and that’s your only comfort in the whole process – it happens to everybody.

Secretly, though, you hoped getting old would happen to your friends and that you might be spared. At first you pretended that getting old didn’t happen. Maybe you just had a bad hair day and the tired look was from a poor night’s sleep. But, you were simply in denial. You cannot escape getting old, unless you die young, but that’s no consolation and no real strategy to avoid it. You must learn to deal with getting old.

You begin to wonder are there any benefits to getting old? There must be something that is better with age. And, guess what? There are some benefits of getting old – at least that’s what the “experts” say. But, before we get into that what age would you like to be?

What Age Would You Like to Be?

What age would you like to be if you could go back in time? What age would you back to? And, why? Would you go back to 18 years of age, 25 years of age, 35 years? Maybe 40 or 45? And, why?

That answer is revealing – as it might reveal what is important to you. I would go back to somewhere between 35 and 40 years of age. For me that was old enough to know how the real world works (wisdom and knowledge). Young enough to physically do anything I wanted (health and recreation). Long enough to pay off my student loan debt and enjoy some of the fruits of my efforts (fiscal responsibility and reward). Short enough to still have and plan for even a better future (goals and self-improvement).

For me the biggest downside to getting old outside looking older has simply been a few more aches and pains, but I feel I am mentally sharper and physically stronger than any previous time and my energy level has not waned.

If you are 50 years old and yearn to be 21 years old again so you can drink beer with your fraternity brothers, be irresponsible, and skip class – “not that there is anything wrong with that” to borrow a line from Seinfeld, then you probably took a wrong turn and have been living a stunted life. We should ‘grow’ as people as we age.

Benefits to Getting Old

Here are the benefits of getting old according to experts.

  • Higher levels of happiness occur as we age. According to the Pew Research Center study on Growing Old in America more than half of those 75 years old or older stated their lives were better than expected. As we age we focus on those things most important – the important relationships in our lives and devote more time to them.
  • We care less what others think about us. And, that is liberating. The reality is this. Once you depart this earth few people are going to think of you let alone remember you – period – so why worry what they think of you when you are alive? No one is going to say, “Joe, I always thought you were an a-hole, but I really miss you now that you’re dead.” People care less what you think, and more how you treat them. So treat people nicely. That – they might remember.
  • Migraine sufferers experience less migraines and less intense ones. It’s not clear why. Not a big benefit if you don’t have migraines which is most of us.
  • We develop a higher sense of self-worth and have a better sense of our capabilities. We become more comfortable in our own skin.
  • Some brain function actually improves (assuming we don’t have underlying dementia). Problem-solving skills and judgment improve. What is known as crystallized intelligence improves. Crystallized intelligence is the ability to put to use the sum of our skills, experiences, and knowledge. In essence we become more wise with what we know and what our abilities allow us to do. Clearly this benefit does not apply across the spectrum of our older citizens as some experience an obvious decline in brain function. One thing is for sure, the brain is very plastic even into old age. This means we are capable of always learning new things and learning new things stimulates more neural connections keeping the brain young and vibrant. So keep learning.

5 Years and 10,000 Hours

Life and aging are ongoing processes. They occur in phases. And, we should learn to appreciate each phase for what it is, make the most of it, and move onto the next phase.

At least for me life is lived in four to five-year increments and I think that is largely an extension and reflection of the education system. We go to elementary school for four years, middle school for four years, and high school for fours years. Many then go on to college for four years. In my case I then went to medical school for four years, and then another four years of completing my residency and fellowship training. So I’ve been conditioned to expect some change every four years.

I liked all of those four-year periods (residency training years being the only exception), but I would not want to go back and live them again, though if I could I might do a few things differently. Four years of each phase was enough. I don’t think anybody wants to re-live 20 years of their senior year in high school no matter how great it was.

Interestingly, it takes about 10,000 hours to “master” a skill whether it be playing a piano, learning ballet, program computers, or learning an athletic skill.  At 40 to 50 hours per week that 10,000 is reached in four to five years. Once you know something or become proficient at it then what? What do you do once you are as good as you are going to get at doing something? It seems to me one purpose of life is to keep improving and challenging yourself by continually developing your talents. Doing so keeps life from getting stale.

I find that I get an itch for some type of change (either professionally, geographically, or with personal endeavors) every four to five years – otherwise life seems like the movie Groundhog Day – not that there is anything wrong with that either, but that’s not for me. I like change – especially if I can control it. And, that’s one really nice aspect of medicine – it’s always changing.

Periodic change done on your terms keeps you younger longer, and there is something healthy about “starting over” or “starting anew” every once in a while. It rekindles unbridled enthusiasm. You are less likely to take things for granted when you are a novice at something or starting over, too. It keeps you on your toes. Plus, doing so keeps the fascination in life. Maybe that is why life is thrown at us in phases – each phase a chance to stay fascinated with the life process.

So stay young by growing old by remaining fascinated with the ever changing process called life!

#growingold #antiaging #stayingyoung







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Dr. Joe Jacko

Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio at Grandview Primary Care. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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