I feel old.
Though you’re always going to have the contrarians who are all too happy to proclaim, “I’m 33 and I feel great!” Compared to your pre-33-year-old self, however, you objectively feel like crap. You just don’t know it because, well, that’s the fun thing about aging: it slowly sneaks up on you.
Every year your body is going to suck just a little bit more. It’s kind of a verifiable fact.
Yes, by 33 your body has already started breaking down. They say that your age 27 year is statistically when your mind’s cognitive ability starts to trend downward. What MIT calls your “fluid intelligence” actually peaks at little earlier…at age 20. In turn, your body’s metabolism starts it’s long arc of decline at around age 24.
“It’s not fair,” you might think, “20 is too young to start declining.” And I think anyone over 20 would agree with you. But if you step back and look over the entire pantheon of human history, 20 is right at the cusp of our collective median age. 200 years ago the average lifespan was barely 40 years. In that respect, 20-year-olds should be having mid-life crises and buying red convertibles.
And all before they can legally drink.
The older I get the more apparent it is that 21st century bodies just haven’t caught up to humanity’s expanding life expectancies yet.
We are increasingly outliving our own functional lifespan.
We all know that we begin aging the moment we’re born. Already my 2-year-old daughter has creases in her skin from lots of giggles and too much sun at the kiddie pool. We just don’t pay close attention to our bodies’ aging until we’re older. When those creases become more prominent, when the weight is a little harder to keep off and when our hair starts letting go a little easier.
It’s not until these mid-life epiphanies that we begin to consider that our lives might actually be finite just like everyone else’s. I mean, how many times do you really think about dying before you hit 30? Maybe you had a near-death or religious experience, lost a loved one, or had a moment of clarity at your high school graduation. On the whole, though, we all plan our lives as if they’re going to last forever. Somehow we’re going to rise above it if we just ignore it.
It’s only when your butt starts to sag a little that you snap back to reality: “Oh yeah, this body is probably only going to live another 50 years or so.”
I’ve always been pretty keen on working out and trying to at least maintain a healthy weight. I kept up pretty well with it through my 20’s. There was safety in the routine of it. I also think I inherited an irrational–though maybe healthy?–fear of getting overweight. So, my thinking was that if I could just stay a step ahead, I’d be able to head off my metabolism before it completely dropped off the cliff. This really just meant that I flailed my arms & legs on an elliptical in my parents’ basement roughly 3 times a week. It worked for me only because I didn’t completely hate it.
A revelation occurred to me in the summer of 2009, however, when I got into cycling. I’m not much of a runner–or an athlete, for that matter–so the simplicity of biking was something I embraced wholeheartedly. It was something I was finally good at. I bought a nice bike and while getting fit for it, the trainer commented that I had a nice pedal stroke. A nice pedal stroke! Dammit, I was made for this.
So I went for it full speed and racked up a lot of miles in my first few years. I took a hiatus after I moved from the expansive Ohio countryside to Kansas City and it’s congested suburban streets. Then in 2011, I worked up the nerve and started wading through traffic and working my way back in to it. It was true love. I passed 2,000 miles on my bike in 2012 after nearly 3 seasons of riding.
And then my daughter was born.
For those without children: Basically, the birth of your first child is this unalterable, drastic upheaval in whatever form of a priority structure you once had. And one that you’re pretty certain you’ll never bounce back from. Up is down and down is less sleep. Oh, sleep. How you can’t wait until they’re asleep! (I’ll talk more on this in Part 2).
Over two years in, I’d like to say that my workout regimen has normalized since Audrey’s birth, but that just isn’t a reality:
- Bicycle rides in 2012 alone: 53.
- Rides since Audrey’s birth in 2012: 30 and counting…
I’m getting back into it but I’ve had to adjust expectations. We got a gym membership recently at a local community center. Going as a family has helped. But there just isn’t enough time in the day. Kids take up so much of it, and deservedly so. It’s hard work but I doubt anyone with kids would trade them for anything. Even our fitness.
When I was a younger man, I looked sideways at parents that let themselves go after they had kids. “Convenient excuse”, this all-knowing punk thought. “Just you wait”, they’d say back to me in a look that didn’t require saying anything at all.
When you break my day down now, the time I spend with my daughter overlaps nearly completely with the time I used to spend cycling or working out. And I’m OK with that. It just means I have to work a little harder to find something else to steal time from. Usually, it’s from television. And from typing up blog posts such as this.
Really, when I get a chance to work out, I’m also working out for Audrey. The better shape I’m in today means I’m going to be much a happier and healthier dad tomorrow. And eventually, a happier and healthier grandpa for her to take care of somewhere down the line. All the more reason to hit the bike and the gym with whatever waning moments I have left in the day.
It’s hard to admit this to teenager-me or 20-year-old-me, but an extra 10-15 pounds just isn’t that big of a deal at this stage of the game. And you care less about those extra pounds the older you get. That’s just life. There are plenty more important things to worry about.
So that’s what I think when I look at parents now. I commiserate. I get it. This stage of life is rough. It’s a boxing match with entropy. And the body blows only hit harder and harder the older you get.
Aging is weird.
Your 30’s reveal that–like some cruel plot twist early in the 2nd act–your body has just been out to betray you all along. It’s slowly been switching from your side to the one of some unknowable, unrepentant force of evil. And no matter how hard you try to coax and convince it, it’s just not coming back.
Things that you used to enjoy–like sleeping in, eating, showering, and pick-up games of any sport–now become reflections on your fragility. I can’t sleep-in past 8AM now without my back feeling like it’s going to dislodge a vertebrae. Eating becomes a tally of how many pounds a meal will add to my waistline and how many miles are required to run/bike them off. Showering enters a whole new level of creepiness now as you horrifically gaze in the mirror at this saggier, hairier, alternate-reality version of your 20 year-old-self staring back at you. And this happens everyday.
And, well, you just hurt after any and all prolonged periods of activity now.
You hurt a lot.
But obviously, there is a richness to this stage of aging that I’ve been skirting. For all the fresh wrinkles, new aches and extra pounds, there’s an airy plateau of transcendence that can only be reached once you crest that first hill of your 30’s. A plateau that gives you a clearer view of your life and how little of it you actually have left.
I’ve made it this far and my body is still intact. I have the majority of my hair, more brown than greys and still some bounce in my step. I managed to snag a wife before I hit 30, so really, there’s no one left to impress (don’t tell her that).
What do I have to worry about? Just squeezing every ounce of life out of this old thing that I can in the next 50 years or so, that’s all.
It’s not rosy but I think having a firm grasp on your finality is a good thing. It makes you try harder, push deeper, and commit more fully. You are much less likely to half-ass your way through life when you have an achy back or a creaky knee constantly reminding you that your body is trending in a downward direction.
Earlier I noted an MIT study that claimed our “fluid intelligence” peaked at age 20. If you actually clicked the link and read on from the first few paragraphs, you’d realize that I wasn’t entirely truthful with what I reported back. Oops, creative license.
Yes, some of our cognitive abilities peak when we’re younger, but many more are still ascending upwards through our 30’s and even into our 50’s and 60’s. Facial recognition and visual short term memory both peak in your early 30’s, says the MIT study. Our vocabulary and the mental skills needed to evaluate other’s emotional states peak in our 40’s and 50’s. Well, that’s certainly something to look forward to!
And really, it makes sense. My mind doesn’t feel all that old. In fact, it’s still on point. Our 30’s are the years to take advantage of our superior mental acuity.
Middle age is the unique period of life when you will actually know more than both your kids and your parents.
You’re probably not going to be more “with it” mentally than you are in your 30’s. This is a gift, and we would do well to take advantage.
Now, I know there will be folks several years my senior that will no doubt scoff at a 33-year-old complaining–and writing so darn long–about feeling old. I get it. I know I have plenty of aging, aches and probably pounds left ahead of me.
But I think if you polled a few individuals down the road a ways, and asked them to recall what birthday they first started to feel the full force of aging, I’m pretty certain the majority would agree:
33 is definitely when you start to feel old.
Thanks for reading, friends.
“Part 2: Soul” will be coming your way in a month or so. Until then feel free to dig into the Archive.