Warren Willey

Warren Willey

How old is old? Is age just a number?

According to a recent survey done of 2,000 people, the age at which we of become old is 57. The same survey asked participants what their concerns were about getting old. Declining health was rated the No. 1 aging-related concern, followed by wrinkles, weight gain, gray hair and hair loss. Other concerns of those surveyed were financial problems and worries, simply being viewed as old and the loss of independence.

Of interest to me in reading the survey was that when discussing screen tests and checkups, 52 percent said they were too busy to worry about medical testing right now and 37 percent admitted they were not likely to get testing or checkups at all.

This brings up several interesting conversations. First and foremost, to answer the initial questions proposed, there is a difference between chronological age (what the calendar says) and biological age, which includes how a person feels and how worn out their physiology is. Age is more than a number. Second, we have some very good screening tests that can catch potential problems, allowing one to live longer and age more gracefully. We have plenty of data on the things that increase the speed of our aging.

The British Medical Journal recently had an article that showed five primary things that could potentially expand, or limit, your life span. These things included smoking, weight, alcohol use, diet quality and exercise. People who do not smoke, limit alcohol use, keep their weight reasonable, have good diet quality and exercise regularly lived far more than a decade longer than those who did not. That is not even considering the quality of that decade.

Your influence in the process should be added to the definition of aging. Recognizing this gives you some control over how well and how long you age. Age is not simply a number. This survey also pointed out the fact that people are not prepared for aging. That includes mentally, physically, medically and financially. So if you are a young person under the reported “old” age of 57, or an “old” person 57 years or older, you still have control over how you are aging. This means both quality and quantity.

It is never too late or too early to plan on reaching the age of 57 and beyond. What you do every day matters, both now and tomorrow. Age actively, gracefully and comfortably — no matter your circumstances — as a lot of it is in your control.

Dr. Warren Willey is a Pocatello physician. Visit his website at drwilley.com.