by Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D.
Age may be just a number, but it’s one you can change
Many people would agree that we benefit from the increased experience that getting older brings. However, with each passing year, the aging of the body creates its own difficulties in everyday life. There are the inevitable aches, strains, and pains of our aging bones, joints, and muscles not to mention changes in appearance that make it more difficult to feel accepted in a youth-oriented society.
The one truth about aging is that it’s intimately linked with the passage of time. We may be able to alter the clock by setting it forward or backward an hour depending on the season, but we can’t set it back for more than that, much less days, months, or years. No one has figured out how to alter the body’s pace-setter cells that mysteriously link the body’s aging with the number of times the earth revolves around the sun.
Just as the average person may bemoan the basic fact that aging and time are completely tied together, scientists who study the aging process find their job made far more difficult by this age-time conundrum. Are the changes we think due to aging actually due to social and historical changes? Consider aging within the Baby Boomers versus aging within Gen X-ers. The Baby Boomers had few of the benefits of improved social attitudes toward healthy eating and fitness that characterize the younger generation as they approach midlife. The Baby Boomers also went through different historical periods that affected their social and political attitudes. Because we can’t pluck people out of their own generation and watch them grow older in a different one, we’ll never know how much any individual, much less an entire age cohort, is showing changes intrinsic to aging separate from those related to these cultural factors.