I started thinking about this in 2009, the year I turned 60. I had the pleasure of crewing for an age 75+ 4-man team in the Race Across America. The Great Grand PAC Masters raced 3017.3 miles from Oceanside, CA to Annapolis, MD in 8 days 14 hours 47 minutes. They averaged 17.11 mph riding as a relay time with each rider taking turns.
Usually “old” is based on how many years someone has already lived, not on life expectancy, or how physically or cognitively healthy one is. The United Nations historically has defined old as over 60 (sometimes 65). On April 21, 2009 I was just 59 and wasn’t old. When I turned 60 on my birthday April 22 I was suddenly old. I’m now 71; however, how old I am in years isn’t particularly relevant and is, in fact, depressing.
Life expectancy varies around the world and even in different parts of the United States so defining old based on life expectancy makes somewhat more sense.
I used the Social Security Administration’s life expectancy calculator to see how long I might live. Based on my age and gender, the calculator estimates I’ll live another 14.3 years until I’m 85.6 years old. The calculator notes the projection does not take into account a wide number of factors such as current health, lifestyle, and family history that could increase or decrease life expectancy. (Or an accident or a serious illness could change this, too.)
Demographers Sergei Scherbov and Warren Sanderson at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis argue that chronological age is the wrong way to think about aging. In their forthcoming book, “Prospective Longevity: A New Vision of Population Aging,” they write that chronological age “tells us how long we’ve lived so far. In contrast, prospective age is concerned about the future. Everyone with the same prospective age has the same expected remaining years of life.” You become old when your quality of life deteriorates, which is about when your life expectancy is 15 years or less. [Washington Post An ageless question: When is someone ‘old’?]
Physical and Mental Capacity
Still, what people of the same prospective age can do physically and mentally varies widely. My 75+ year-old friends competing in the Race Across America had prospective life spans of less than 15 years; however, they were physically much fitter than almost people with the same prospective life spans. Because they’d taken care of themselves they were also mentally sharper than their peers.
When writing for senior cyclists rather than relying solely on chronological age I developed the concept of “Athletic Maturity.” Because physiological decline starts when you’re about 50 years old the concept of athletic maturity applies to anyone age 50 and older. As you ride more years and mature as a cyclist you become a better rider. More generally, athletic maturity is a way of gauging how well you measure up to the health maintenance objectives of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). I’ve written previous columns explaining this in more detail:
The ACSM’s recommendations are baselines for good health. To live a long, vigorous happy life you should meet at least the minimum in each area and will exceed some or all of the recommendations.
My eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process explains in detail how to increase your athletic maturity even as you age chronologically.
Most of the stereotypes about aging and being old are negative. If someone accepts these negative images than they become self-fulfilling prophecies. Fortunately many cyclists don’t think this way. I went for a fast mountain bike ride yesterday hammering the trails to beat a thunderstorm. I felt like I was in my late 50s or early 60s! However, when my legs were still tired this morning I realized I wasn’t actually that young. Here are two great examples of older cyclists with positive mindsets:
- 83 year old climbed Mt. Diablo (3,849 ft.) 500 consecutive weeks
- 105-year-old sets one-hour track record
Another Way of Gauging Age
The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance’s life span calculator goes into more detail than the Social Security Administration’s version does. This tool asks 13 questions about age and gender, height and weight, family history, medical care, blood pressure, stress, diet, exercise, use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs and other factors. According to it based simply on my age and gender I have an estimated life span of 81 years. When I answered all the questions and finished the calculations my life expectancy is 99 years!
Mark Twain Says
All of the above are based on statistics and Mark Twain wrote, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
Although much of the above is based on averages and other statistics, the take away message is that you can have control over most of the components that affect how old you feel and act. Now is the time to make conscious choices about how you want to live the rest of your life.
My eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process includes interviews with Elizabeth Wicks, Gabe Mirkin, Jim Langley, Andy Pruitt and eight other male and female roadies ages 55 to 83. They describe their exercise programs in terms of the American College of Sports Medicine’s recommendations. They talk about changing exercise goals over time. They emphasize the value of intrinsically enjoying an activity rather than doing it because it’s good for you. They describe many ways to adapt positively to the aging process. Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process incorporates the latest research and most of it is new material not published in my previous eArticles on cycling past 50, 60 and beyond. It’s your comprehensive guide to continuing to ride well into your 80s and even your 90s. The 106-page eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process is available for $14.99.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.