Why being 40 is so incredibly dangerous (it’s not what you think…)

Whoa, pretty aggressive title…


Hear me out, this is important.


I speak from experience, first of all, being just about 37 at time of writing and within arm’s length of 40.  This is an identification from personal experience that I feel develops into a larger trend.


It’s pretty simple, those of us in the 30ish+ bracket are too young to be old and too old to be young.


It’s at least partially true that young people are indestructible – to the extent they can eat like crap, exercise little, have bad form throughout, get banged up playing pickup basketball, drink the night away and experience minimal pain and regret the next day.


Those of us that have tried to do this after 30 probably regret doing what may have been normal 10 years ago.  News flash – we got old.


But there is a problem.  We’re not really that old at all.  In fact, about half of the people we surround ourselves with probably still view those of us in our mid 30s as easy breezy, young and carefree.  They WISH they were as young as we are!  And it’s true – there aren’t many physical peaks awaiting on your 50th birthday.  35 is a blessing that we should embrace.


But on a physiological level, things have already started to slow down.  Metabolism, muscle tone, energy – they just peak out and are never the same again.


It is no coincidence that 99 out 100 professional athletes have had their best-ever season by the time they are 31.  Almost no one peaks at 35, must less 41.  Peak human performance has limits.  It’s the rare pocket quarter back, specialty relief pitcher or perimeter shooter that sustain performance into their late 30s and even 40s.  The bone crunching effects of competitive sports takes a correspondingly brutal toll on the linemen, outfielders and 7 foot tall centers.

Let me introduce you to someone you know.  You know them quite well.

It’s 25-year-old you.

And 25-year-old you is killing 40-year-old-you.

We still look in the mirror and don’t think much has changed.  We still more or less view ourselves as the vibrant 25 year olds that can drink all night, get 4 hours of sleep, play a couple games of soft ball hung over, take a nap and then be fine for Saturday night.

“Yea, but isn’t age just a number?  And I have my best days ahead?  And I’m getting in shape to prevent aging?”

Isn’t there some truth to that?


But let me reframe it:

Poor health and habits prematurely ages you.  Exercise reverses those effects.  It won’t make you “be younger” so much as it will make you feel less old.

Imagine Michael Phelps – one of the greatest swimmers and athletes of all time.  He reached peak, world class physical swimming perfection somewhere in his 20s.  He cannot get that back.  He is slowing down the march of time by continuing to swim and exercise, eat well and maintain his health.

Imagine parallel universe Michael Phelps – 50 pounds overweight on his 30th birthday.  An on-again-off-again smoking habit.  Routine day drinker.  Turns his life around and gets fit at 40.  Despite being “in the best shape of his life”, he is still 40 and miles away from his parallel self at the Olympics.  Makes sense?  Doesn’t have to, just trying to paint a picture.  Anyway!

The analogies to the gym are the tedious basics that we really don’t want to do, but pay for if we don’t.  Taking rest days when our fave fave is on the board or our friends are all doing a great workout.  Stretching before class.  Cooling down after class.  Dialing in the diet.  Ignoring the loads lifted next to you and instead throwing on that extra 10# you aren’t quite ready for.  Modifying for that spicy elbow you’ve had for a couple weeks now.  The (stupid) 25-year-old in us just shrugs and says, “eh, I’ll just sleep it off. LFG!!!”


Got some bad news – you’re not 25 anymore.


With any luck, we survive this transitional maturity and make it to 55 without completely destroying our bodies.  Every 55+ year old I know is content to go at their own pace, live to fight another day and do what is right for THEM.  They are thinking about what the next 30 years looks like.  The 35-year-old is relishing in the glory of the LAST 10 years, thinking they are still in their prime.


This isn’t a gloomy assessment that suggests you throw up your arms and stop trying to be better – it’s realistic recognition that there is a LOT more life to live and you have to pump the brakes if you want to avoid trading in your knees and hips for the shiny ones your grandma has been raving about.


The fitness revolution has gotten people off the couch, given them a new lease on life and encouraged them to do things that they thought were impossible.  The beauty of this movement cannot be overstated.


But you can’t ignore consequences.  Train hard.  Be bold.  Climb mountains.  Lift heavy things.  But do so with recognition of your humanness, you can do the above for 40+ years happily and sustainably till the day you croak paddling a boat up stream to catch a wild salmon with your bare teeth. That’s the dream right?


But that also means you have to stretch every once in awhile.  Watch what you eat and, for goodness sake, take a rest day!



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