Dictionaries may define middle age as the period of life from about 45 to 64, but "our age is more than just a number," says UCI Health geriatrician Dr. Sonia Sehgal.
It is a combination of many factors — some we can control and some we can’t.
“Aging is so fluid,” says Sehgal, an expert on healthy aging. “What happens to certain people in their 40s might not happen to others until they hit their 60s. So much is dependent on lifestyle as well as our genes.”
Regardless of your age, there are steps everyone can take to maximize their health and well-being, she says.
“Quitting smoking, eating better, controlling stress and exercising daily are key building blocks to healthy aging. It’s important to establish positive habits as soon as possible.”
Sehgal, a professor and the Archstone Endowed Chair in Geriatrics at the UCI School of Medicine, offers advice on how best to navigate a vibrant middle age and beyond.
What is middle age?
Middle age is a social term describing the transitional years between young adulthood and old age. It is often a period of reflection, a time when it is natural to think back on the life we’ve lived so far and begin planning for the years ahead.
Psychologists say it can also be a challenging time as people contemplate aging, potential health issues and their mortality.
Most people today tend to think of middle age as some time in their 40s and 50s.
Interestingly, as life expectancy has increased over the years, many people now regard middle age as lasting longer and longer, even well into their 60s.
Does the term really matter?
Scientifically, the term “middle age” does not denote a specific period in the life cycle. There are no specific biomarkers that indicate transition into or out of middle age.
Despite this, socially and psychologically, it really is a wonderful time to take stock of one's accomplishments and consider goals for the future, Sehgal says.
It is also a great time to renew investment in our health — focusing specifically on preventive measures to ensure that the future is a vibrant and healthy one.
Keeping up on preventive screenings, like mammograms and colonoscopies, and immunizations are key. Lab tests for early detection of high cholesterol and diabetes are important to catch emerging conditions at their most treatable and to initiate an action plan to prevent future complications.
Is “midlife crisis” a real thing?
People often refer to the proverbial "midlife crisis," a term introduced in 1965 by a Canadian organizational psychologist and defined as a period of psychological distress that affects some people in middle age.
But this occurs far less often than we are led to believe and some consider it merely a social and cultural construct.
Midlife, however, can be complicated.
It's a time when people may assume different life roles than they expected. Some become caregivers for aging parents. Children grow up and become independent adults. And loved ones accumulate health issues that may be life-limiting.
These changes can cause us to reconsider our life, circumstances and sense of purpose.
Feeling better about aging
Even in middle age, making long-term lifestyle choices is beneficial, especially when it comes to your health, Sehgal says.
You can start by:
- Eating lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains
- Getting daily exercise that is tailored to your individual fitness level
These actions will help you maintain a healthy weight as your metabolism begins to slow down in your 40s. The sooner we adopt healthy lifestyle habits, the greater the benefit.
But first, you must make self-care a top priority. Too many people put themselves at the bottom of their list, Sehgal says. You should feel no guilt over making sure your needs are met.
In addition to eating well and staying active, be sure to see your doctor regularly, which will ultimately benefit your loved ones because you are making your health a priority.
And don't forget to nurture your support system — family, friends and co-workers who understand you and can support you in positive ways as you face the inevitable challenges ahead.
Aging is a natural part of the human life cycle. To age well, Sehgal says, we must embrace the changes that occur in our mind and body.
"Approaching the aging process with a positive outlook and hopeful spirit will ease the transition."