Is 60 really the new 40?

Many people believe that a person who is 60 years old today is about equivalent in health to that of a 40-year-old 20 years ago.

Is that the product of wishful thinking, or is true?

It’s common for many of us to automatically change our definitions of “old” to somebody 15 or 20 years older than our own current age.

Whether 60 really is the new 40 or not, one thing is certain: we are living longer. A Canadian born from 2007 to 2009 will live, on average, 79 years if he’s a male, and 83 years if she’s a female. And we’re living healthier.

“Healthy life expectancy” refers to the number of years we will live in good health.

According to the World Health Organization’s 2015 statistics, Canadians born in the years 2000 to 2015 can expect to live 72.3 years in good health.

That’s ahead of the United Kingdom’s 71.4 years, 69.1 years in the United States, 71.9 years in Australia and Sweden’s 72.

The greater longevity can be linked to advancements in public health, such as decreased smoking rates. Other factors include improvements in medical technologies, along with improvements in living conditions.

According to population experts at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria and Stony Brook University in New York, because people are living longer, 60 to 65 and maybe even older could be considered middle-aged.

Some factors affecting life expectancy include diet, weight, genetics, lifestyle and socioeconomics. A study by IIAS found that when life expectancy rose more rapidly, these measures of aging increased more slowly.

That means that if life-expectancy rates keep growing, the older population is probably fairly healthy and overall much younger in terms of their health and life engagement than their parents and grandparents were at the same age.

The work stems from prior research developed by IIAS, which looked at “prospective age.”

The report posits measuring age not as the number of years since a person was born, but as a measure of time to expected death.

“Since life expectancies have increased over the past several decades, and are continuing to increase, people once considered old should actually be viewed as more middle aged,” says the Stony Brook study’s co-author Warren Sanderson, a professor of economics and history.

It’s not about numbers, he says. It’s about how your body and mind measure up, physically.

He said that the measurement of life maybe shouldn’t be based on the time since birth, but rather the time remaining until an expected death.

Maybe 60 is not the new 40, but it could be the new 50.

Keep moving

  • As little as 10 minutes a day of physical activity can be beneficial but to obtain maximum benefits, aim for 150 minutes per week.
  • If that sounds formidable, think about these words from the World Health Organization’s global strategy on diet, physical activity and health:
  • “Physical activity is defined as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure,” and furthermore,
  • “The term ‘physical activity’ should not be mistaken with ‘exercise.’ Exercise is a subcategory of physical activity that is planned, structured, repetitive and purposeful in the sense that the improvement or maintenance of one or more components of physical fitness is the objective.
  • “Physical activity includes exercise as well as other activities which involve bodily movement and are done as part of playing, working, active transportation, house chores and recreational activities.”
  • That could include gardening, mowing the lawn (not on the riding mower), dancing, even housework done at a brisk pace. If you think about physical activity rather than exercise, it’s easier to incorporate it into your day.

Exercise comes in two flavours

  • It is important to remember that all exercise falls into one of two categories: aerobic and strength training. To gain maximum benefits, it is recommended we do both. But don’t overdo it and remember to see your health-care practitioner before you begin any new exercise program.
  • Exercise is aerobic if your breathing speeds up, your blood flows faster and your heart beats faster. Walking, running, dancing, swimming and bicycling are some examples of aerobic exercise.
  • When it comes to strength training, to build muscle and strengthen bones, you really only need to use your body weight as resistance. Yoga, tai chi and Pilates are all forms of strength training, and they also promote flexibility, another element of fitness. Walking, running and dancing are also strength-training, but swimming and bicycling are not.

About the author


Stories from our other publications