All Grown Up: The Many Milestones of Middle Age

three generations of women taking a selfie

FAMILY PHOTO: DEPOSITPHOTOS/HALFPOINT

The Merck Manual [Changes in the Body with Aging] says, “Most bodily functions peak shortly before age 30 and then begin a gradual but continuous decline.”

Bones become less dense, Merck Manual says, which raises the risk of fractures. Changes in the vertebrae at the top of the spine “cause the head to tip forward, compressing the throat.” That makes swallowing more difficult, thus raising the risk of choking.

Cartilage thins, often leading to osteoarthritis, Merck says. Muscle tissue and strength start to decrease early in the aging process — at around age 30. Presbyopia, the stiffening of the lens in the eyes, typically begins at age 40: That’s when people notice a loss of “near vision,” or objects less than two feet away. And, Merck says, as we age, we need more light to see, our color perceptions change (which can make text written in certain colors harder to read), and our depth perception becomes less acute.

Noise exposure over a lifetime causes hearing loss: It’s harder to hear higher pitches, and speech (including high-pitched sounds such as T, S, and P in English) is harder to understand. Our senses of taste and smell become less acute. And skin becomes thinner, less elastic, and drier.

The Mayo Clinic notes that our bladders often become less elastic with age, which leads to more frequent urination and potentially a raised risk for incontinence.

But aging isn’t all bad news. In a 2016 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry and reported by Time, researchers at the University of California, San Diego found that happiness changed throughout life, and they found a “dipping down” in middle age.

Then happiness rebounded. Said Time, “People in their 20s and 30s reported the highest levels of depression, anxiety and stress, plus the lowest levels of happiness, satisfaction and well-being. Older people, surprisingly, were the happiest.”

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2021 issue of Mobility Management.

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