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July 11 2019

Is 50 the New 70? How the Modern Lifestyle Is Remaking Middle Age

By Mark Sisson
31 Comments

“Do not go gentle into that good night.” That’s one of my favorite lines in all of literature, and it informs my outlook on health, life, wellness, and longevity.

Live long, drop dead. Compression of morbidity. Vitality to the end. All that good stuff.

But I’m sorry to report that Dylan Thomas imploring you to assail life with boldness is becoming harder for the average person to fulfill and embody. People more than ever before are heading into middle age with a head-start on the degenerative changes to body composition and function that used to only hit older folks. They may want to go boldly into that good night, but their bodies probably won’t be cooperating.

Ignore the standouts for a moment. I’m not talking about that awesome granny you saw deadlifting her bodyweight on Instagram or the centenarian sprinter smoking the competition. I’m not talking about the celebrities with personal trainers and access to the latest and greatest medical technologies. I’m referring to the general trend in the greater population. All signs point to average men and women alike having more fragile bones, weaker muscles, and worse postures at a younger age than their counterparts from previous eras.

What Signs Point This Way?

Low Bone Density

These days, more men than ever before are developing the signs of osteoporosis at an earlier age. In fact, one recent study found that among 35-50 year olds, men were more likely than women to have osteopenia—lower bone mineral density—at the neck.

Why?

Osteoporosis used to be a “woman’s disease,” lower estrogen after menopause being the primary cause. That’s rather understandable; estrogen is a powerful modulator of bone metabolism in women, and a natural decline in estrogen will lead to a natural decline in bone density. Men’s bone density has a similar relationship with testosterone; as a man’s testosterone declined, so does his bone density. As long as a man or woman entered the decline with high bone density, the decline wouldn’t be as destructive.

But here’s the thing: these days, both men and women are starting the decline with lower bone density. In women and men, peak bone mass attainment occurs during puberty. In girls, that’s about ages 11-13. In boys, it’s later. Puberty sets up our hormonal environment to accumulate healthy amounts of bone mineral density—but we have to take advantage of that window.

One of the main determinants of bone density accumulation is physical activity. If you’re an 11-year-old girl or a 16-year-old boy and you’re not engaging in regular physical activity—running, jumping, throwing, lifting, playing—you will fail to send the appropriate signals to your body to begin amassing bone mass. And once that developmental window closes, and you didn’t spend it engaging in lots of varied movement, it’s really hard to make up for all the bone mineral density you didn’t get.

But you can certainly improve bone mineral density at any age. Even the elderly can make big gains by lifting weights, walking frequently, or even doing something a simple as regular hopping exercises. The problem is that physical activity is down across all ages.

Children are spending more time indoors using devices than outdoors playing. They aren’t walking to school or roaming around outdoors with friends getting into trouble. If they’re active, they’re more likely to be shuttled from soccer practice to ballet to music lessons. Their movement is prescribed rather than freely chosen. Hour-long chunks of “training” rather than hours and hours of unstructured movement…

Not just kids, either. Sedentary living is up in everyone.

So there are two big issues:

  1. Kids are squandering the developmental window where they should be making the biggest gains in bone density.
  2. Adults are leading sedentary lives, squandering the lifelong window we all have to increase bone density.

Another reason men are having newfound problems with low bone mineral density is that a generational drop in testosterone has been observed. Twenty years go, men of all ages had higher testosterone levels than their counterparts today, meaning an average 50-year-old guy in 1999 had higher testosterone than an average 50-year-old guy in 2019. Testosterone will decline with age. That’s unavoidable. But something other than aging is also lowering testosterone—and bone density—across the board.

Experts are now recommending that young men use night lights, avoid throw rugs on the floor, and do pre-emptive physical therapy—all to reduce the risk of tripping, falling, and breaking something. That is absolutely tragic. This shouldn’t be happening.

Text Neck

The smartphone is a great tool with incredible potential to transform lives, economies, and personal capacities. But it can wreck your posture if you’re not careful and mindful.

Try this. Pick up your phone and compose a text message. Do it without thinking. Now hold that position and go look at yourself in a mirror. What do you see?

Head jutting forward, tilted down.

Upper back rounded, almost hunched.

Shoulders internally rotated.

Now spend 6-8 hours a day in this position. Add a few more if you work on a computer. Add another 15-20 minutes if you take your phone into the bathroom with you. Add an hour if you’re the type to walk around staring at your phone.

It all starts to sound a little ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Not only are people spending their days sitting and standing with their spine contorted, they’re staring down at their phones while walking. This is particularly pernicious. They’re training their body to operate in motion with a suboptimal, subhuman spinal position. They’re making it the new normal, forcing the body to adapt. And it is subhuman. Humans are bipeds, hominids that tower over the grasslands, able to scan for miles in every direction, perceive oncoming threats, plot their approach, stand upright and hold the tools at the ready. What would a Pleistocene hunter-gatherer of 20,000 years ago make of the average 25-year-old hunchback shuffling along, nose pointed toward the ground? What would your grandfather make of it?

It used to be that the only person with a kyphotic, hunchback posture was pushing 70 or 80 years old. And even in that age group, it was relatively rare. Nowadays young adults, teens, and even kids have the posture.

Physical Weakness

Interest in effective fitness and healthy eating and CrossFit and paleo and keto and everything else we talk about is at an all-time high, and all your friends on Instagram seem to be drinking bone broth and doing squats, so you’d think that people are getting stronger and waking up from all the crazy conventional wisdom that society has foisted upon us over the years. They’re not, though. That’s the view from inside the Internet bubble. This explosion in ancestral health and fitness is a reaction to the physical ineptitude and torpor enveloping the modern world. A small but growing group of people are discovering the keys to true health and wellness because the world at large has become so backwards.

And no matter how many CrossFit gyms pop up or people you see walking around in yoga pants, the average adult today is weaker than the average adult from twenty years ago. That’s the real trend. It probably doesn’t apply to you, my regular reader, but it does apply to people you know, love, and work with. Here’s the reality:

Grip strength—one of the better predictors of mortality we have—of 20-34 year old men and women has declined since 1985, so much that they’re “updating the normative standards” for grip strength. Even 6-year-olds are weaker today.

New recruits in the military are weaker than recruits from previous eras. They’re even having trouble “throwing grenades.”

Everywhere you look—Lithuania, Portugal, Sweden, to name just a few—kids, teens, and adults of all ages are failing to hit the normative standards of strength and fitness established in older eras. People are getting weaker, softer, and less fit earlier than ever before.

Don’t let this happen to you. Don’t let it happen to the people you care about. You have the chance, the duty to your future self to go boldly into that good night, rather than wither and dwindle and fall apart. And it starts today, right now, right here. Do one thing today. What will it be?

How are you guys fighting the ravages of age and gravity? What are you going to do today to ensure you’ll go boldly into older age?

References:

Bass MA, Sharma A, Nahar VK, et al. Bone Mineral Density Among Men and Women Aged 35 to 50 Years. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2019;119(6):357-363.

Fain E, Weatherford C. Comparative study of millennials’ (age 20-34 years) grip and lateral pinch with the norms. J Hand Ther. 2016;29(4):483-488.

Larson CC, Ye Z. Development of an updated normative data table for hand grip and pinch strength: A pilot study. Comput Biol Med. 2017;86:40-46.

Venckunas T, Emeljanovas A, Mieziene B, Volbekiene V. Secular trends in physical fitness and body size in Lithuanian children and adolescents between 1992 and 2012. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2017;71(2):181-187.

Marques EA, Baptista F, Santos R, et al. Normative functional fitness standards and trends of Portuguese older adults: cross-cultural comparisons. J Aging Phys Act. 2014;22(1):126-37.

Ekblom B, Engström LM, Ekblom O. Secular trends of physical fitness in Swedish adults. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2007;17(3):267-73.

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31 thoughts on “Is 50 the New 70? How the Modern Lifestyle Is Remaking Middle Age”

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  1. Improve you grip strength: start rock climbing. All the rope-guns from the 50s – 60s around here, the Gunks (site of Primalcon East a few years back), are still going strong in their 70s – 80s. And many of the climbing pioneers who preceded em, both men and women, lived well into their 80s – 90s.

  2. Mark: I thought I heard you mention earlier this year in a video that you would be writing a new book on longevity. Did I hear right? If so, when will it be ready? Would love to see that!

  3. Thanks to you and about 10 years of Primal (a bit higher than 80/20), and my functional medicine doc, I am doing well at 76. I do LCHF and intermittent fasting, and take a variety of supplements, including doctor recommended ones to adjust my hormones.

  4. This is such a good reminder to keep active Mark, and it’s interesting I’ve never really thought about this but it definitely seems to ring true for many of those around me. My 50 year old boss recently fell and broke his wrist going to the bathroom in the middle of the night. My friend in his mid thirties has arthritis in his knees. My wife’s 25 year old cousin has sciatica and can’t even do a body weight squat. My 15 year old nephew constantly complains about his back and feet hurting, he won’t go for walks with us if it’s over a mile, but ironically loves to box the heavy bag in his garage. He quit his job at the grocery store because he didn’t like having to stand for hours bagging. The common link between all of them is that they’re all fairly sedentary and very into tech/gaming.

  5. Thanks for this. I’m running a study on aging and have been trying to think of a way to convince my advisor to push the age down to middle age. This gave me an idea.

  6. I’m 100% on board with you about people should be taking good care of themselves. But what if they are? What if their issue is medical ignorance perpetrated systematically for years by blind spots in medicine? What if, in the case of women, they were systematically told they were nuts when they were sick with their thyroid? For generations and generations? What if they were locked up in asylums for menstrual problems not so long ago? And what if conversion theory were still a boogeyman in their life?

    In the article on Compression of Morbidity, I’m 100% with you until you say “This trend represents broad and gradual systemic decline – the kind of impairment that is almost always preventable by effective and consistent lifestyle intervention.”

    Except that’s not true. Not for fatigue syndrome, not for Lyme, not for thyroid (especially Reverse T3 excess, which is what I have), and in many cases, not for actual diseases that can lead to organ damage like Celiac. When you talk about fatigue syndrome on twitter, you get tagged with “rare disease” very quickly. It’s not rare. It’s the tip of some unexplained iceberg.

    I just finished preparing dinner and it’s in the oven. It took me over an hour to do what a normal person can accomplish in 30-35 min, chop the vegetables for a zucchini-noodle lasagna, its filling, and assemble it for baking. I’ve been sitting for 20 minutes, my entire body from waist down is still throbbing in pain. This is not normal. It’s also undaignosed. Unless I accept the Fibro diagnosis, which again, has no official treatment.

    I take as good care of myself as I can. Sometimes I’m just too tired to do what I did today. But I try to cook something every single day because I absolutely can’t go to a restaurant without risk. Not even the one fully gluten free one.

    I hope very much that I’ll return to ability soon. I hope it’s just my body taking its time healing after the Celiac diagnosis. But I have to accept that this may be my new normal. Acceptance doesn’t mean I start eating junk. Acceptance means I’m realistic about what I can accomplish.

    I think I’ve had benefits from having an excellent diet, and doing as much exercise as possible. I think it stopped the progression of diabetes. I don’t have that diagnosis, it never progressed beyond metabolic syndrome. I think the reason is that I read blogs like this, and I take on as much as I can in self care. But it’s not the same as being “well” enough to not think about whether I can do something.

    I’m not sure I can explain that. I have to think about what I can accomplish each day. I wish I didn’t have to. If you haven’t seen the” spoon theory”, or don’t know what a “spoonie” is, then it might be hard to explain. There’s only so much energy some people have.

    Even with the best of intentions, I managed to gluten myself this past week. It reminded me what I used to be like, every single day. The amount of pure willpower it took to just do something normal like straighten up the living room. Not because I didn’t feel like it, but because my back would lock up for no apparent reason, and my knees would start swelling, and my feet would fall asleep, and I’d start feeling dizzy and nauseous, etc, etc.. things that kept escalating until I stopped.

    There are, in my estimation, about 30 million Americans who don’t know they have Celiac. That’s about 80% of 1% of all Americans, if you want to check my math. By the time they’re diagnosed they could have severe thyroid problems or other organ damage (for me it was kidney and liver). Because nobody’s really telling every MD in the country to test them. I told at least 7 or 8 doctors that every time I ate I felt like I had been poisoned. Not one of them tested me. Though, I appreciate that one of them told me to take lactase to see if it helps, it did. For more than two decades, not one person said, hey maybe you’re Celiac. This is despite at least 10 swallows of barium for all sorts of imaging, over the period of 20 years. The norm is not to test people for Celiac unless they have a family history.

    These are the kind of medical voids we have to close if the vision of Compression of Mortality is to be realized.

    I’m not trying to provide cover for the weak and whiny. I’m pointing out that some people are eight balled by the norms in medicine. Climbing out of that hole is not the same as keeping your health even-steven if you’re already healthy or if you’ve let yourself go a bit, but your body responds normally.

    1. Well that will teach me to check my math, it’s 2.7 million. /facepalm

    2. Hi Angelica,

      Have you ever read the Medical Medium Mystery illness book. The books explains how most “mystery illness” as you’re describing is actually called by the Epstein-Barr virus as it moves through stages and that there are actually 60 different strains of this virus. This book might be the answer you are searching for. Blessings to you.

      1. I’m so glad you mentioned it. The Pridgen Protocol is what I’m using now. It uses Famvir as part of it, which targets EBV. My tests for EBV are definitely positive, as are CMV and a couple of the ordinary Lyme types. Which just draws a yawn from most doctors. I’ll look into the book, thanks very much!

        1. I was once diagnosed with Eipstein Barr when I was eating a nice “Vegetarian Diet”. It was so bad the military even let me have time off at home to recover. My Mom encouraged me to have a nice T-Bone Steak because I need meat. I balked but complied. I was back to work the next day and did a 20 mile bike ride a few days later.

          1. As much as I try not to criticize anyone’s lifestyle, I also abandoned vegan/vegetarian lifestyles and had a big improvement in health. That said, many diets temporarily seemed to work and until I got the gluten out of my life, I wondered why things would seem to work and then stop working.

    3. Mark’s suggestions are definitely not a silver bullet for sure Angelica. I have never been anywhere near the place you are right now, but I have been fighting chronic fatigue most of my life, I continue to study the topic and try to implement an optimal framework to mitigate the situation. Don’t give up, you will discover the right protocol and turn things around for you.

      1. Thank you, it really means a lot to have supportive people, around me even just online like this. There are three online places I want to mention to you and anyone who’s thinking chronic fatigue is too much of a problem in their life. Meaning, it’s not just “oh I’m tired” it’s “can’t think, circuits busy….” that kind of exhaustion. Phoenix Rising forums is a great place to start finding some help, MEPedia is a wiki for it, and if you’re the advocacy type, there’s MEAction. Jen Brea is a good person to look up also, she starred in a documentary called “Unrest.”

  7. People usually think I am a decade younger than I am (I am 35). I think people really are aging at alarming rates and have been for long enough that we’re accustomed to seeing 35-year-olds who look like 50-year-olds. The average 19-year-old is as inactive as the average 65-year-old now.

  8. Very inspiring. I’m 36 and my daughter is 7 so this is valuable to us both. I’m looking forward to the longevity book!!!

  9. I found the Ancestral Health lifestyle in late 2008, thanks in part to Mark’s Daily Apple. Turned 50 last year but feel like I’m in my 30s. I’m aiming for strongevity!

  10. All the nudge I need to get up and get going is to see people my age (63) and all the way down to 30 year olds, hobbling, limping, huffing, puffing, complaining, knee replacements, hips, smoking, eating poison all day, watching soap operas, running their cars for 20 minutes to get the closest parking spots at Costco, so they don’t have to walk 50 yards. I could go on.

  11. As I approach my 50’s I’m doing everything I can to make sure I stay healthy and active and look good naked 🙂 I’m so excited by the fact that this is possible and we have great resources (like this one) to help us achieve this. But you are so right. Outside this bubble the general picture is extremely worrying and makes me sad. As lives get easier and more comfortable, people are doing so much damage to themselves. You’ve spurred me on to be more vocal and proud of my own philosophy, which readers of this blog share, with a view to increasing awareness of what’s happening and to provide reminders that there is an alternative way of life. Grok on!

      1. No, he means 50 is the new 70. He’s saying the 50 year olds of today were the 70 year olds of way back when. People are getting older faster.

        That being said, it should be 70 is the new 50! I know it certainly will be for me!

  12. Thanks for this article. You mention weight training to delay the effects of aging, but how about body weight training? Is actual weight training More effective than body weight, or are they interchangeable?

    1. All of the above! Body weight training is one type of weight training. Personally, it is my favorite, since you don’t need to buy anything to do it!

  13. Thoughtful and scary article! I grew up in a time when kids got kicked outside to “go play” right after breakfast, ran around barefoot all day, and went all over town in small packs. Beginning at the age of 6, I was riding my bike 3 miles to get to swim lessons in the park each summer day with my sisters. Sure, kids got into trouble, and got hurt, etc. But we learned physical skills, learned how both social and physical stuff worked, and grew muscles and calluses, etc. We also were expected to help rake the yard, shovel the driveway, paint the house, do chores….
    We were physically fit, and knew how to do what needed to be done around the house. This has nearly vanished in the affluence and technological enhancement of the modern suburban life. I don’t see it turning around.

  14. I have a question! Can I improve my chances at the age of 42 of avoiding, mitigating, or lessening any of these? I’m paleo (but with dairy which I tolerate well) and have been for just over a year now (with a few blips early this year with stress and eating less than perfectly, and migraines).

    Does being careful with diet, doing the proper exercise, walking lots, getting sunshine and natural daylight etc help to mitigate 20 years or so of being overweight and unhealthy (it’s terrifying to type that!)…? I hope so!!!

  15. My friend says we’re not living longer, we’re dying longer.