The first sign of middle age. And how to beat it.

I’m not talking about the usual physiological slippages such as paunches, pop bellies and body parts migrating south.

Or grey hairs, receding hairlines or your skin feeling a little too big for your body.

Or even those common psychological intruders like confusion with technology or what ‘young people’ are talking about. And losing track of the top 10 in the popular music charts.

What I want to know is where did it all start? At some stage the loose thread of youth unravels silently at our feet, leaving us staring in front of the mirror at someone we don’t quite recognise.

As I turned 50, I was convinced middle age started here:

The dreaded one-hand-on-the-knee-pick-up: 

  1. You bend down to pick something up 
  2. Your other hand moves to your knee and guides you down
  3. This supporting hand then pushes you back up again. 

Often accompanied by this sound

hand on knee pick up middle age

No one under the age of 30 does the dreaded one-hand-on-the-knee-pick-up.  No one.

Strangely, there was no mention of this in any medical journals. This must have been groundbreaking stuff, I thought.

I decided to point-blank refuse to throw in the supporting hand.  This may seem trivial, but for me, it was a firm signal to my body and mind that bellowed ‘‘Now is not the time buddy!’. 

I wasn’t expecting eternal youth to follow, I simply felt that if this seemingly small action was left unattended, things would go rapidly downhill from there – or worst still; over the hill.  

In the same way,  as pointed out by US special forces Admiral William H McRaven in a commencement speech,  if you want to change the world, start with something small, like making your bed each morning; so that no matter what happens next, you’ve already achieved something and if your day deteriorates from there you still have a nice bed to come home to and commiserate in.

It took me a week to reprogramme myself on this manoeuvre and soon I felt I was making a U turn out of the cul de sac that is middle-age.

My children thought it was hilarious and turned it into a game where if they caught me doing the one-hand-on-the-knee pick-up or emitting that ‘ooof’ noise they gained iPad minutes. I foolishly agreed and played along.

Kids turn everything into a game. This got me thinking about a quote by George Bernard Shaw.

‘We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old when we stop playing’.George Bernard Shaw

Never stop playing - George Bernard Shaw- kids inside

There’s a relentlessly funny film called Tag where a gang of friends continue to play a no-holds-barred game of tag into their adult life.  Remarkably, it is based on a true story covered by the Wall Street Journal.

The world would be a better place if we all played a game of Tag with our childhood friends once a year.  I suggested this to one of my oldest friends who thought he had told me about the film weeks ago and had suggested the same thing. We blamed each other for a fading short term memory.

In reflection, play may just be the best fix to purge the demons of middle age.  It’s easy to forget this in our 40’s and 50’s with mounting responsibilities to juggle, but at some stage, we remember it again.

The playfulness we see in children is the same playfulness as we observe in the twinkle of the eye of the elderly.  This is one reason why the bond between grandparents and grandchildren is so strong. I suspect the other is candy.

We should keep as healthy as possible but have little choice but to accept our middle age metamorphosis in the same way we accept the ever-increasing scroll-up when entering your date of birth on an online form.  It niggles us every time but we concede. 

So, get that 20% of latex in your next pair of trousers.  Go to the garden centre at the weekend. Take that afternoon nap. Have that night in.

We may start to lose the things we’ve been trying to preserve like our looks, flexibility and mental sharpness, but we gain the very thing we’ve been pursuing all our lives – happiness. According to research happiness doesn’t peak until way into our 70’s.

Happy days.

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