How old is too old to still be working? Should there be a mandatory retirement age for everyone?

Shouldn’t 35 be too young to qualify to run for president of the United States? What does our age say about us?

Age is just a number, as the saying goes. But that’s not really true. Age is at least two numbers — your chronological age and your biological age. Chronological age is the one you count with birthday candles.

Biological age is trickier to pin down. Think of it this way: We are all on a journey toward frail, worn-down, illness-prone bodies, but some of us are getting there more quickly than others. Our biological ages differ, sometimes by a lot. There’s no question we all do not age at the same rate. Just go to a high school reunion and look around.

In 2021, biological age is more than just a feeling — it’s a science. Researchers are developing new ways to measure it. They also are working on ways to slow it down with drugs, dietary regimens, and other approaches. They don’t expect to cure aging, “but what we’d like to do is change the rate at which that happens so that, in 20 years, you might age 10 years,” says Steven N. Austad, a distinguished professor and biology department chair at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“There are a lot of studies that show about 25 percent of how healthy you remain and how long you live is due to genetics, which you can’t control,” says Austad. “The rest is due to environment, much of which you can control.”

As we grow older, we experience an increasing number of major life changes, including career transitions and retirement, children leaving home, the loss of loved ones, physical and health challenges—and even a loss of independence. How we handle and grow from these changes is often the key to healthy aging.

Focusing on physical, emotional, and psychological health will go a long way in increasing your longevity. We all know that diet and exercise is important. A recent Swedish study found that exercise is the number one contributor to longevity, adding extra years to your life—even if you don’t start exercising until your senior years.

But it’s not just about adding years to your life, it’s about adding life to your years. Exercise helps you maintain your strength and agility, increases vitality, improves sleep, gives your mental health a boost, and can even help diminish chronic pain. Exercise can also have a profound effect on the brain, helping prevent memory loss, cognitive decline, and dementia.

There are many good reasons for keeping your brain as active as your body. Keeping your brain active and maintaining creativity can actually help to prevent cognitive decline and memory problems. The more active and social you are and the more you use and sharpen your brain, the more benefits you will get.

This is especially true if your career no longer challenges you or if you’ve retired from work altogether.

Keeping your brain active can involve challenging yourself by playing new games or sports. Find new recipes to explore. Try to work in something new each day, whether it is taking a different route to work or the grocery store or brushing your teeth with a different hand. Varying your habits can help to create new pathways in the brain.

Above all, remember that age is mainly just a number. Your attitude towards aging can also determine how well you age. Pay more attention to how you feel, and not what number is on your next birthday cake.

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Mary Migliaro is an educator, parenting mentor and consultant who lives in Cherokee County.

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