I can clearly remember when my father turned 40. I was 17 at the time and I can remember thinking “wow, dad and his friends are all so old!”.
I now have a 4 in front of my age and a number of my friends have a 5, and it's fair to say my perspective has changed a bit. So what, strictly speaking, defines 'middle age'? Am I there yet?
The clinical definition is 'the period of age beyond young adulthood and before the onset of old age'. Sure, but what does that really mean?
Ask a teenager, and middle age will be mid-30s. Ask a 60 year-old MAMIL (middle-aged male in Lycra) and he'll proclaim that “60 is the new 40”. A study by UK healthcare provider Benenden Health asked 2000 adults their thoughts about middle age and while we once believed the distinction began at age 40, popular opinion now has it kicking in at 53.
Why has middle age been pushed back? Rising life expectancies due to improvements in medicine, and an increased focus on health and wellbeing, are two obvious reasons.
But middle age is much more than a number, it's also an attitude. Michael Browne works in financial services and advocates the 'healthy body, healthy mind' credo. “I took up cycling at the age of 49 and I seriously feel better than ever,” he says.
“My bioage (fitness age) is now in the low 40s and my latest challenge is to compete in my first triathlon. Am I middle aged? Maybe on my birth certificate, but mentally and physically I feel sharper than I did in my thirties.”
Margie E. Lachman is a psychologist who specializes in ageing and believes continued study can slow the brain's ageing process by up to a decade. “Education seems to be an elixir that can bring us a healthy body and mind throughout adulthood,” she says.
So it appears redefining middle age is influenced by a number of factors – how well we look after ourselves, our mental fitness and attitude, and continuing to learn and stretch the brain. I'm sure genetics plays a part, too.
If you're still not sure, what are some telltale signs that you are now classified as being “in the middle”?
Ten signs you are middle-aged:
1. You book a cruise
While you once enjoyed Contiki trips and hiring a moped in the Greek Isles, now you're walking past travel agents and getting excited about going on a cruise.
2. Your hairdresser doesn't cut your hair
When you go to the hairdresser (if you have one) they spend more time trimming your eyebrows and nose hairs than they do on the top of your head.
3. Police and school teachers look too young
You do a double take when police officers walk by and say things like, “they look like they have just come out of school”. You walk out of parent-teacher night at the school thinking, “lovely teacher, but I can't believe she is so young!”.
4. The music is too loud
You ask a friend to meet you in a quaint little coffee shop up the road because the pub you met in last month was too loud to hear properly.
5. Your favourite TV shows are ...
You get excited about Antiques Road Show, you record SBS World News so you can watch it later, and CSI and Underbelly are just too fast-paced and noisy to bother with.
6. AM radio is king
You have no idea about the music your kids are listening to because you'd much prefer to listen to AM talkback on the way to work. It's much more educational and besides, you simply can't put up any more with hearing Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus songs over and over again on FM.
7. You don't know who Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus are
Actually, whether you are middle-aged or not, this is not a bad thing.
8. “I'm still alive” is your standard response
When people ask you how you are, you respond, “I'm still alive”, then use the words “in my day” at least once in the conversation that follows.
9. You still make phone calls
You remember the days before smartphones, so rather than messaging, Tweeting, emailing or texting, you still use your mobile to make actual phone calls.
10. Hangovers last for days
You used to stay out all night and bounce back the next day. Nowadays a couple of quiet ones after work flattens you for days. And don't you just love to let everyone know all about it?
How do you identify middle age?
Main sources: A Sharper Mind, Middle Age and Beyond. Patricia Cohen, New York Times, January 19, 2012