This post originally appeared on The Zoe Report
Recently I pulled out my first gray hair. Okay, it may have been the fifth or sixth. The point is that at 28, this was my first objective sign of aging. Objective in the way that a degree, or a spouse, or being stoked about going to bed early are not: we go through these milestones at our own pace, if ever. We may go through them twice. These events impact our life coordinates, but they don’t necessarily signify de facto aging.
Prior to the gray incident I had, at most, proffered a self-deprecating laugh about “not understanding kids these days” or some nostalgic musing on time passing (set to the mental soundtrack of Landslide, of course). But I never actually believed I was getting old; just that I was getting wise. Unlike the more gradual changes to my body, the gray hair was startlingly unambiguous. A sinewy imposter in a sea of dark locks. Thank god for tweezers and hair dye! A future, older version of myself could stay as distant and abstract as possible. At least this was my plan. But I was forced out of denial (again) by something else entirely: a 30-year loan.
In March, my partner and I bought our first house. It was a wild and terrifying ride. We celebrated his mom’s 60th birthday just as we locked in our loan. I toasted a woman 30 years my senior as I began the mind-bending exercise of imagining–with a startling concreteness–a future me that would someday be her age. For the first time, I had a definite idea of something I would be doing in the very distant future: paying off my mortgage.
What else would be happening to me at 60? What would my health, marriage, and financial security look like? Should I trade whiskey for green tea, swap gummy bears for blueberries or the latest longevity super food? Should I have started pre-marital counseling yesterday? What about my 401K?!
Thankfully, I ran into a dear friend with some knowledge to drop. Marti DeLiema is a postdoctoral fellow who studies aging at Stanford. She spent the last year combing through data from eight multi-year studies involving more than 1.2 million Americans. She and her team took a close look at how things are going for six age groups, and how things are projected to fare for various generations as we grow older. And what did they find? We need to face the reality that we will in fact get old, ASAP.
The Sightlines project, published by the Stanford Center On Longevity this past February, explores three key areas critical to our well-being as we age: financial security, healthy living and social engagement. Each offers insight into how we experience our lives—including our sense of purpose and satisfaction, physical and mental health, resilience, and overall longevity. And it turns out they are closely related. Having financial security leads to higher rates of social connectedness and higher rates of social connectedness lead to better overall health—which in turn lead to longevity.
The full study has a lot of comprehensive info on how we’re doing in these categories, but I’ll give you the Cliffs Notes version below. The bad news? Things aren’t looking great. The good news? We can start making changes now that will have huge impacts on our future. Even though it’s hard to imagine a future version of ourselves, we need to remember that first gray hair. Aging is real. It happens to all of us.