When we refer to the process of aging we usually think of the simple passage of time, how many birthdays we have had or what the current year happens to be. In other words, how long it has been since we were born. Many experts however, feel aging is more complex than simply looking at the calendar. There are other factors that must be explored in order to have a good working definition of the process of aging.
Chronological age, then, is expressed as our age in years. How old we are in terms of time since our birth. Why then can two persons of the same chronological age look and act so differently? Scientists believe there are other dimensions to aging that must be considered. These other areas, including social age, biological age and psychological age, work together to give us our functional age.
Social age refers to the behavior that is usually expected from persons of a certain age. Though it is hard to make generalizations about our social role later in life, we can make decisions based on our individual perception of what may be acceptable in our older adult circle of friends. Some may feel it is inevitable to be seen in a “retired” lifestyle, and “taking it easy”. Others may have an active group of friends and continue to stay physically engaged in many activities.
Biological age refers to the aging that goes on in our body. In other words, how our physical condition appears in relation to the average person of our calendar years. This is seen as our relative age. Is our body aging faster or slower than the typical 70 year old man or woman? Do I have more or less medical problems? This will make us biologically older or younger than the average person of the same age.
Psychological age can be seen as how well we are in the areas of learning ability, memory, and self image or our perception of how old we are. I’m sure you have been told to “act your age”. Some of us will behave in ways that are reflective of a much younger or a much older person. We have all heard of the woman or man going back to school and getting their college degree after they retire.
We can see then that aging is a complex process which is affected by many factors and theories. It is not simply the process of getting older physically but a wide array of changes biologically, socially and psychologically. Understanding all these changes can help us age more successfully. What we have learned is that physical activity can keep us functionally younger than others in our age group.
Studies from all over the world have confirmed that maintaining a physically active lifestyle will contribute in many positive ways to keeping our functional independence. So the next time someone asks how old you are, you can give them all three ages, social, biological and psychological. Stay active and your answer will always be – “as young as you feel!”.
Doug Schrift is a Physical Therapist, Certified Geriatric Specialist, and senior fitness coach. Doug helps seniors become strong and stable even if they have never exercised before.
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