What is it about someone’s appearance that gives their age away?
It used to be that the over-50s wore ‘elderly’ clothes. But often nowadays three generations of the same family buy outfits in similar shops and dress much the same as each other – particularly when it comes to leisure and sports gear. T-shirts, fleeces, hoodies and trainers are the new daily uniform, especially in lockdown, and are worn by teenagers and pensioners alike.
And then there’s the question of hair. Men of all ages sport a completely bald pate – some because they have to, and others through choice. And many of us use products to mask our grey, which means you can’t tell how old someone is by the colour of their locks.
So, what is it that makes us perceive someone as an old person? Personally, I think it’s all about how they move, how good their balance is and how flexible their bodies are.
It’s natural of course to become less agile, and less confident, with age. You can see this for yourself on Strictly. The youngest of the contestants are fearless and move freely. Older participants seem more rigid than flexible. They look worried about falling or having to dance faster than feels comfortable. This doesn’t seem to apply to Bill Bailey however, but then he’s a total legend!
But perhaps we could all be more like Bill if we put our minds to it. So, what could we do to look younger?
The first thing is to walk faster. Now, you may walk regularly but I suspect you’re slower than you used to be. So next time you go out, check how long your walk takes you. Then when you next do the same route, see if you can knock a minute off the time it took you previously. If you keep increasing your speed, little by little, you’ll get far more benefits from walking, and you’ll appear more youthful.
Now, let’s look at balance. Basically, we should all work on this because being unsteady on our feet doesn’t just make us look older, it means we’re more likely to fall.
The best way to improve, is to work on our core – because that’s where the required strength stems from. If you’re already doing yoga or pilates or ballet, you probably have a stronger core and better balance then the rest of us. But we can all learn new tricks. And much to my surprise, the good old NHS has put some excellent core-strengthening exercises online. Take a look, and have a go: www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/10-minute-abs-workout/
What else?
I make myself put on my shoes standing up, which means I have to balance on one leg at a time in order to do it. If you haven’t done this for a while and want to try it, please do it near a soft chair, so if you wobble you’ve got something to hold onto or sit on. But if you stick at this daily routine, it will help you no end.
Also, try not to rely on a handrail to haul yourself upstairs. Instead, let your hand hover over the bannister but don’t touch it unless you feel unsteady. If you can develop the habit of climbing the stairs by taking your own weight, this will increase your core-strength and improve your balance.
Another tip is to see if you can stand from a seated position without using your hands and arms to lever yourself up. Practise by selecting a sturdy chair and placing it against a wall so it can’t move. Sit in it, keep your weight forwards, and make sure your feet are right under your knees, then stand. For an extra challenge, cross your arms over your chest while you do it. If you can do this easily, then see how many times you can stand up and sit down in a minute. Good balance makes us feel fitter, gives us better posture, and makes us look younger.
Finally, how flexible are you? All too often as we age, our upper torso becomes tight, we get a lot of tension through our jaws, our necks and our chests, and our joints stiffen up. The best remedy for all of that is to do daily stretching and rotation exercises.
Again, the NHS is helpful. If you adopt this recommendation from their website as your morning routine, you’ll soon notice a difference: www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/5-minute-wake-up-workout
Just one more thing – if you’re on regular medication and you feel at all lightheaded, or you worry about falling, it’s possible that a change of drug might help. Many medicines for anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, an overactive bladder, chronic pain – especially nerve pain – have side-effects that can affect your balance. So, it’s worth checking this with your GP.
I know we’re never going to look 25 again! But if we work on our mobility, our balance and our flexibility we can appear both fitter and younger-looking. We might even take a leaf out of Bill Bailey’s book and venture onto the dancefloor when life becomes more normal. Now, that would be fun!