While their policies and defining moments may differ, there's one thing every president of the United States has had in common: aging. Or rather, dealing with the perception that holding one of the most stressful jobs on the planet speeds up the aging process, causing wrinkles, gray and thinning hairs to appear faster than if they hadn't held the nation's highest office.
CNN recently put together a video comparing how the presidency wore on aging presidents 42-44: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The video compares a picture taken of each president during weeks one through 198 of their terms, and asks the slightly inane question: "Who does it best?"
Researchers have gone back and forth on the idea of what's behind seemingly fast aging presidents. Michael Roizen of Cleveland Clinic, a non-profit medical research center in Ohio, suggests presidents age two years for every average person's one year.
But longevity expert and University of Illinois, Chicago professor S. Jay Olshansky disagreed. If presidents aged faster than average, shouldn't they die sooner? Olshansky looked at the birth, inauguration and death dates of the 34 presidents who died of natural causes and found there was no evidence that they aged faster than the average person. In fact, two-thirds of the presidents surpassed the life expectancy in Roizen's theory and compared to men who were the same age they were when inaugurated, thanks to their higher education and socioeconomic standing. "They lived as long as American women do today,” Olshansky said.
So why do presidents seem to age right before our eyes? Well, because they are, Olshansky told the Wall Street Journal.
"If you were to take a picture of any person in his or her mid 50s or early 60s and come back four or eight years later, you’re likely to see more gray hairs and wrinkles, he says. It’s just that the president is so frequently photographed, we are more likely to see the changes. Importantly, 'we don’t die from gray hair and wrinkling skin,' notes Olshansky."