60, Not 50, Is The New Middle Age, Study Says

04/16/2015 12:59 pm ET
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Dreading the big 5-0? Fear not. A new study says that 60 -- not 50 -- is the new middle-aged.

Researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and Stony Brook University say we've been thinking about old age all wrong, and that age is more than just the number of years you've been roaming the Earth.

"Age can be measured as the time already lived or it can be adjusted taking into account the time left to live," the study's lead author, the IIASA's Sergei Scherbov said in a release. Someone who is 60-years-old today, I would argue is middle-aged. Two hundred years ago, a 60-year-old would be a very old person."

The researchers used projections of Europe's population until the year 2050 to look at how an increasing life expectancy changes the definition of "old." They used different rates of increases, ranging from a stagnant life expectancy to one which grew 1.4 years per decade, to look at the portion of the population who was considered to be old. They looked at both the conventional definition, which considers people over age 65 old, and a new measure, which advances the threshold for old age as overall life expectancy grows.

The findings, published in the journal PLOS ONE, say that as the life expectancy increased with the new measure of old age, the proportion of older people in the population continually fell. The researchers say that we must adjust the threshold we use to determine old age, otherwise the proportion of older people will grow as life expectancy increases.

"What we think of as old has changed over time, and it will need to continue changing in the future as people live longer, healthier lives," Scherbov said.

It's especially important as Americans are living longer than ever. A 2014 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2012, the U.S. life expectancy reached a record high of 78.8 years. The expectancy was higher for women than men; they also reported that death rates have fallen 1.1 percent since 2011.

Time to rethink aging.

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