07/14/2014 04:41 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Guerrilla Aging: Physical Surprises

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After all the years we have spent looking into mirrors, why is it that we didn't have a clue what was going to happen to our bodies after age 50? We received advance warning about the effects of both puberty and childbirth, but nobody mentioned the changes that begin slowly around 45, then pick up steam once the 50 barrier is crossed. Many of us believed that pregnancy and childbirth provided the greatest changes in our bodies, and that once our last child was born, our bodies wouldn't undergo anything else as drastic.

We knew old people looked different than we did, but we thought it was just a matter of gray hair and wrinkles. How could we know that gray hair and wrinkles were just the final result of small disasters all along the path? And the really awful part was that most of the surprise changes that happened couldn't be discussed in mixed company. No one wants to hear about body parts (all body parts) sagging, bagging, dragging or leaving town altogether. But it happens. Nobody wants to hear where, exactly, on your body you lose (or gain) your hair. But that happens, too.

And how about the fact that we get shorter as our spines compact? For some of us, that's no great tragedy. Tall people might have an inch or two to spare. For average or short people, getting shorter can mean a trick of fate. To make it worse, the shortening of our spines seems to coincide with the day we real our stiletto heels can only be used to smash bugs and not put on our feet. When we were young and broke a bone, did anyone tell us it would show up again at age 50 as arthritis? When we had babies, did anyone tell us our internal muscles stretched that had stretched could start to give out around 50?

With all of the medical specialties available that are capable of taking us from cradle to grave, we believe they missed one. We know from pediatricians about young bodies, and we know from gerontologists about old bodies. In between those two, there are doctors for all kinds of conditions that might hit the adult body. Why not a specialty that centers on people approaching 50, that educates us to expect the not-so-subtle changes, rather than greet them with shock and awe? The doctors, hopefully women our age, would probably spend a lot of time holding our hands. Then we could all go out for pizza together.

The above is an excerpt from Saving the Best for Last: Creating Our Lives After 50, by Renee Fisher, Joyce Kramer and Jean Peelen. Available on Amazon.