Three Words to Stop Using…Now


“How old are you?”

“56, why?”

“Really? Huh. Well, you look really good…”


………………Wait for it…

………………………………….Wait for it…


Maybe that’s happened to you. Or maybe you wish it would.

At what age do you shift from just “looking good” (whatever that means) to “looking good for your age”?

And at what age are you supposed to look or act not so good?

40? 50? 100?

And what age are we being compared to? A 20 year old? What if the twenty year old can barely mosey around the block, is 60 lbs overweight, and couldn’t run 100 meters to save his or her life?

The truth is, we live in a youth obsessed culture that makes growing older something akin to a Stephen King horror novel. Everything in life is somehow related to a mysterious period of time when, supposedly, everyone was better looking, bigger, stronger, faster, smarter.

That’s not true. I, for one, am in many ways, in better physical condition now, at age 56, than I was at age 36. So, at least for me, younger was not all that better. And I know a number of other people in the same boat.

What’s Behind “Looking Good”

What is it about a person that causes us to think, “Wow, they look good!”?

Here are a few things to consider and age is not even on the list:

  • Posture. Anytime you stand, sit, or walk tall with well aligned posture, you take years off your calendar age. You instantly “appear” more youthful. It doesn’t matter if you’re 55 or 85, have wrinkles or not. We make certain jusdgements about people based on their posture. ((Naumann, L. P., S. Vazire, et al. (2009). “Personality judgments based on physical appearance.” Pers Soc Psychol Bull 35(12): 1661-71)).Upright, well aligned posture is youthifying.
  • Watch your waist. Generally, an expanding waistline is associated with a number of health problems that show up in advanced years. By focusing on your overall health, you’ll improve it, drop a pant size or two, and appear more youthful.
  • Muscle tone. As you age, some of the skin changes that show up are related to changes in hormone levels but that’s not the only factor. Muscle tone can alter the relative “tightness” of the overlying skin and reduce sags and wrinkles we associate with an “older” person. Not just any type of exercise will change your muscle tone though. You have to stress the muscles to a moderately high level of fatigue so, for example, walking, even briskly, will do little to help the muscle tone of your arms…or legs (although it may help your heart and lungs).
  • Agility. What’s that? Basically, it’s moving quickly while keeping your balance. Have you ever tripped over a rug or a raised edge in a sidewalk and had to react in a moment to keep from falling on your face? That’s one form of agility and it happens to be something that fades like an old photograph as you age…unless you train in a way that helps improve it.
  • Energy level. I think this is one of the most misunderstood terms used when it comes to aging. We tend to associate the bubbly, out-going, smiley-all-the-time person with both youthfulness and energy. And while that may be true, not everyone is so effervescent. Having energy also means being interested in what’s going on around you; staying relevant. There’s perhaps no quicker route to “old-age”, even if you’re 40, than to be closed minded and “out of touch”. You have to have enough energy to spend though on learning and being exposed to new and different things. When you run low on energy, it’s just to much work to learn something new. Hey, I’m at least on Twitter. Still working on what it’s really for but I’m there….sort of 🙂
  • Laugh. Yep. An oldie but goodie. Eric Clapton, one of the greatest blues guitarists ever, was asked how he keeps his music interesting to a younger generation. He said, “I am not concerned with them liking my music. I am concerned about me finding their music interesting. When you get older, you get stodgy. I don’t want to get stodgy.” One way to keep from getting stodgy is to laugh…a lot. I’m fortunate. I’m married to a woman who makes me laugh almost everyday about something. And those of you who know Ellen know what I mean. She finds a funny angle on just about anything. You need at least three to four good laughs a day. I have no scientific evidence for this but if you can give me a good reason not to laugh at least that much, I will gladly stop laughing.1

It’s time we all stopped adding the phrase, “For your age” to any sentence.

You’re really fit….for your age.

You’re really flexible….for your age.

You’re really strong…for your age.

You’re really have great balance…for your age.

And on and on…

Lose the “For Your Age”. How about it?

  1. Neuhoff CC, Schaefer C. Effects of laughing, smiling, and howling on mood. Psychol Rep 2002 Dec 91:3 Pt 2 1079-80 []
DGE says

“I always look good and feel young”…. No matter my age….(I say with a smirk on my face) Thats why Joe Namath’s book is my favorite… “I Cant Wait Until Tomorrow Because I Get Better Looking Every Day,” And probably why my wife says to quit acting like a 3 year old. Good post Dr. Kelsey!

Dennis --57 says


Lacey says

My little sister’s face turned purple trying to suppress laughter when one of her female students told me I looked good for my age. At the time, we were on the French Riviera in bathing suits. I looked around at the doughy bodies of the student’s 18 year old cohorts and mumbled, I look good for YOUR age. I try to keep snarky replies to myself, but the “for your age” crap got the best of me. So, I’m with you! No more “for your age” comments.

You’re right – there is more to looking good than physical condition. I could out walk, out run, out swim, and probably out lift, most of those students. Where they had me beat was an overall enthusiasm for life, a fascination with life, that is very energizing and engaging. (In contrast, I was soul-tired.) I think that is a skill or quality to be protected and cultivated as we get older because life is hard sometimes, or a lot of times, and the repeated friction wears down enthusiasm. (Well, at least for me.) It’s easy for me to get stuck there in my head, in the “life is hard” loop, rather than looking up with fascination. And, it is a whole lot easier to make it through life’s uphill climbs with a fascination mentality than an Eeyore mentality.

Also, thank you for having and citing the research to back your statements. I appreciate your dedication to this and all your effort. If the research you cite is on PubMed, I generally read the abstract.

    DD Kelsey says

    I really liked your observation – “enthusiasm for life a fascination with life, that is very energizing and engaging”. I think of a life that is energizing and engaging as living well…actively aging. I’ll write about that more in other posts but some of the loss of enthusiasm is actually a loss of relevance. In other words, we get disconnected from life as it evolves, grows, expands, and we get stuck in our daily routines. We use routines to minimize energy expenditure but the routines can also keep us in a small (and sometimes shrinking) circle. One solution is to do new and different things…sometimes things that push the comfort zone….a lot.
    Living well means staying relevant.

    What do you think?

      Lacey says

      Hmmm, interesting. Relevance and routines – I haven’t thought about it like that before. I do hope you write more about that soon. I’m right there with you on trying new things. My job requires constant creativity, and when I start to feel dry the best solution is something new: new art exhibit, read up on a new subject, start a new project, backpack somewhere new. This weekend, I got a huge blank canvas and some paints and tried my hand at oil painting. I’ve never painted before – beyond walls. It was fun, and perhaps it was the fumes, but my brain is refreshed.

        DD Kelsey says

        “Perhaps it was the fumes…” that made me laugh. Thanks for that!

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