Don’t Let the Old Man In: The science of staying young

Apr 24, 2023
Source: Getty

Country music star Toby Keith poses a great question in his 2018 hit song Don’t Let the Old Man In.

“Ask yourself how old you would be if you didn’t know the day you were born?”

I have to admit that I sometimes forget how old I am.

It’s not that my memory is going, it’s more to do with the fact that I just don’t feel like I should be 61.

I know I’m 61, but when I was growing up on the south coast of NSW, 61 was old. And I don’t feel old. I look at a photo of my dad when he was my age now – after years of hard dirty work down a coal mine – and he looks exhausted, beaten up by life.

Keith says the inspiration for his song came from Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood.

The pair were playing golf when the country singer asked the 92-year-old actor: “How do you remain so young and active.’’ Eastwood replied: “I don’t let the old man in.” Keith went home, wrote the song, and Eastwood used it in the closing scene of his movie The Mule.

I was once asked to speak to a group of representatives from Queensland Rotary Clubs who were looking to stop the tide of dwindling membership numbers. 

I was running a Content Marketing business at the time and the Rotarians wanted to know how they could inspire the next generation of members.

Sadly, this group had already Let the Old Man in. And once he’s IN, it’s too late.

There were 12 people from various Rotary Clubs at this meeting. They were all aged between 65 and 80. They arrived in the room – a parade of cardigan-wearing men with half bottles of red wine in hand – listened, but didn’t really want to hear what I had to say.

They no longer had an appetite for change. They were stuck.

When I pointed out that they were the same vintage as The Rolling Stones, who had recently played a concert to 100,000 fans in Hyde Park, they couldn’t understand the concept that to attract a new audience they too, like the Stones, had to continually reinvent themselves.

According to research from the journal Frontiers in Ageing, living a youthful life (like The Rolling Stones have done) may play a big part in slowing the ageing of your brain.

The research found that older people who feel younger than their age showed fewer signs of brain ageing on MRI scans compared to others. They were also more likely to score higher on a memory test, view their health as better, and be less likely to report symptoms of depression.

“We found that people who feel younger have the structural characteristics of a younger brain,’’ researcher Jeanyung Chey said.

Thanks to science, improved diets and modern medicine, men are living longer, and looking for as many ways as possible to keep the Old Man at bay.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare a boy born in 2018-2020 can expect to live to the age of 81.2 years. In contrast, boys born between 1891-1900 lived for, on average, 51.1 years.

Life expectancy changes the older that we get. So, if you survive birth, childhood and adolescence, you should get a bonus few years on your life expectancy. The latest figures suggest that a man aged 65 between 2018 and 2020 could reasonably expect to live another 20.3 years.

In December National Geographic published a scientific-based article that suggested ageing could be “cured” by reprogramming old cells to a younger state and preventing debility to a new old age of 125.

As the world grows older, more men are turning to medicine, and alternative methods, to slow the ageing process.

Globally, the anti-ageing industry is expected to be worth $120 billion by 2030.

Australians are already spending about $1 billion annually on cosmetic procedures each year.

And men getting treatments – mainly Botox – is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the industry. It’s been dubbed “Brotox”. While we don’t yet have figures for Australian men, we know that in America in 2020, men had more than 265,000 Brotox treatments.

Former football and baseball star Deion Sanders is leading the charge in America publicly talking about his regular Botox treatments to get rid of frown lines and crow’s feet. 

Now that the unwanted lines on his face are gone, Sanders told the New York Post’s Page 6 team that he had a new lease on life.

“I feel great!” he exclaimed. “Fifty is the new 21. I feel young, I feel very energetic, and I feel like taking on the world. I feel like challenging people to work out, live right, eat healthily, and make the proper decisions in life. I really feel good. I am in a really good place in life.”

The other thing we are doing is reading more about how to stay young. Anti-ageing books sell faster than almost any other non-fiction genre.

Now Botox is not for me. As my mum said: “Only skinny people need Botox. You’ll never need it, Brian.”

So the question is how do you actually live a youthful life? The experts say you have to be physically active. The more active you are, the more energised you will feel.

You also have to feed your mind. I start every day with Wordle from the New York Times. You have to take some risks, look for new adventures and vary the company that you keep. If you chat with the same people every day, your world will soon become very small. 

Branch out, be curious, and don’t spend too much time with the same people. And whatever else you do, Don’t Let the Old Man in.


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