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Mid-Life Myth Busters

Sometimes myths are so much darn fun to spread. Like, “The government is here to help you,” and “Corn dogs are brain food.”  

There are three common myths that are near and dear to my maturing heart­—the myth of the middle aged spread, the myth of the mid-life crisis and the myth of the empty nester. With the aplomb of 53-year-old Zorro, I will slice and dice these untruths and reveal the fallacies behind their unfortunate perpetuation.

Myth 1: The Middle-Age Spread

We are a nation of fatties.

Recent estimates put 70 percent of us either overweight or obese. Just as our President is fond of making excuses, (trickle down scapegoating), so we as a people have a nasty habit of looking for every reason outside our personal purview to explain our extra tonnage.

The most pervasive excuse among baby boomers is the golden rule explaining everything that goes wrong: It must be that I’m getting older. While there is a sliver of truth to this supposition, it is not a written-in- stone, 10 commandments-type dictate. There is no question that your basic metabolic rate, the energy required to keep little things like your heart and kidneys working, decreases slightly as you age, but it is only one of many factors that influences weight gain in the middle years (and the middle belly).  

Middle aged scientists tell us that the BMR changes one to two percent every year in the average humanoid. In reality, this is a minimal amount and can be countered in two simple ways. One, eat a little less (and better quality) and two, move more.  

The Einsteinian equation governing weight gain is simply burn off more than you take in, so altering either side of that equation can result in stable weight, or even weight loss if desired. That goes for kids, teens, middle agers and octogenarians. You are not relegated to portliness in your mid life any more than your daughter is subject to the freshman 15 when she goes off to college.

Prevent weight gain in your mature years by walking, running, kickboxing, aerobic gardening (don’t ask, use your imagination), golf (no carts and carrying your bag), tennis, dodge ball, swimming, jumping to conclusions (only if you get your heart rate up for 45 minutes), mud wrestling (with a close friend, preferably of the opposite sex), or biking. The answer is to simply move more in midlife.

Myth 2: The Mid-Life Crisis

Myth number two is the quintessential rite of Spring (for leisure-suit wearing guys in particular)—that of the midlife crisis. This has become a self-perpetuating lame excuse for sports car purchases, dating “20-somethings” and wearing dad jeans (and thinking they look good). This fallacy has long been associated predominately with males, and I suspect, was created by males to give cover such childish and bad behavior.  

The origins of this societal farce stems from a small study of a select few World War II vets who found themselves confused and disillusioned at midlife. These were men who were thrust into harrowing wartime situations, often marrying in a rush before being shipped overseas, essentially robbed of their youth, reentered society, did their nine-to-five, built their pension and then turned around and saw they were 50 and were confused by it all. They rebelled against their trepidation by practicing “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”

The reality is that this was a very specific small segment of the population and the psychiatrist who did the study coined the term “mid-life crisis” to describe what he observed in these few men who cracked up. Subsequently, much broader and much better-executed studies revealed that the vast majority of mid-packers adjust perfectly well to the stresses and strains of this time and are better equipped emotionally to do so.

Today we understand that someone in a so called “mid-life crisis” is almost always dealing with other issues that have nothing to do with age or existential angst.

Myth 3: The Empty Nest Syndrome

In 1966 a study was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry involving 16 institutionalized women. These women were all hospitalized for severe depression and, in an attempt to find a common denominator to their illness, the author of the paper concluded that several of the women had, over the past few years, experienced their children leave the home setting.

This was a logical error of mistaking cause and association. There might be an association between little Johnny flying the coop, but there was no evidence of this as a cause of mom’s breakdown.  

A newspaper article in 1972 quoted Pat Nixon, the first lady at the time, as saying she was handling the “empty nest syndrome well” with her two daughters married and out of the big house, and thus the concept was cemented in the gestalt of the general public as being something that was real.

Leave it to that nasty myth busting real science to come in and explode this fallacy as multiple studies over many years have shown consistently that the vast majority of mid-lifers handle this transition well and blossom personally and socially during this time.

Embrace mid life with zest and pass me the Bocci Ball schedule.

DR. EAKER is an Augusta Ob/GYN  and author. He and his wife, Susan, have twoteenage daughters.


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