There were always those guys at school who looked 45 at the age of 15.
Those Rooney breed of boys who looked like they could grow a full beard before they’d even kissed a girl. The appearance of advanced years was particularly useful in getting drinks and into clubs underage, if less so for their efforts in personal grooming.
But these guys were exceptional. Broadly everyone else looked about the same age. Give or take a few years, but generally where they were supposed to be.
When you work with children, you see this more clearly – passing that group of ‘men’ on the street with a friend, I’m quickly able to recognise they are probably just Year 10s kicking around with nothing to do. You become an expert in fitting people broadly into their right age and year group because you’re around them so often.
And this trend broadly continues into your twenties. Everyone looks about their age, few exceptions here and there (that Rooney boy is now a Rooney man verging on looking 50), but everyone looks about where they should be. Then come your thirties.
Meeting someone in their thirties is a total lottery. The effect is what recently I’ve been calling the ‘Shotgun 30s’. The age appearances and guesses start to spread like the pellets of a shotgun when you hit 30. You can meet someone who could easily pass for a recent graduate in one instance, and another who looks close to retirement.
You look around at your friends and you often will see the same faces you’ve always seen. Your brain does one of those mental tricks it does with your eyes when it covers up our natural blind spots – it paints in the image you expect to see. You can’t help but see them at the age you met them; it’s difficult to look at yourself and others objectively.
But then you have a few doses of reality, and you can’t unsee it. It can be a new perspective injected into the group or a meeting after a long time. And you begin to realise, ‘damn, we’re getting old’.
So what could cause the Shotgun 30s? In part, because this is where genetics meets life choices.
To those people who lose their hair or are prone to wrinkles early doors – you’ve had a bad hand dealt genetically. We all have them. I’m near blind and needed braces as a kid. This is just your pay off for getting into those clubs with ease at 16. And those who always got ID’d throughout their mid to late twenties are now reaping the rewards.
Genetics is the main factor in the determining your appearance. And that’s just a consequence of being mortal. The new cliché is that cells stop regenerating around 25 – that this is when the cells in your body stop regenerating the way they did when you were young. Hate to break it to you, but that was probably as true at 21 when you likely hit full maturity. Whenever it is, you’re probably already on the downhill.
But your thirties are also where you really start to pay the bill of bad habits. In your mid-twenties there’s only so many years of damage that you wear from those long nights out, the smoking, the drinking. The tab you’ve racked up with Father Time is still short at that stage. In your thirties, it’s now the compounded effect of years and years of these choices manifesting themselves. Father Time has more years to work with. All those cheeky takeaways, all those times you forgot to warm up before a run, all those sleepless nights over break ups.
Now you could read this, look at your aging form in the mirror and think, ‘fuck it, take me death’. Stopping aging is like Canute and the tides. But I’ve good news for you. It’s never too late.
In one study, it was found that if you quit smoking by the age of 40 you reduce you risk factor by 90%. In multiple others, it suggests if you take up simple habits like walking, sleeping and hydrating more, you can dramatically roll back the years even in your ‘twilight’ years.
It’s one of the reasons that when I see someone I was at school with or an old colleague getting into shape, everything else aside, the main thought is ‘good for them’. I had a friend at uni who carried a little weight and couldn’t start the day without a cigarette. In his thirties he’s now completed a bunch of Iron Man races.
Once again, it’s never too late. And if you need a little motivation in getting started in your thirties – if it helps, just picture a shotgun at your back.