Ask Curtis Pesmen How a Man Ages and He'll Answer: Faster Than He Has to
For a lot of Baby Boom men, the first clue comes when the barber says, “You want me to cut it so that it covers the bald spot?” Next there’s a hint of Dunlap’s disease (as in, “Hey, my stomach dunlapped over my belt”) and maybe a wrenched knee that doesn’t heal as quickly as it should. Taken together, these symptoms add up to a process known in scientific circles as “getting old.” Researchers report that it’s been popular—not to mention inevitable—for generations, and that no matter how often and how fast you run around the jogging track, it will eventually catch up to you.
A couple of years ago, Curtis Pesmen, chief of research at Esquire and a contributor to that magazine’s Sports Clinic, began interviewing experts and scouring the available literature to find out just what this peculiar phenomenon was all about. (At 26, Pesmen could not, alas, draw on firsthand experience.) The fruit of his labor, a new book called How a Man Ages (Ballantine, $7.95), is a head-to-toe accounting of the effects of time. “Aging can be depressing, but it’s better if you know what to expect,” says Pesmen, who recently discussed his findings with Assistant Editor Fred Bernstein, 27.
When men talk to you about aging, what seems to be their No. 1 concern?
Definitely the face, because it’s the most noticeable. In general, at 30 forehead lines are present; by 40 crow’s-feet and smile lines show up; at 50 gravity and loss of elasticity have caused skin to loosen and sag at the cheek and neck; and by 60 excess skin and fat deposits etch bags under the eyes. Moisturizers and sun blocks can slow the process, but you have to start using them preventively in your 20s and 30s or they won’t be of much help.
Do you use a moisturizer?
Not every day. But I think about using one every day.
What should be a young man’s biggest concern?
The first thing that happens is something that you can’t see. In the absence of regular exercise, your cardiovascular system will undergo change. Autopsies done during the Korean War showed that even way back then, young American men showed much more evidence of arterial deposits [cholesterol] than did Koreans. It was a cultural problem: Americans ate more fat and apparently got less exercise than Koreans. You won’t notice cardiovascular problems until late in life, but the crucial years to begin doing something about them are from 20 to 40.
Is hair today always gone tomorrow?
Lots of men in their 20s notice a receding hairline. I have one myself. But I was pleased to learn it’s normal and doesn’t necessarily lead to baldness. It’s also normal to shed up to 60 hairs a day, many of which renew as part of the normal hair-growth cycle. Permanent hair loss is a problem for 12 percent of men by age 25; 37 percent by age 35; 45 percent by age 45; and 65 percent by age 65. Nothing can be done about this kind of baldness, which is genetic, although a new surgical technique—transplanting an entire divot of hair from the back to the top of the head—is gaining acceptance.
How about sex after 30?
Each decade after 30 there seems to be a slight decline in desire, usually as a result of body and hormonal changes. Individuals vary greatly, of course, but a study of 800 men by the National Institute on Aging suggested that a 30-year-old might have an orgasm 121 times a year; a 40-year-old 84 times; a 50-year-old 52 times; a 60-year-old 35 times; and a 70-year-old 22 times. Interestingly, there are very few statistics about old people and sex; the landmark Kinsey reports, for example, gave no data on people over 60. Perhaps the real sexual revolution will come after the year 2010, when the Baby Boomers start hitting their golden years.
What about eyesight?
Age 40 is a good marker for the eyes. The lens becomes less pliable; the condition is called presbyopia. The decreasing pliability makes it more difficult for the eye muscles to help focus on close objects. For a lot of people over 40, normal reading distance will beat arm’s length.
What about teeth?
The average 70-year-old man today has lost a third of his teeth, but that is changing. The use of fluoride in water and toothpaste means that the teeth of young people today are—and will remain—much more healthy. One dentist I talked to said it’s becoming harder for students to find old people with toothless mouths to practice on.
What about hearing?
Children can often hear to almost 20,000 hertz, but an average 30-year-old has trouble hearing above 15,000 hertz—about the level of a cricket’s chirp. This is due to the gradual and inevitable breakdown of certain cells in the inner ear. By 50, he can’t hear above 12,000 hertz—the hiss of a “silent” whistle—and by 60 he’ll be down to 10,000 hertz, the top note a robin sings. Fortunately, hearing diminishes least in the range of human speech.
How common are lower back problems in men after 30?
They’re one of the most common midlife problems. It’s often said that Homo sapiens didn’t have these problems a million years ago, when we still used our arms much of the time for support. Gravity puts a tremendous strain on the lower back. Over time the disks between the vertebrae actually compress, which is one of the reasons that a 6-foot 30-year-old can lose more than an inch by the time he reaches 70. You can take care of your lower back by not doing leg lifts, which are harmful, and by strengthening the abdominal wall with exercises such as bent leg sit-ups.
Currently, the life expectancy for a 30-year-old adult American male is 72 years. Do you think that will increase?
There’s no doubt about it. Cancer cure rates should increase significantly, and the number of heart attacks are decreasing all the time. The big thing, though, is that people are paying more attention to health and exercise, and that may improve the quality of their lives as they grow older. As one expert on aging put it, “Practice moderation in the way you live, don’t get overweight and wear a seat belt.”