Mistaking the effect for the cause

Which assertion is true? Does ageing cause a deterioration in fitness? Or does poor fitness cause ageing?

The answer depends on whom you ask. If you ask a senior with several health problems, he is likely to attribute them to his advanced age. Whereas a senior athlete who exercises regularly, swims a mile and continues to compete demonstrates how to retain one’s fitness despite one’s age.

Another piece of “conventional wisdom” is that older people require lesser sleep. The sleep scientist Matthew Walker investigated this and found that older adults require just as much sleep as younger adults do – 8 hours a day. But parts of their brains deteriorate due to ageing and they are unable to generate the quantity of sleep they need. Ironically, the inability to get enough sleep further accelerates ageing, spiraling this effect further. Just because older people cannot get enough sleep doesn’t mean that they don’t need it as much.

Ageing is often an effect even as we mistake it to be a cause. We can choose between a vicious cycle – one where ageing degrades our physical health, which in turn causes us to age faster, or a virtuous one, where regular exercise and renewing habits help us delay the onset of ageing.

The question that begins this post has no wrong answers. You simply get whatever you wish for.

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