The ups and downs of taking risks – or not – in middle-age


[NOT Professor Hills]

Professor Thomas Hills looks at his own mid-life understanding

As a teenager I remember asking my parents if it was possible to have a mid-life crisis before you left high school. This was followed by hearty chuckles. Nonetheless, it forces one to ask the question: what exactly is a mid-life crisis and how would you know if you were having one? And is there evidence that such a thing even exists? And if so, what are the symptoms? Does mid-life put you at risk of divorce, dying in a motorcycle accident, or failing to open your parachute?

There are many ways to answer these questions. And there are a number of dominant factors (and preconceptions) that appear in our middle years. There is a wealth of studies out there, including data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the US, recorded between 1999 and 2010.

The upside

Divorce: Divorce does not increase in middle age…

…Crash rates and fatal car accidents are at their lowest among people in their 40s and 50s…

Homicide: Does middle age increase the chances that people will become homicidal killers? No…

The downside

Depression: Mid-life can indeed be truly depressing…

Suicide: You might be more likely to kill yourself in middle age…

In sum, there does appear to be a mid-life signal among the noise, though it doesn’t stand out as a hotbed of risk taking. It might leave some people a little more down than up. But these people should feel some solace in knowing that things do indeed get better.

For middle-age men feeling the call of youth, my recommendation is to wear a helmet and a life-vest at all times.

I’d add: Get more exercise. Sort out your nutrition if you haven’t already. Don’t stop reading and learning. If you’re busy living you ain’t about to waste time worrying about dying.

I make the point regularly that the average human stops learning and seeking knowledge by age 26. In my book that’s a crime against humanity, an intellectual form of suicide by ennui. We have more avenues and access to information than ever before in the history of humanity.

Use it or lose it.

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