Wear and tear


I'm at the age where there's rarely a day when I'm completely free of aches and pains

The tiles of the parquet floor in my house are popping out.

No matter how we try and fix the problem, we'll discover that another block in another section of the house has dislodged itself and needs repairing too.

But it can't be helped. My house is old, you see. It was built in 1974 and there's only so much one can expect of a 40-year-old building.

It's not just the parquet flooring that's acting up.

The whiteboard ceiling upstairs is warped, some parts dipping alarmingly. I live in some anxiety of the ceiling crashing down on us - lights and all - while we are sleeping.

The white terrazzo flooring downstairs has seen better days. After four decades of accidental spills and stains, large swathes of it are an unsightly yellow.

Paint is peeling from the roof. We wake up and find shavings of paint and plaster fluttering in the garden. They had shed themselves overnight.

My house is a metaphor for my body, I tell H. It's ageing and falling apart.

Okay, that sounds a tad dramatic - it's not like I'm 80 years old.

But age takes a toll on things, whether on a building or the human body, and I'm at the point in my life where my body parts just aren't the way they used to be.

There's rarely a day I'm completely free of aches and pains.

As I write this, my neck and back are achy from being overstrained. My throat feels scratchy and I have the sniffles, as if I'm coming down with the flu.

There's rarely a day, too, when the fear of illness doesn't prey on my mind.

After you hit a certain age, it's hard not to think about being sick, especially if you have friends your age who aren't in the pink of health. Mortality has become a preoccupation of late.

I knew I had crossed firmly into middle age territory when someone commented recently that I had lost weight.

When I was in my 20s, 30s and even early 40s, a remark like that would have put me on a high. Who doesn't want to lose weight?

Now, I felt alarmed instead.

Weight loss is no good, especially if it is, as in my case, unintended. It could be a symptom of so many ailments.

I checked and re-checked the weighing scale, before and after meals. I peered into the mirror to see if my face was indeed more sunken. I tried to remember just what I did which might have caused me to lose weight. In the end, I put it down to stress and a lack of sleep.

During the recent Hari Raya holiday, I decided to go on a Korean TV drama marathon and spent 12 straight hours in front of the TV.

In my 20s and 30s, my body would have been none the worse for wear from this. Now, I paid the price for it the next morning. A dull pain throbbed between my shoulder blades. My neck hurt when I turned it. My eyes felt dry and I was seeing blue spots.

My poor ageing body.

I have passed the spring and summer of my life. Autumn beckons and it sure ain't looking pretty.

Researchers say the ageing process starts earlier than we think, as early as in your 20s.

Your brain, for example, starts going downhill from the grand old age of 24.

A study of more than 3,300 volunteers tracked the link between age and how fast people make decisions and shift between tasks. It concluded that speed declined with age (which is not surprising), and that the dip is first detected among 24-year-olds (which was).

The skin is also a victim of early ageing, say researchers. Once you hit your mid-20s, it starts losing firmness and elasticity. This is because collagen, the protein which provides structural support, and elastin, which allows your skin to bounce back after it is stretched, weaken.

In time, you also lose underlying fat around the cheeks and eye sockets, and from your neck and hands, resulting in that stringy, veiny look.

In your mid-30s, your breasts start losing tissue and fat. They become smaller and less full. Then they start to sag.

Forty is the milestone age for eyes. The lens thicken and become less flexible, bringing on presbyopia.

Forty is also when your teeth start growing old. You produce less saliva, which has the beneficial effect of washing away bacteria. Result? Your teeth and gums are more susceptible to disease.

The heart, too, starts showing its age at 40. Then in your 50s, your gut starts acting up when levels of good bacteria drop. The kidneys also go south from your 50s.

When you hit your 60s, it's your bladder's turn. Even your voice will betray your age around this period, becoming hoarser. Your taste and smell become less effective from your sixth decade, as you have fewer tastebuds.

All this makes depressing reading, I know.

There is only so much one can do to fight the ravages of time. You can take preventive action like exercising more and eating healthily, and you can go for face-lifts and other repair work.

But like an old house which has been given a new coat of paint, you can't escape how the basic structure is old and crumbling.

Rather than lament the ageing process, perhaps the key to not becoming overwhelmed by it is to focus not on the past or future but the present.

In the book Younger By The Day: 365 Ways To Rejuvenate Your Body And Revitalize Your Spirit, author Victoria Moran noted: "In terms of days and moments lived, you'll never again be as young as you are right now, so spend this day, the youth of your future, in a way that deflects regret."

She urges readers to "invest in yourself. Have some fun. Do something important. Love somebody extra".

As she puts it: "In one sense, you're just a kid, but a kid with enough years on her to know that every day is priceless."

So, yes, the parquet tiles in my house may be popping, the ceiling crumbling and my shoulder blades aching.

But if I treat every moment I have now as something precious and make the best of it, then tomorrow will take care of itself.

I hope so anyway.


Follow Sumiko Tan on Twitter @STsumikotan