Pass The Aspercreme

I'm 40, & My Body Has Started Falling Apart

40-somethings, are we OK?

Written by Jill Layton
Originally Published: 
A woman clutches her lower back in pain as she gets up from her desk.
South_agency/Getty Images

When I was a kid, I didn’t understand how my parents and their friends, who were all in their 40s, refused to casually do somersaults, jump on trampolines, or fold their bodies into weird pretzels shapes like my friends and I could do all day long. What did they mean when they said they couldn’t do a cartwheel? “Just do a cartwheel,” I’d say. “It’s easy.”

Apologies to those 40-somethings because, boyyyyy, do I get it now that I’m 40. Doing a simple somersault would likely require a visit to the chiropractor. In fact, it actually did require a visit to the chiropractor, which is embarrassing but my reality.

I turned 40 in June, but for the three years prior, my sister (who is three years older than me) warned that once I hit that new decade, my body would start falling apart like hers was already doing. As much as I don’t enjoy admitting when my sister is right, she was right.

The literal day after my 40th birthday, I popped a rib out of place while emptying the dishwasher. Shortly after, my foot started to hurt on my normal runs — so much so, I had to go to a podiatrist who recommended I purchase orthopedic shoes. Orthopedic shoes!

It gets worse.

A few weeks later, I started to feel like I had arthritis in my thumb, and a few weeks after that, I seemingly broke a couple of my toes when I gave them a little crack... something I’ve always done without incident. Like, what? My bones are so brittle and old all of a sudden that I can BREAK THEM WITH MY OWN HANDS (or at least sprain them to where they still hurt four months later)?

Is it overkill if I mention that, just this week, my hip started hurting when I walked, and now I have to hold my phone and other reading materials at an arm’s distance so I can read them?

It isn’t just me and my sister whose bodies stopped working properly in our 40s. Nearly all of my 40-year-old friends are dealing with their own ridiculous ailments. Thankfully, none of us have any serious health issues, but we do we do have questions. What is going on here? Why does this happen? Is it all in our heads?

I spoke to Dr. Anant Vinjamoori, chief medical officer at Modern Age, to get some answers.

What’s actually happening to our bodies as we age?

“Feeling like your body is falling apart around the age of 40 is a common belief I hear from my patients and is attributed to a combination of physiological and psychological factors,” Vinjamoori says. “While everyone’s body and health are different, not everyone in their 40s will feel this way.”

Well, that’s a relief. Not for me, specifically, but for many of you, hopefully.

Here’s the physiology behind it.

Vinjamoori says that “physiologically, a gradual decline in muscle mass, bone density, and metabolic rate” can all be contributors, and those super fun hormonal changes you may experience every now and then/regularly “can also impact energy levels, mood, and body composition as you age.”

“Joint and muscle changes associated with wear and tear can also lead to stiffness and discomfort,” Vinjamoori adds.

Basically, our 40-something bodies are like a good pair of shoes. They’ve got some wear and tear, but they’ll still get us to where we’re going and look good while doing it.

How can aches and pains be psychological?

Vinjamoori suggests that “psychological factors influenced by societal expectations emphasizing youth can also contribute to a negative perception of aging for people entering their 40s.”

So, noticing certain changes or pains in our bodies might be somewhat mental. Maybe we tell ourselves that we’re at the age where things are going to start to hurt... so they start to hurt. This might be especially true if we hear about the aches and pains affecting our friends on a regular basis. (Sorry to my friends.)

The physical and mental are connected.

Our mental and physical health are often deeply intertwined, and there are ways to help. “By fostering a positive outlook on aging, individuals may empower themselves to adopt habits that promote longevity, creating a harmonious interplay between mental outlook and physical well-being,” Vinjamoori says.

Why are women often affected more than men?

“The perception that women may feel like their bodies are falling apart more than men around the age of 40 can be influenced by a combination of biological, social, and cultural factors,” Vinjamoori says.

Women typically go through menopause in their late 40s or early 50s, which is a “significant biological event associated with hormonal changes that can contribute to a sense of physical change and challenge,” Vinjamoori adds. “Reproductive changes, fertility decline, body image, and heightened health consciousness can all play a role in shaping how women perceive their bodies as they approach and navigate their 40s.”

Is there anything we can do to help the natural aging process?

While it might feel hard to make lifestyle changes (or maybe you just don’t want to, which is totally fair), Vinjamoori says that “encouraging open communication, addressing health concerns, and promoting positive aging narratives can help individuals navigate this stage of life with a more constructive mindset.”

And massages. Let’s all get more massages.

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