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Is age just a number?

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The saying goes that university will be the best time of your life, but is that really the case? A survey in Germany has shown that life satisfaction peaks first at 23 years old and later again at 69, questioning this well known phrase. This is just one of numerous optimal ages for life milestones compiled by the Business Insider. Some of them are associated with bucket list type events such as the most common time to run a marathon (28), whilst others focus on more academic achievements such as the age at which you will have the best arithmetic skills (50). I have selected a few that may have already passed some of you by, or that are just around the corner for you to look forward to…

 18 – Brain processing power

A study carried out in 2015 by the Department of Psychology at Harvard University, saw that those participants around the age of 18 had an unusually fast processing speed. This relates to the more general optimal age for fluid intelligence (defined as ‘the ability to solve new problems, use logic in new situations and identify patterns’) being around the late teens to early 20’s. They determined this through a series of cognitive tests such as digit symbol coding, digit span and word pairing. Whilst some parts of the brain improve with age, such as the range of our vocabulary, it seems we will never be as quick thinking as we were when we were 18.

 25 – Muscle strength

Although this age largely depends on the lifestyle choices of an individual, research by the University of Toronto has suggested that you are at your strongest at the age of 25. This is due to the peak in the number of type II fibers your body has, the condition of your end plate structures in the muscles, and the enhancement of excitation-contracting coupling (conversion of electrical stimulus to a mechanical response). It was also found that 25 was the age of maximal oxygen intake, making it easier to exercise, proving it is never too late to take up that New year’s resolution of going to the gym!

26 – Finding a partner for marriage

The science behind this uses statistics that can be applied to many aspects of life where you want to find the optimal time to make a decision, such as when to park your car in a space or even when to buy/sell a house. The ‘37% rule’ is thought to originate from a puzzle known as the ‘secretary problem’, in which someone is interviewing a selection of candidates for a new job, but once dismissed from the search each candidate cannot be hired or returned to. The puzzle was to find when in the process would be the best time to stop in order to have the optimal chance of getting the most suitable candidate. Calculations showed that 37% of the way through the total number of people was the optimal solution. This magic number can be applied to the search for love as well. Assuming you are looking for a partner between the ages of 18 to 40, 26.1 is the age at which you will have spent 37% of the time searching and would be the optimal point to stop looking and leap into marriage. Although this isn’t an exact proof and neglects so many factors, it does show the power that statistics have in leading an optimal life.

Number crunching doesn’t stop there with many other milestones, such as the age most likely to win a Nobel prize (40) and to reach psychological well being (82), still to come. However none of these numbers reflect all of the population, and with any survey or experiment there are many outliers. For example, Fauja Singh became the oldest person to run a marathon at 104 years old, defying the ‘optimal’ age of 28, proving that after all age is just a number.

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