What It Truly Means to be in Your Prime

When is the prime of your life, and have you already reached it? It’s a question that many of us ask ourselves during cycles of growth and reflection – and it doesn’t exactly have a straightforward answer.

The truth is that there is no singular high point after which our lives begin to decline. In fact, we reach a number of different peaks at various stages of life. Whether you’re still looking for your purpose or changing your career later in life, the potential to take on another challenge, discover your prime, and summit your peak is always there!

What Does It Mean to Be In Your Prime?

Well, that all depends on your definition of the word “prime.” To some, the prime years of their lives are their youth – a time when they are physically young, carefree, and unjaded. They settle at a certain level of achievement, whether they are content or not.

For others, the prime of their lives occurs much later in life, once they have accrued knowledge, wisdom, and experience. They may reinvent themselves several times, learning from each win and loss as they pursue goals in their personal and professional lives.

Does your prime grow with time? Depending on where you are on your life’s journey, your answer is going to be wildly different from someone else’s. Young people are usually still figuring out who they are and have yet to reach peaks in certain aspects of life – from their perspective, the peak of their lives lies somewhere in the future, as yet to be determined.

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But what about the older generation? Do they look back on their 20s and 30s as the unbeatable prime? Besides being a depressing outlook, believing your best years are in the past is a limiting belief that can hold you back from experiencing all that life has to offer.

The most inspiring and successful people tend to have a growth mindset – they believe that the prime of their lives exists on a vast spectrum. They live extraordinary lives because they continue to challenge themselves, knowing that no individual success or failure means the end of their growth. Even well into old age, they don’t believe that they’ve yet reached their prime.

Take the example of Pablo Casals, generally regarded as one of the greatest cellists of all time. He dedicated himself to the cello at age 11, but even at 81, Casals was practicing four to five hours a day. When he was asked why he practiced so arduously even at such an old age, he said simply, “Because I believe I am making progress.”

As long as you’re alive, there will always be the possibility of growth and improvement. But is this true for everything? Let’s examine this claim by breaking it down according to the peak age for physical, sexual, and mental activities.

Peak Physical Age

Scientists have discovered a positive correlation between aging and physical performance when examining a variety of participants, adolescent and elderly athletes. Their results show that the fundamental functional aspect of successful athletes determines the age at which they reach their peak athletic performance.

For example, flexibility events such as gymnastics are dominated mainly by adolescents. Young adults typically excel at aerobic events since their performance usually peaks around their mid-twenties.

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However, a slower plateauing of muscle strength translates to much lower declines in anaerobic performance. The best competitors in anaerobic pursuits, such as golf and horse riding, are between 30 and 40 years old.

In other words, it doesn’t always matter how old you are as you’re always in the middle of an ever-evolving physical “prime.” Every stage of life brings a new level of fitness, meaning you are better suited to enjoy different activities at different times.

A good example is Keijo Taivassalo, who at age 82 won the 80-and-over-age category at the Boston Marathon, or Johanna Quaas, a 95-year-old gymnast who displays enviable control and strength. There’s also Fauja Singh, who, at the age of 92, achieved a personal best in the Toronto Waterfront Marathon with a time of 5 hours 40 minutes. The list goes on.

Josh Hartshorne, a Harvard University researcher whose work deals with the peak of cognitive function, sums it up perfectly – “There’s no age at which we are best at everything – or even most things.”

Peak Sexual Age

When is our sex life the best? While it might seem like the obvious answer is in one’s youth, the truth is actually much different. Psychological, social, and physical factors create a person’s libido – and these are constantly in flux throughout life.

Health professionals increasingly recognize that sexuality plays a significant role in the quality of life and health throughout a person’s lifespan.

In fact, a national survey from the NSHAP indicates that most older adults are involved in spousal or other intimate relationships and value sexuality. While sexual activity declines with age, many men and women still engage in it as they reach their eighth and ninth decades.

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Even though some influencing factors, such as a drop in testosterone and menopause, may alter a person’s sex drive, studies show that 30% of healthy people aged 65-74 still enjoy sex weekly.

In light of this research, do you believe that sexual activity peaks at a certain age? Despite no optimum age for sexual activity, it is possible to shift from quantity to quality as we progress through life. In fact, psychotherapist and bestselling author Esther Perel believes sex gets better with age:

“Generally, sexuality improves with self-acceptance, experience, maturity, and therefore, age. Not the libido, not the acrobatics, but the quality of the experience— the connection and the meaning of it.” – Esther Perel

There is no expiration date on sex – it just becomes more significant.

Peak Mental Age

When do you feel sharpest and most intellectually primed? A person’s mental capacity encompasses their ability to learn or retain knowledge and understand the facts and significance of their behavior.

However, this is a general finding and doesn’t apply to everyone equally. A psychological study published in Sage Journals found that cognitive abilities peak at different times for different individuals. Depending on the individual, some abilities peak around the time of high school graduation, plateau in early adulthood, and begin to decline by the time they reach their 30s; and others continue to peak until well into their 40s.

Then there’s memory, which is widely known to deteriorate with age. By the time you reach your 20s, your ability to memorize new facts has already declined.

Once you reach your 40s, you also begin to experience a steady decline in your ability to hold information in your working memory. While these are unfortunate facts about aging, they don’t apply to everyone. Many people continue to have strong mental faculties well into old age. In fact, the average age at which a scientist wins a Nobel Prize is 59.

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There are also ways to keep your brain in good shape. While it might sound counterintuitive (or maybe not), physical exercise is one of the best things you can do to keep your mind sharp as you age.

Similarly, by engaging in strenuous mental exercises, you can keep your mind trained in the same way that an athlete keeps their body strong with physical work. One study suggests that playing chess regularly – a very cognitively-demanding task – can act as a protective factor against dementia.

And even though neuroplasticity – your brain’s ability to learn and adapt – slows down in later years, you can continue to learn and make new connections. It’s only when you stop using your brain that decline begins to set in, much like how the body will begin to wither without any physical exercise.

With regular practice, cognitive skills such as reading, comprehension, and arithmetic continue to improve as a person ages.

What Age Is Your Prime?

Now that we’ve examined the different types of peaks in life, let’s take a closer look at what the overall prime age is once we account for all the different factors that contribute to a good life. Is there a moment in a person’s life when they feel most fulfilled, happiest, or in their prime?

Again, the most obvious answer to some might be somewhere around 25. But survey data from YouGov suggest that many consider the prime age to actually be 37.

History is full of people who only found success or purpose well into middle age:

  • Ray Kroc, for example, struggled to start a successful business his whole life. It wasn’t until he was 52 that he founded the first franchise of a little restaurant you may have heard of – McDonald’s.
  • Lynda Weinman started Lynda.com when she was 40; 13 years later she sold the website to LinkedIn for $1.5 billion.
  • And Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison wrote her first novel at the age of 40. When she was 56 she won the Pulitzer Prize, and at 62 won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
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Remember, it’s never too late to start something, and never too late to make this point the most meaningful of your life.

Life Is a Series of Peaks and Valleys

Many of us will feel like we’ve peaked at some point in our lives. When that feeling strikes, it does not mean you’re facing a never-ending downhill slide – it’s a temporary valley.

This valley might require a new approach to push through, but it’s an opportunity to reflect on what you really want out of life. Reach out for support, take on an invigorating new challenge, or dig deep to discover a new purpose – one that’s meaningful to you now, not the past version of you.

It’s never too late to reach a new peak.

We never stop learning, and we never stop growing. Like Pablo Casals, the cellist who practiced arduously into his 80s, we all have the potential to improve no matter what stage of life we’re in.

In fact, that potential is limitless. If you’re ready to unlock your potential and achieve a new peak in your life, then take control today. Reinvent yourself, start living with purpose, and discover that today is only the beginning of your prime.

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