Last month, a TV network released archival footage of Bernie Sanders’ 1980s public access program. The Daily Show combed over the footage and assembled a few highlights, showing the then 46-year-old Sanders talking to kids about drugs, stereotypes and land ownership.
If you’re thinking, “Wait, if this footage is really from the 1980s, why does Bernie Sanders look the same today, over 30 years later?” Well, you’re not alone. Sanders is a prime example of a man whose genetic makeup failed him in his 40s and 50s, only to vindicate itself for a brief stint in his 70s. In other words, Sanders is the poster old-man-child for the unique benefit of being a guy who gets really old, really quickly, but then sort of runs out of geriatric steam and has a chance of being mistaken for a young 75 when he’s… 76.
Of course, Sanders isn’t the only man suffering from early onset of advanced age. He’s part of an ever-growing fraternity of guys who haven’t aged since you first saw them on the big (or little) screen — likely when they were in their 40s — and wondered to yourself what a 70-year-old grizzly grandpa is doing kissing a woman in her 20s. The list is long and includes such obvious choices as: Gene Hackman; Morgan Freeman; Bill Murray; Steve Martin; Larry David; Sean Connery; Woody Allen; John C. Reilly; and Tommy Lee Jones.
But it’s not just celebrities: Plenty of regular dudes also suffer from premature old. “Yikes. Whenever I go out with my father, they always think we’re brothers,” complains one redditor. Others take it in stride, sort of: “I just joke about it so people know I’m aware of it,” reports another redditor. “That way they aren’t laughing behind your back. I still get girls. But I have to rely on girls with low standards.”
And, of course, there are those guys, god bless them, who are wise-enough looking to find the silver lining, even if they have to squint to see it. “It was a lot easier to buy alcohol when underage,” explains redditor MasterRonin. “It felt like people at work and school took me more seriously, but that could have been just me. My mom looks much younger than her age so we get mistaken for a couple in public sometimes.”
The phenomenon even comes equipped with its own set of memes, albeit ones including a younger demographic suffering from “looking way older than they actually are.”
So why is it that some guys just seem to age like a gallon of milk? First, it’s important to note that people who look younger really are, in fact, aging more slowly, according to research from a long-running University of Otago multidisciplinary study. Their research revealed a panel of 18 biomarkers that could be combined to determine whether people were aging faster or slower than their peers. “‘As we expected, those who were biologically older at age 38 also appeared to have been aging at a faster pace,” study director Richie Poulton told Stuff.co.nz. “A biological age of 40, for example, meant that person was aging at a rate of 1.2 years per year over the 12 years the study examined.”
According to the National Institute on Aging, the way we age depends not just on our lifestyle, but our DNA, meaning there’s only so much that moisturizing and chugging water can do for you. “Extrinsic factors such as healthy habits can be controlled,” reports NIH.gov. “However, a significant portion of aging is determined by genes, which may encode causative factors involved in aging or factors that delay aging and/or promote extended health span (longevity assurance factors). In humans, it has been estimated that genetics control 25 to 40 percent of life and health span variability, but the identity of the responsible genes is difficult to pinpoint.”
In 2016, however, scientists claimed that they were in fact able to pinpoint a specific gene that could be traced to a person’s youthful or aged appearance. “Called MC1R, it’s responsible for inflammation and repairing damaged DNA,” reports Time. Per the same report, scientists at Erasmus University in the Netherlands, and David Gunn, a senior scientist at Unilever, studied the genomes of 2,600 older Dutch people and compared their DNA makeup to assessments of people’s perceived age from their facial photographs. “In the entire genome, they found one gene that stood out for having different forms in people who looked older than they actually were and in people who looked younger than their age,” reports the same Time article. “People who had certain forms of the MC1R gene looked about two years older for their age, compared to people with other variants of the gene.”
Genes aside, stuff like lack of exercise, sun-damaged skin, stress and the way these guys dress are also a factor in why some people look so much older than they actually are, so they’re all things to consider if you look older than your age. Or you could just lean into it: As we learned in our look at whether caveman suffered from male-pattern baldness, looking older and wiser than you are can be such an advantage that we’re still carrying the genes from prematurely bald cave-dudes today.
And, if you find yourself in the race to become President of the United States, when people call you out for being too old to run, you can simply show them a picture of your 40-year-old self and explain that you are, in fact, “ageless.”