Dec 11, 2014 9:00 AM

Author: Office of Public Affairs

Does your age on your next birthday end in 9—such as 29, 39 or 49? If so, you may find yourself taking a big risk.

New research finds that as people approach a new decade, it inspires greater self-examination, prompting them to engage in more daring behavior. Sometimes, it’s not always for the best.

“People audit the meaningfulness of their lives as they approach a new decade in chronological age,” the researchers write. And when we reach these ages, we’re more likely to question whether our lives have meaning. The resultant behavior often resembles that of a midlife crisis.

Like a midlife crisis, approaching a new decade in age may prompt people to seek out either positive or negative experiences. In one study, researchers found that about 25 percent more people ran marathons for the first time at ages ending in 9 than at other ages. They also found that at ages 29 and 39, people who run marathons regularly were more likely to finish at a faster pace. 

On the flip side, researchers found that men who registered on a website catering to people looking for extramarital affairs were 18 percent more likely to provide an age ending in nine. (It was noted that the men might have lied about their age.) There is also a small but significant uptick in the number of people who commit suicide at an age ending in nine, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data the researchers analyzed.

If you’re coming up on a milestone birthday, here’s how you can channel any restlessness into a positive change for health and fitness.

“One of the things I’d recommend is joining some sort of fitness class,” says Laura Wheatley, a graduate student in Exercise and Sport Sciences at the University of Utah. “Seek out a health pro or a group or a personal trainer. This will help you progress appropriately so you’re not going to hurt yourself,” she suggests.

Group settings have other benefits, too. Many people find having a regular fitness commitment to be motivating, and it provides a new circle of friends, Wheatley says. If you want to tackle a solo pursuit like running a marathon, this is an ideal time to start training, she says, because you’ll be ready to hit the road once the weather gets warmer.

But don’t feel that you have to wait until spring, Wheatley says. “In Utah, there are so many winter sports going on now, from downhill skiing to snowshoeing.” Chances are, you’ll find something that fits your personality.

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