Why do men age quicker than women?

This is a true story.

In Miami, at a social function, I was introduced to an overweight, grey-haired man in his fifties. Standing next to him was a slim, elegant, well-dressed woman who looked about twenty years younger. His daughter? Trophy wife?

“Hi,” said my new friend. Then, indicating the young-looking woman with him, he said: “Meet my mother.”

The space that follows is to allow the impact of those words to sink in. The received wisdom has always been that with increasing age, women become elderly, whereas men look ever more distinguished. Women go grey, whereas men simply acquire attractive silver touches in their hair. Women get fat, whereas men just become, well -nicely substantial.

We have been led to believe that men age more gracefully and elegantly than women. But if ever that was true once, it is certainly not the case now. Just the opposite in fact. The elderly –looking son with the youthful mother is by no means an isolated example of how differently men and women age these days.

Attend any gathering for the over-60s and you will see what I mean. The women will be trim, healthy and vibrant, chatting and laughing away, exchanging lively gossip and ideas. Their men, by contrast, will be paunchy, wrinkly and bald, staring vacantly into space or shuffling around on their zimmer frames.

Many women in their sixties and beyond are as fit as a fiddle and have never felt better. Men, though, will likely as not be suffering from a dozen degenerative diseases, from heart disease to gout, from diabetes to prostate problems, from macular degeneration to emphysema.

For many older men, life has become reduced to shunting from one hospital appointment to the next. Their bedside tables are covered with all kinds of strong medication, and it takes them fully half an hour to get their socks on in the morning.

What has gone wrong? Why are today’s men not ageing as well as the women in their lives?

One major reason has to be that older women take better care of themselves than ageing men. Although our grandmothers may have put on their white caps to sit knitting in their rocking chairs, the present generation of sixty-something women is fit and active. We go to the gym, we eat healthily, we watch our weight, and we take care of our skin and hair with the latest products. We make sure our teeth are white, our nails carefully manicured.

Then, we keep ourselves looking up to date by ruthlessly editing and refining our wardrobes every season, chucking out anything remotely old ladyish.

The men, though, will happily wear the same clothes for years on end. They may feel comfortable in their old togs, but the effect is to look like the man that time forgot. Most men never go near a beauty salon, and believe grooming products are for sissies. That’s why their skin looks old, lined and wrinkled before its time, in contrast with the smooth, cared-for skin of today’s older woman.

Women are also much more prepared than men to consider dyeing their hair, having cosmetic surgery and going for regular massages and spa treatments. But we women don’t just take care of our bodies. We pay close attention to keeping our minds young and active as well, by going on courses, running clubs and learning new skills, perhaps even taking up a new career, unlike the average sixty-plus man, who believes he learned everything he needed to know years ago, and has no need of further knowledge or mental input. The result of this attitude is that his mind has become as outdated as the 20-year old jacket he insists on dusting down for every occasion.

Poor old sods, though. It may not be all their fault. The truth is that men are actually designed by nature to wear out quickly, whereas women are programmed to last a long time.

And it’s all down to the male hormone testosterone, the substance released in huge quantities in boys and young men, but hardly produced at all in the later years. Once testosterone production slows down, the ageing process accelerates, causing rapid mental and physical decline in males.

Dr Malcolm Carruthers, who has spent two decades researching the ageing process in men, and devising ways to reverse it, believes the answer is to give males of middle age and beyond regular shots of the ‘youth hormone’ their bodies are no longer producing. This, believes the author of The Testosterone Revolution, will put a spring back in their step and a twinkle in their eye.

Certainly something drastic is needed, before older women in droves ditch their dreary old men for sleeker, livelier younger models, youthful men who can actually keep pace with them.

The Testosterone Revolution is published by Thorsons, £14.99

Laterlife web site