Do you suffer from superhero syndrome?

Positivity and optimism are generally good mindsets for overall wellbeing. But over-estimating how fit and healthy you are? That's potentially dangerous.

I see it a lot in my work. I'll be talking to a man in his late 40s or early 50s and he'll tell me he's in good shape, even while I'm staring at the verandah of a gut bulging over his belt buckle.

Unlike women of the same middle age who tend to see only their perceived faults in the mirror, men suck in their tummy, pat down what hair they have left, flex their biceps and say to themselves, “yep, still got it!”

In our mind's eye we see a cape and red undies over our trousers and honestly believe we can still leap the same tall buildings in a single bound that we did in our 20s. I call this superhero syndrome. And last week it happened to me.

I was at my daughter's athletics carnival and was so excited to see her running and playing games with all of her little friends. Then it happened. That voice inside my head, the one that insists I'm still far younger than I actually am, spoke up.

One of the mums told me she used to be a runner when she was at school and asked me if I was going to go in the parents' race. “Of course I am,” my superhero alter ego proclaimed, “I use to run a bit when I was younger as well.” Oh boy, here we go.

Fast-forward 60 minutes and I'm lining up with a heap of other dads – more than a few suffering the same self-delusion as me, no doubt. No warm-up, no stretching; just walk up and sprint for 80 metres with cold, old joints and muscles. What could possibly go wrong?

I bolted and was flying at a steady pace for the first 40 metres (eat your heart out, Usain Bolt). Then one of the dads on my right pulled a hammy. At the same time I could feel my right Achilles tendon start to flare, so the final 40m was at a much slower pace (hello, Cliffy Young).

Still, we limped across the finish line with big smiles on our faces, knowing we'd adequately demonstrated our superhero prowess (and one week later my Achilles finally settled down).


I was telling this story to my mate. He looked at me, poker-faced, and said, “yeah, I understand. I had hidey-go-seek hamstring”. After I screwed up my face he explained how he recently pulled a hamstring while he was playing hide-and-go-seek with his two young kids. Seriously.

It got me thinking. Do middle-aged men really have a distorted view of themselves? Do we suffer a delusion that we look a lot better and are much fitter than we really are?

KPMG demographer Bernard Salt believes the current drought of mid-40s single men, compared to single women of the same age, means they receive a lot of attention (more than they probably should). This inflates their ego and belief in their own attractiveness, a phenomenon Salt dubs "hotness delusion syndrome".

So, how do you know whether you've really still “got it”?

To start with, you can use science – get your blood pressure tested, find our your resting heart rate, get a body fat assessment, check your flexibility, how many push-ups and sit-ups can you do, do a sub-max fitness test, measure your bio-age, maybe even book in for a high-level executive health assessment and get all of this and a whole lot more (cholesterol, PSA, blood sugars) assessed.

Or you can try my Pogo Stick Challenge (nowhere near as scientific) to determine whether you are fit or fat. I spend a lot of time travelling and in airport lounges I notice most middle-aged men fall into the bracket of being either fit or a little bit overweight.

To find out which category you fall into (and determine whether or not you have superhero syndrome), when you next take off all of your clothes to have a shower, I want you to stand in front of the mirror (naked) and jump up and down, as high as you can, 10 times (watch the hammies and Achilles). When you anchor your feet back on the ground, if your body is still moving up and down, there's your answer.

Have you had an experience where you realised you weren't as young as you used to be? Do you (or someone you know) suffer from superhero syndrome?