Thoughts on ageing: the good and the not so good

There is a fairly new hashtag on Instagram which is #sewover50. This is aimed at people over 50 (unsurprisingly), and there have been some fabulous discussions going on. I thought I might add my two bob’s worth as I am now closer to 70 than 60, and am way past 50! I found this quote by Pillemer: “We have a seriously negative stereotype of the 70s and beyond, and that stereotype is typically incorrect.” (source), and it is this stereotype of ageing that I thought I might talk about in this post by identifying what is good and not so good about getting older.

I did a bit of reading around the topic, but did no primary research (obviously, I am no gerontologist!). I am also using some anecdotal evidence with a sample of one (me) and am generalising madly, so please don’t judge me if these things don’t apply to you or you deem them to be scientifically or medically iffy.

The good

I think there are lots of really good things about ageing. Confidence is a big one. I feel as though I have earned my stripes through a rewarding career, and I can be quite assertive if I feel it’s justified, although most of the time I’m happy to go with the flow. Having said that, I am also confident enough to ignore things that make me unhappy. Self esteem is a big part of ageing, as is managing emotions.

Financial independence

Financial independence and security generally improve with age. As we get older we become debt free or closer to debt free, we have paid off our houses, educated our children, and usually have a bit left over to go out and enjoy ourselves.

I think one of the nicest things about my growing a bit older is looking at my children, who have grown into fine adults, and feeling extremely proud of the way they’ve turned out. Many people my age are overrun with grandchildren, but I’m not – yet! For me the downside of them growing up is that they’ve flown the nest, although lots would view that as an upside…

Time

I love the fact that I now have the time to pursue hobbies/interests, and I have the time and money to travel or do whatever I want to really. If I had a word of advice for younger people it would be that retirement comes quickly and making provision for a comfortable retirement is really important, even when they are a gazillion other demands on that disposable income. Invest well and dividends will be paid.

Volunteering becomes an important part of many people’s ageing plan. Giving back to the community in some way is a really nice thing to do when you have more time, and I know lots of people in our sewing community who are quietly fundraising, donating, or giving their time in some way.

Priorities

As we grow older we work out what’s important, and it’s usually family and friends. As paid work slows down and stops, we have more time to spend with the people whose company we really enjoy. This is evidenced in our sewing community by the number of meetups, such as Frocktails, soirees, and casual meetings.

Our brain

Bilateralisation: as we grow older we improve the connection between the two hemispheres of our brains. This means we are better at problem solving and reasoning. Nowhere is this more evident for most of us than in our sewing rooms!

Our bodies

We perspire less! Don’t believe me? Read this article.

Shall we mention sex? Perhaps not, but trust me, all the research shows good things!

Other stuff

In Western Australia seniors receive free public transport in non-peak times and   discounted utilities for pensioners (I’m not a pensioner so I don’t receive this). There are also discounts at museums, galleries, public buildings, and I have been lucky enough to get these discounts all over the world, although most discounts wouldn’t even buy a coffee, it is a kind of recognition.

Many older people enjoy a sense of accomplishment. I had a long and successful career; I am well educated and have totally embraced the concept of lifelong learning, which I now mostly apply to my practical activities, and which I believe require a level of cognition which would surprise the non-sewing, non-knitting and non-crafting world!

The not so good

We can’t have good without the not so good!

Invisibility

This is a common complaint. Seniors frequently complain that they struggle to get served in shops or their opinions and views are generally ignored. This is also a problem for people with a disability, so what can we do about it? Of course, if I hit the feminist literature I could say that in most walks of life this has been an ongoing problem, although we like to think that things are improving. There is a plethora of literature on the effects of ageing and invisibility and I read a bit around the area. This article would ring true for many women, and it is the one that I think you should read, if you read no others, particularly if you are unmarried and don’t have children. I also found this article which resonated as it’s accessible (lots of the articles are impenetrable), amusing, and quite down to earth. I think that the reason many of us are makers is so that we can create clothes that make us stand out in some way, or perhaps for some it’s the opposite? Of course, being part of a making community is a big drawcard, and it’s the one that I have most enjoyed.

Eyesight and hearing

These seem to affect nearly everyone. As we age, the lenses in our eyes become less bendable, making it harder to focus on close-up objects. They also become denser and slightly yellow, altering our perception of colour. Part of my early research into the effects of ageing on colour highlighted the fact that we lose our ability to see blue, particularly after 70. There is a view that the loss of perception of colour is immaterial to most people, but for makers, this might be important. I did a bit of reading around the topic and, unfortunately, there is no way round this one – it’s going to happen to us all!

Wrinkles

Ah the wrinkles! Again, they are fairly inevitable, but staying out of the sun, wearing sunscreen, wearing a hat (the old slip, slap, slop, if you’re Australian), staying hydrated and getting lots of sleep does help. Of course there are lots of medical interventions if you are really concerned. I love this quote from Meryl Streep “Don’t waste so much time worrying about your skin or your weight. Develop what you do, what you put your hands on in the world.”

Loss

As we grow older we inevitably lose our loved ones and some of our friends. I think this is the hardest part of ageing for me to deal with.

Memory

My sister is always complaining about memory lapses and I have to tell her that they are common and not necessarily the harbinger of something sinister. Staying hydrated is really important, which I’m not brilliant at, and ensuring that sufficient vitamin B12 is in the diet. This is probably difficult for vegetarians and I have to admit, I’m not a fan of many of the foods high in B12, although I enjoy eggs, beef, dairy and Mark insists on salmon at least once a week, so I might just get enough. I also think that memory should be exercised and I pride myself on knowing my bank account details, my credit card and hospital benefit numbers as well as little things like a repetitive knitting pattern as I’m working it. My Dad was doing mental arithmetic (using π or Archimedes constant, believe it or not) until the day before he died. Can you tell, he’s my role model?

The body

So many things happen to our bodies as we age, but there are ways to slow down the inevitable. One of the first things I noticed was that my muscles wasted, particularly if I didn’t use them constantly. Apparently we eat less protein as we age, but we should eat more to help with the retention of muscle tone. Exercise is also essential. It doesn’t have to be hard exercise, I swim three times a week, walk five kilometres four times a week, and do a bit of yoga and some gym activity in an attempt to stay in shape. I have noticed that if I eat anything naughty, it’s reflected right back at me on the scales, which didn’t happen when I was younger.

I recently went down the metabolic rate rabbit hole and read quite a few scholarly articles (one here), but in a nutshell our metabolic rate is influenced by many factors, including “age, gender, muscle-to-fat ratio, amount of physical activity and hormone function” (quoted from here). It seems that the more muscle tone you can retain, the more kilojoules you will burn, which can only be a good thing. Of course there are lots of other reasons (beside loss of muscle tone) which cause metabolic rates to drop, including hormones and genetics.

I did read that we produce less saliva as we age which causes gums to recede and teeth to fall out – quelle horreur!

Balance

As we lose muscle strength and joint flexibility and perhaps inner ear dysfunction, we tend to find our balance isn’t as good as it once was. Balance is quite an involved function, needing the integration of sensory and motor systems such as vision, the inner ear, and proprioception, or where your body is in space. A good article on all this is here.

According to the article walking on cobblestones is a good exercise. I hate walking on cobblestones but I do have a wobbleboard that I try to use daily.

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I should be standing on one leg with my eyes closed, of course! I also try and walk along things. At our holiday place we have a gazillion fallen trees which make good balance beams. I try to move fast on them or not use my arms for balance by putting my hands in my pockets. Please note the scruffiness – one of the things I love about retirement is not having to dress up every day! However, it is all made by me, which is something.

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I was quite a good waterskier, having done it since I was about eight (my Dad had to make my first skis as they couldn’t be bought small enough). Just a side note: I made this bikini top which is just a strip of fabric with elastic either side to hold it up! My Mum made the bottoms.

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I did a lot of barefoot skiing at one point and skied well into my forties as in this photo. My Dad however, skied into his eighties, which is pretty epic. One of my goals before I’m 70 is to get back on my ski, which is hanging from the garage ceiling. We’ll see!

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Here are simple balance exercises you can do at home, with no special training or equipment. Stand near something you can grab for support if needed, or do them with a partner (from this Berkeley article).

  • First, test your balance by seeing how long you can stand on one foot with your eyes closed. Most people over 40 can’t go past 15 seconds. Even if you can, try to improve your time.
  • Without holding onto anything, rise up on your toes 10 times. Repeat with eyes shut.
  • Stand on one leg, bending the other knee slightly, for 10 to 15 seconds; switch legs; repeat 10 times. Then do again with your eyes closed.
  • Walk a straight line, placing the heel of one foot directly in front of the toes of the other foot.

I had a recent conversation with my Ladies-who-lunch friends (yes, I am in such a group!) and they were talking about loss of balance and the power of dance to slow ageing. This sounds really good to me.

Having said all that, I believe that the secret to feeling young is to take enjoyment from as much as we can, live life as fully as we can, laugh, cry, forgive, and keep that mind sharp in whatever way possible.

A final quote from Sophia Loren which particularly resonated with me: “There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fadanista

39 thoughts on “Thoughts on ageing: the good and the not so good

  1. Great conclusion, Sue. This quote from Sophia Loren delightfully sums up the whole idea. Feeling good, happy and loved is all what matters at the end. I also stumbled on this quote recently: “Do not regret growing older. It’s a privilege denied to many.” xx

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  2. Great blog. I always enjoy but this one was ‘extra’ special. I recently had foot surgery – 8/22 for a bunion. Am having problems walking again. In reading your blog I realized that some of this is the maturing process – I’m 79. I’ve forwarded this to a couple of non sewing friends. Thanks
    Marcia

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    1. I forgot feet in my post! I’m not sure how as my Mum had a terrible time with her feet. I shall amend, thank you Marcia! Do everything in your power to keep walking, it helps all your internal organs too.

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  3. Thank you for writing such a great piece. I totally agree with all you have to say and I always feel sad for those individuals who decide, once retired, to give up on learning and doing new things. I am now going to check out the articles you reference. I agree with Helene who quotes, “Do not regret growing older. It’s a privilege denied to many.”

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    1. Yes, growing old is definitely better than the alternative! I know so many people who retire and sit in a chair watching television. I never sit down during the day (except at my machine and to eat lunch!).

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  4. Glad I read this post! I love all your pros and cons. The first one I thought of, like you, was that young people should really start planning early for retirement. I am still working, but won’t be for long. Then what fun I will have! 😂👍. I couldn’t balance myself at a younger age, who knows what will happen to me when I’m older! Although I do love all sorts of exercise. I love your Sophia Loren quote. I always remember… the only thing stopping you is you.

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  5. Balance is critical. The further past 50 you get, the more likely it is that one good fall could seriously mess up a happy, independent lifestyle. I do yoga, and have noticed that my right foot is a lot more reliable than my left, which has had three surgeries.

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  6. An excellent read and summary. As I grow older I know too well some of these mentioned by you or in the comments.
    I’m sitting just now. 2 weeks ago I fractured my metatarsal and that has dramatically reduced my mobility. I’m not playing golf, walking or going to gym. Today I had a cortisone injection into my wrist and that’s immobile until tomorrow. I’m trying to develop an exercise plan that will work until I cram get break to my usual. I need to. Everything you’ve mentioned has happened or is in the process of doing so. Maybe I won’t need so many pattern changes.
    After I retired a few years ago (I’m still nearer 60 than 70; just) I took up bridge and dressmaking.
    I have 90+year old friends who bridge and golf so I felt this was a good way to keep fit in body and mind

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  7. Thank you for such a thoughtful, enlightening post. As we’re in the same age bracket, I found it particularly interesting. You’ve done a much a better job of preparing yourself for this age than I have, and hoo-boy am I playing catch up for it now. I like your attitude toward the “whole” person; you’ve covered just about everything!

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    1. Thank you, I think I might have forgotten the odd thing which occurs to me in the night (like arthritis) but I did enjoy putting this post together. It doesn’t matter when you start, as long as you begin!

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  8. This resonates with me as well. Incidentally, I dyed my hair pink the other day and went shopping with my 30 something daughter. I was suddenly visible again! Shoppers smiled, sales people spoke. It was like coming home after being in a far land.

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  9. First of all you methinks you have ‘aged’ beautifully and very well. I read your well-written post the other day on bloglovin and wanted to leave a comment here as aging and aging in a healthy way is something we all need to consider. As a fit and healthy person all my life, I’d never stepped foot into a gym or fitness center until I reached my 50s when all of a sudden found myself dealing with muscular and skeletal ‘glitches’. Physical Therapy was a blessing and it was there the therapist educated me on weight resistant exercises, balance and flexibility all of which I have to incorporate on almost a daily basis as I age and if I do not….. my body/joints stiffen up almost overnight. Consistency is the hardest to incorporate as have also found my 50’s (almost 60) to be more busy and more responsible for more people than in those younger years. Aging is real, as your well written post describes, but not something to be afraid of, or feared. Thankfully I’ve never felt invisible or been treated as such.
    Overall my lifestyle is probably the healthiest it’s ever been and I look forward to seeing what the future holds. Thank you Sue for taking the time to research, document and write this.

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    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment Lisa. I am really enjoying these golden years and some days I feel positively youthful, which is the best we can hope for really. I find that if I stay busy and engaged then I don’t focus on the odd twinge which is happening.

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  10. I’m going to be 60 next year and appreciate enormously how lucky I am to have ‘retired’ already. I honestly can’t think of anything bad to say about being older and being retired. I now (allegedly) have time to indulge my interests, can go visiting interesting places, and have no reason to miss any exhibitions I really want to see.
    The downside is that health has to be worked at harder, and bits are going wrong no matter how hard I work. Despite that I think I’m happier now than I’ve ever been.
    Thanks for a really informative and entertaining post.

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  11. I guess I’m in the minority, but I kind of like the “invisibility” of old age. (I’m just 61.) I was much shyer when I was younger, and as a smallish, “cute”, slightly busty, younger woman, I was very uncomfortable with the sort of attention I got from men, and I did not always feel safe. I think it stopped me from doing many things I should have done. I am very happy not to get that attention and I feel I have much more freedom to do what I like.

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    1. You are a fairly rare person, but I do understand the invisibility thing as I was really relieved to get married and therefore get rid of some attention! I agree that it is very freeing to get a bit older.

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