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.
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 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…
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.”
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.”