The world seems caught up in an anti-ageing phenomena.
It takes courage not to succumb to the message that our worth is based on what we look like, and that as we accumulate wrinkles and saggy bits our status and interest value head south. Unfortunately, when an entire culture is ageist there’s little respect for wisdom and experience. But we can, and must, refuse to join that conversation and create life after menopause on our own terms.
At this life stage there are women having the best sex of their lives, being activists, going back to study, starting businesses, writing books, singing, dancing, seeing the world, becoming artists, making gardens, or doing whatever the heck they want. We can take our 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s and put our own stamp on them.
Choose your attitude
Think about the positive characteristics you associate with youth. Being energetic, fun, optimistic? Making friends easily? Being open, curious, willing to have a go? Being robust? Creative?
Regardless of what you’d include on your list, there’s actually no particular age group that owns those qualities. We can be that way at any point in our lives.
A fulfilling life takes commitment, intentionality and practice. It’s not an accident.
Surround yourself with positive people
A few years ago the BBC made a reality TV program called The Young Ones. They lined up six older British identities to spend a week in a house done up to look like it was 1975 (think shag pile and swirly wallpaper). After a week of living into their younger selves one could put his socks on for the first time in years and another was able to walk without her sticks.
It goes without saying that one of the smart things we can do is to surround ourselves with positive people who behave in healthy ways. If the key people in your life don’t create a healthy environment, you have your work cut out. Seek out at least one person you can rely on to support what you’re up to. Either that or be prepared to be a trailblazer.
The healing power of connection
The people we draw around us are vitally important to our health in other ways too. As Dr Dean Ornish, an American physician who has made his name in preventative or lifestyle medicine, says:
Love and intimacy are at the root of what makes us sick and what makes us well, what causes sadness and what brings happiness, what makes us suffer and what leads to healing. If a new drug had the same impact, virtually every doctor in the country would be recommending it for their patients.
One of the keys to a satisfying, resilient and healthy life is connection — to the people we love, to our neighbourhood or community, and to meaningful activities. The energy we invest in relationships with people who nourish our spirit is energy well spent.
Find inspiring role models
In Australia we have our share of high profile older women, such as journalist and TV identity Ita Buttrose, and former Governor-General Dame Quentin Bryce. Philanthropist Elisabeth Murdoch died in 2012 at the age of 103. She was said to have had so many interests that they had to be catalogued in alphabetical order: academia, the arts, children, and so on.
From the arts, the late Betty Churcher was the director of our national gallery in her 60s, and Margaret Olley was still painting and exhibiting her work when she died in 2012 aged 88. Internationally the arts have given us Georgia O’Keefe, who was painting well into her 90s, and Martha Graham who was still dancing professionally in her 70s. And who isn’t inspired by older actresses such as Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Diane Keating and Susan Sarandon?
Surprising statistics on life satisfaction — the U-curve of happiness
Interestingly, statistics fly in the face of the idea of older age being such a hardship. When I compared women in their 50s with women in their 60s in my own research, I wondered if I’d made a mistake in the calculations. The older women invariably scored higher on social and emotional wellbeing, even if they had more physical problems to deal with.
It’s called the U-curve of happiness. From our late teens through to our 40s, we think things could be better, but our point of view starts to pick up from our 50s. Maybe we make peace with our ambitions and decide that reality isn’t so bad. No one knows for sure.
Accept the way you look
Amongst my own clients, some say they no longer obsess over their looks the way they used to. They wear less make up and they’re happy for their real selves to be on show. Others feel that being older makes it harder to look good, so they need to make more effort than they used to.
Feeling good about ourselves and the age we are provides a solid foundation. When we have a positive view of ourselves we’re more likely to make healthier lifestyle choices and enjoy them more.
Manage the way you talk to yourself
Our attitude goes hand-in-hand with our self-talk. Self-talk refers to that little voice that has always had a lot to say to us. And, as you’ll have noticed, it’s a hard task master — or mistress. It’s also been there for as long as you can remember.
Here are three steps you can take to break free of its hold.
- Stop listening to it, or at least taking notice of it. Remind yourself that it’s not the truth. If you find yourself feeling inadequate about something, counter it by acknowledging yourself for something that you’re really proud of.
- Actively call forth inspiration. Perhaps collect quotes or images that inspire you when you need it. Or look to a role model.
- Ask for the opinion of someone whose opinion you value. If the situation calls for it, it might even be useful to get professional advice to help you create a new way of approaching things or identify concrete actions to take.
If you don’t pay attention to it, this inner voice can be as restrictive at 70 as it was at 17. You can limit yourself without even noticing.
Mix it up
Your brain is a use-it-or-lose-it organ, so look for opportunities to include variety and challenge in your life rather than repeating the same old patterns. It’s not smart to eat the same foods each day or to do the same exercise over and over. Your body needs a wide selection of nutrients and movements that challenge you.
Bed down healthy habits, but also stay open to learning and trying something new.
From Rhonda Anderson’s book ‘Life After Menopause: 5 Key Habits of Healthy, Vital Older Women’, found at www.fitandwell.com.au. Rhonda is an exercise physiologist specialising in healthy aging for women, and is a former Australian marathon representative and sports columnist for The Australian. Rhonda has also played a key role in the development of state and federal government initiatives to support girls and women in being more physically active.
Photograph by Beth Jennings Photography www.bethjenningsphotography.com