I attended a special event with my mom a few weeks ago. As we were getting ready in the hotel, we were complaining about the dry air and how it affected our skin. Mom didn’t care for the itchy feel. I was bemoaning the way it made a “new” wrinkle show up.
“Ugh,” I said. “I never see this one until I stay in a hotel. It must be something about the air in these buildings.”
“Oh, a wrinkle!” my mom said sarcastically. “How horrible!”
I had to laugh. My mom has good genes, and has always looked at least 10 years younger than her age. It’s her zest for life and boundless energy, though, that makes her seem ageless, along with the fact that she just hasn’t worried much about what most women worry about these days.
It seems our culture has made us constantly anxious about how old we are. We seek flaws in the mirror, spend too much money on hair color and skin care and makeup in the hopes of hiding our age, and stress if we can’t still fit into our high school jeans.
Most women my age dread their next birthday, and fear what it means to get old as a woman in America today. Yet when I look at my mom, I see that she’s enjoying life perhaps more in her senior years than she ever did when she was younger. She’s happy, relaxed, and healthy, and she spreads joy and warmth wherever she goes.
I swear, people flock to her like bees like honey.
So I decided to do a little research. Is there a way women today can actually enjoy life more as they get older?
Women Are Living Longer
When you think about it, this is an important question. Women are living longer these days, which means if we don’t find a way to enjoy it, we’re facing more years of self-criticism and anxiety.
In a 2015 study, researchers reported that female life expectancy now exceeds that of males in all countries. They are less prone to heart disease and smoking-related illnesses, and in general, make healthier lifestyle choices.
In 1998, there were only 477 million postmenopausal women in the world, but this number is expected to rise to about 1.1 billion by 2025. That means that women today have more opportunity for personal, professional, and spiritual growth.
A more recent study paints a less rosy picture, though. Researchers agreed that women are living longer, but also found that they have a greater likelihood of arthritis, falls, depression, and dementia. Overall, women have lost ground to men in the number of years they can expect to live free of disabilities, or to live without needing help to take care of themselves or managing basic household activities.
So as women, we need to be conscious not just of the fact that we’re aging or that we may look older, but what our quality of life will be when we enter our senior years. We need to set the stage today so that we can enjoy happy, fulfilled lives as older women.
But just how do we do that?
We Have to Get Past All the Negative Messages About Getting Older
Obviously, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, maintaining strong social ties, and having a sense of purpose can all go a long way toward extending our active years.
All of these things take one thing, however…
If we’re not motivated to eat well, exercise, and make the effort to enjoy middle-age and beyond, it’s going to be difficult to do so. And let’s face it—sometimes when we look ahead, it’s hard to get excited about the future.
The problem is that most of the messages we see today are negative. Coming at us from our television, Internet, and social media channels are endless advertisements for products that either promote youth or hide age, as if getting older is something to be ashamed of.
Of course there are all the ads for prescription drugs, which paint age as something to endure rather than enjoy.
Everywhere we look we see images of youthful women glorified, while older women are nearly nonexistent, as if they have nothing to offer. The Guardian put it well when they reported on a television program called “How Not to Get Old,” which spends an hour telling women how to keep looking younger for longer:
“What is wrong with accepting that an ageing body can be a beautiful body? There is a loveliness in older faces too, in the strength and character that life and experience have given us.”
It’s hard to find this beauty reflected in our culture, though, which means that for women to truly feel good about their age and enjoy getting older, we have to decide ourselves that this is the way it’s going to be, and then remind ourselves of all the things we have to look forward to.
The 5 Benefits of Being an Older Woman
The truth is that there are a lot of benefits to getting older—we just don’t hear about them very often. So let’s look at them now. What have scientists found about the benefits of aging?
See if these don’t motivate you.
Older Women are Smarter
You’ve heard about all the ways you can keep your brain sharp as you age. Exercise, vegetables, and learning new things are all good ideas.
But research has shown that despite our worries of losing our mental acuity, the brain actually gets better with age. In a University of Illinois study on older air traffic controllers, for example, scientists found that despite some losses in short-term memory and spatial processing, older professionals excelled at their taxing jobs, because they were experts at juggling multiple aircraft simultaneously.
Other studies have shown a number of other cognitive skills that get better with age, including our verbal abilities, spatial reasoning, basic math, and inductive reasoning. Older brains hold more information, and have more resources to tap when solving problems.
So don’t believe the old adage that older brains are mostly on the decline. The opposite is often true, especially in those women who continue to challenge themselves.
Older Women Are Better at Managing Relationships
Older adults typically report higher levels of satisfaction with their social relationships than younger adults do. There isn’t as much angst, worry, anxiety, and conflict, and certainly not as much drama. They report fewer arguments and disagreements, and seem to have more positive marriages and closer friendships than younger people.
Why is this?
Studies have found that older adults are better at relationships, period. They’ve gained a lot of experience dealing with people, and they seem to understand them better. In one 2011 study, researchers reported that in general, older adults are better at:
- Optimizing positive social experiences and minimizing negative ones
- Avoiding conflicts
- Deriving greater support from their social ties
- Expressing positive emotions and affection, even in negative exchanges with loved ones
- Navigating problems that arise in personal relationships
And here’s some good news for you: That same study found that others treat older adults more positively and kindly than their younger counterparts.
Yes, you can look forward to most people being nicer to you as you get older!
Older Women are Happier
It may be hard to imagine right now that you could actually be happier twenty years from now, but studies show that the odds are with you.
They call it the “aging paradox.” Our culture believes that young people must be so much happier than older people. Therefore, we are surprised to learn that the happiest Americans are the oldest.
It was big news in August of this year (2016) when a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reported that older people were happier. Researchers analyzed data collected from a random sample of over 1,500 people ages 21 to 99 in San Diego. Whereas people in their 20s and 30s reported having the highest levels of depression, anxiety, and stress, plus the lowest levels of happiness, older people were the happiest of all the age groups.
“There’s this idea that old age is bad, it’s all gloom and doom and older people are usually depressed, grumpy and unhappy,” said study author Dr. Dilip Jeste. Instead, “as they got older, it looks like things started getting better for them. It suggests that with age, there’s a progressive improvement in mental health.”