Ageing doesn’t need to be dreaded, it’s actually a privilege we’re starting to make the most of, says Andréa Childs.
There comes a day when we realise that we don’t need to buy into the myth of middle age. Maybe it’s when we realise our yoga-honed body is stronger than ever, chair a meeting and don’t feel like an imposter, or wake up feeling focused, happy and in control.
“Women in their forties and beyond are pioneers of modern ageing,” says marketing specialist Rebecca Rhodes, who believes passionately in the value of women in their prime. Like midlife icons Viola Davis and Reese Witherspoon, we’re not prepared to fade into invisibility. In fact, a recent survey found that women in this age group feel more confident than they did 10 years ago, and are optimistic about the future. We are game changers in the world of wellness. Here’s why…
1 Mental Focus Improves
By our forties, we’ve either honed our ambitions or we’re ready for round two. Knowing what we want to achieve – a career change, dinner on the table by 7pm – brings clarity. “Staying on task and being able to focus makes you feel strong, smart and aware.
We get distracted when we’re bored, sad, mad or confused,” says expert on ageing, Dr Julie Schwartzbard. Goal-setting is key. “Writing down our goals improves our chances of achieving them. If we’re excited and adrenalised about a goal, we keep working on it,” says author Felice Shapiro. “Make it doable and challenging, have someone to help you keep on track, monitor your progress and celebrate your successes.”
2 Our Self-Consciousness Disappears
The day you walk into a party and care less about fitting in than the potential to meet new friends is a defining moment. “Our teen years are defined by self-consciousness, and our twenties and thirties are about establishing our personal and social identity. In our forties, we feel more confident about who we are and where we’re at,” explains Gill Hasson, author of the Confidence Pocketbook: Little Exercises for a Self-Assured Life. The years have given us perspective, so we care less about being judged, recognising whose opinions we value and filtering out the rest.
Of course, life can still leave us feeling wobbly – post-divorce, the kids leaving home, after illness. “Accept what you’ve lost and focus on what you do have, then build on your positive qualities,” says Gill. “It’s what Madonna does each time she reinvents herself.”
3 Willpower Trumps Strength
Women aged 40 and above are not living like their mothers and grandmothers did. “It’s a perfect storm of empowerment and pressure, as we achieve more in our careers and enjoy increased self-confidence, yet also have to care for children and ageing parents. There’s a desire to be fighting fit to cope with it all,” Rebecca points out. Cue the 6am HIIT sessions and Saturday Parkruns. The key to success – whether it’s life-juggling or completing your first 10km run – is a positive mental attitude (PMA), says personal trainer Faisal Abdalla, author of The PMA Method: 14 Days to a Stronger, Healthier, Happier You. “PMA is a state of mind,” he advises. “It’s seizing the opportunity, believing in yourself, challenging the negative voices, loving the life that you’ve been given, and having fun.”
4 We Feel Calmer And More Content
A groundbreaking study from the University of Alberta showed that happiness levels continue to rise into our forties and beyond, with people reporting being happier in their early forties than they were at age 18.
5 We Become Much More Adventurous
We’re a generation of thrill seekers, whether it’s the buzz of starting a new business on our own or the adrenaline we feel on adventure travel. Worldwide, the travel industry is taking note that women in general – but, more excitingly, women over 40 – are travelling solo more often, and to more demanding destinations than before.
Locally and internationally, the tourism sector is creating more opportunities for women to participate in adventure sports and travel to extreme locales, solo or in groups. Take the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trails in Spain, for example. The longest trail, which starts in France, can be gruelling, taking over a month to walk and, in 2017, just under half of all pilgrims were women – of the total group, 55% were aged 30 to 60, while 17% were older. Research suggests adventure travellers crave transformative experiences, and are actively motivated by a desire for personal growth and change. Rebecca agrees. “We’re not anticipating retirement; instead, we’re looking forward to our second and third wave,” she says. “Adventure, appetite and ambition are key, and we have the resources to fuel our desires.”
6 Sex Gets Better And More Meaningful
Sex can get buried under a longterm relationship, particularly in the exhausting years of career maintenance and child-rearing, but the good news is that we can come out the other side feeling more powerful and sensual than ever. “Our libido can be just as strong as we get older – think of the divorcees who start dating and reinvigorate their sex lives,” explains sex therapist Emily Power Smith. “We’ve learnt not to aspire to an idealised image of how we should look, so we feel more comfortable in our own skin. We also have a better idea of what turns us on.”
According to Emily, experience and confidence allow us to express our desires to a partner, while the ease factor of longer-term relationships mean we naturally engage in more ‘connected sex’, in which eye-gazing, kissing and cuddling all create closeness. “Habit is a huge factor in a satisfying sex life,” Emily says. “And it’s amazing what going to bed naked will do for your sex life. Ditch the cosy PJs, slip between the sheets without expectation, and see what happens.”
7 We Become Far Less Argumentative
Oh yes, we do! Or at least, we’re better at making our point in a constructive way. “Younger people tend to think of the world in black and white; life shows us that there are often grey areas. We also develop tolerance and compassion,” says Andrew G. Marshall, relationship therapist and author of It’s Not a Midlife Crisis, It’s an Opportunity. In situations when we need to argue our corner, his advice is to report how we feel, rather than acting it out. “Instead of slamming the door, say how you feel and listen to the other person’s response.” Rather than a full-on argument, it’s the start of a constructive conversation.
By Andréa Childs. Additional words by Belinda dos Santos