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Life after fifty

Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Barbara Hannah Grufferman

Four years ago, I turned 50. It felt as though ­everything changed overnight.

In my 20s, 30s and 40s, I had charged ahead with life, first throwing myself into my career — I worked as a magazine publisher — and then, in my late 30s, meeting my ­husband, getting married and ­having children.

Those busy years — spent first at work and then at home looking after my two daughters when they were young — almost seemed like one long decade, during which I didn’t feel any different about how I looked or acted.

I never stopped to think about what impact the way I was living might have down the road.

Then, one day, I woke up and I was 50. Suddenly, I would catch myself in the mirror and start to notice my drying skin, my wrinkles, the way my hair looked. I felt aches and pains for the first time. I also began to gain weight.

It wasn’t a huge amount, but it was slow and steady. I am 5ft 7in and had always weighed around 9 st 3lb but, suddenly, I gained more than a stone. I realised this gain was part of growing older but I also knew that this didn’t have to be the case.

I decided I should look at the way I lived my life and make changes — and if along the way that helped me to lose those 15lb then so much the better.

I didn’t simply want to think, ‘I’m 50 now, that’s it, my life is over’. There’s been a lot written about how women cease to exist once they hit this age.

Despite our great consumer power, women in our 50s are often dismissed as invisible, and seen as neither young nor interesting enough. This is so wrong.

Women shouldn’t cower away because we are not as young or slim as we once were. We should embrace our age, not be afraid of it, and that includes listening to our bodies as they begin to change.

As I turned 50, I found myself asking the ‘what if’ questions: what if I get sick or have a heart attack? What if I get ­Alzheimer’s? What if I get cancer? Do I already have cancer without knowing it?

I looked around and people my age were having strokes, struggling with depression, developing diabetes.

It’s not that younger people didn’t have some of these health concerns, but that after 50 they seemed all too common. The more I thought about it, the more questions I had.

I began to wonder if there were tests I should be getting and asking what I could do to make sure that I lived a healthy life.

Like many women, I had gone a long time without doing simple things that could positively affect my health.

Many of us are part of the so-called sandwich generation — caught between looking after our children and caring for elderly parents — and I ­realised life had kept me busy taking care of ­others, yet failing to do the right things for myself.

Sleeping enough and exercising daily had come to seem like an indulgence, even as I made sure that my family was well fed and well rested.

So I embarked on a quest to discover how ordinary women could look and feel their best in their 50s and beyond.

I soon realised that what I wanted was the best information I could find. I began to contact beauty experts and financial experts.

I talked to the renowned hairdresser Frederic Fekkai, and to fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg.

I tracked down women’s health ­specialists and exercise gurus, nutritionists and make-up experts. And, after hearing their advice, I took it.

I found myself going for a gentle run with breaks for walking every day and learnt how to do push-ups and ­exercises to prevent osteoporosis.

I went for annual health checks. I changed the way I ate and dropped the bad habits I’d slipped into.

Where I had once spent my time dieting instead of eating, now I began to pay attention to what I ate and to eat something healthy and small every couple of hours.

I even accepted the fact that my hair, which I had spent decades straightening, was naturally wavy and looked its best that way. And I didn’t just lose the 15lb I’d gained. I dropped a trouser size and now weigh exactly 9st.

My body is toned and I feel fitter then I have at any time since I turned 30.

More importantly, I found that I didn’t only look and feel better, my health improved.

My cholesterol levels dropped and I even ran the New York marathon.

And, while turning 50 gave me a shock, now as I edge towards my mid-50s (I turn 54 next birthday) I realise I am ­happier than ever before.

I loved the earlier decades of my life but I rushed through them. I was more insecure then and less happy about how I looked and felt.

Nowadays, I look in the mirror and I feel confident. I am happy with who I am and with how I look.

As a generation we tend to fear ageing when we should embrace it.

But the greatest lesson I learnt on my quest for reinvention, was that the most important thing of all is to feel comfortable in your own skin, ­whatever age you are.

Whether you are 49, or 62, or 75, you need to decide that you are going to be the fittest, healthiest and best-looking 49, 62, or 75-year-old there is.

For too long, women have been tricked into seeing 50 as the end of the road when, instead, we should be viewing it as the start of a new life, one in which we are truly comfortable with who we are, and instead of retreating from the world, we embrace our place within it.

The Best of Everything After 50, The Expert’s Guide to Sex, Health, Money And More, by Barbara Hannah Grufferman, is published by Running Press and available from amazon.com for £6.99. For more information log on to bestofeverythingafter50.com

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