Why Turning 50 Need not Suck at All

Fear not, young people, this is not a post about chin hair removal techniques nor hormonal replacement strategies. There is helpful and hopeful stuff in here for you too!

In fact, I almost titled this post  “Hot Cougar Secrets for Any Age!”

Mrs Robinson was a Cougar before it was even trendy.

Wanna know why I wanted to go with that theme?  Let’s do a multiple choice question and see if you can guess the answer:

1.  “Cougar Secrets” sounded steamy and fun, unlike my usual tedious musings about middle age, and Cranky Fitness is not above screwing with a blog post title to goose the google.  (And so now that we've got Steamy, Cougar and Screwing all in one paragraph? I’m sure folks searching for those words will be quite delighted to find this is actually a health and fitness site, and that we will soon be discussing the results of functional neuroimaging studies).

2. I support Cougar Pride (if there is such a thing), as I’m all for saying the hell with traditional expectations about age and gender. If a confident middle-aged woman wants to go out and grab herself a younger studmuffin, I say go for it!

3.  Cougars are on my mind lately, because after I announced to friends and relatives that the first Cranky Fitness exercise book was just out, they became curious about my Jan Graham Amazon author page.  But where did they end up instead? At the page of a much more popular Jan Graham... who has a whole series of books about cougars! And not the sort found prowling around after dark devouring squirrels and bunnies. (Unless “devouring squirrels and bunnies” turns out to be a euphemism I haven’t heard of for something else entirely).

This Kind of Cougar is Pretty Fierce Too

 4. All of the above.

So yeah, the answer is 4,  but I went with the 50 thing anyway. Because that's kinda all I got on cougars except: go get 'em gals!

Did I just turn 50 myself?  No!  Though I will not be surprised if someone skimming this post goes ahead and wishes me a happy 50th. ( I always feel bad for the skimmers, especially ones who arrive all optimistic about winning giveaways that expired three years ago).

Actually, my post with thoughts on turning 50 is now two and a half years old -- you do the math!  However, inspired by Jody’s thoughts about turning 55 and Karen’s inspirations about turning 50, and the general awesome attitudes of so many 50ish bloggers like Big Girl Bombshell I was reminded once again all the things that totally rock about this decade.  Especially if you (a) are lucky (b) plan ahead and (c) take advantage of all the stuff that research says you are BETTER at in middle age.

I just did a post on why exercise in middle age is awesome, so perhaps I'll say a few words about the psychological benefits of getting older.

But first off, a few words of annoying advice for young people:

PLAN AHEAD.  You will be arrive here sooner than you think.  If you've spent some time in previous decades making exercise a habit, cultivating a taste for healthy food, seeking treatment for nagging medical problems, saving some money, getting out of crappy careers you hate or crappy relationships that make you crazy or crappy places to live that drain the life out of you, you will arrive at midlife ready to kick ass.

And second off--which isn't a real phrase but the hell why isn't it?--a caveat:

YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY. Sometimes life is arbitrary and unfair and you may have done all these things and you might still be dealing with a whole stinkin' pile of problems not of your own making.  The weird thing, though, is that many folks at midlife dealing with burdens I would think would be enormous and depressing, somehow seem to find as much joy, peace, connection, meaning, and gratitude as those of us sissies whom the universe has decided aren't quite up for big life challenges.  Go figure.

And third off--some research stuff:

Here's where the functional neuroimaging studies come in!

Because while you tend to hear all about the areas of brain function that decline as people age, it's only been recently that researchers have discovered all the ways in which it improves.  There's a good round up of brain strengths at midlife over at the American Psychological Association, and an excellent and fun book about this stuff called The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind.

Some research highlights:
  • People become more positive during middle age, and this “positivity effect” is most pronounced in those with strong cognitive skills.
  • There are a few areas of declining function (memorization and perceptual speed)  but the due to the positivity effect, I'm not gonna say a bunch about that, 'cause screw it, that would be negative.
  • People at middle age are calmer.
  • They are less neurotic.
  • Folks at midlife are smarter about social interactions like judging the true intentions of others.
  • They also have more economic understanding and make better financial decisions.
  • Middle aged adults have bettter verbal abilities, spatial reasoning, simple math abilities and abstract reasoning skills.  Suck on that, youngsters!
  • Midlife adults show more bilateralization (using both hemispheres) and use other areas of their brain like the prefrontal cortex for tasks that younger folks don't.  And the more they do this, the better they perform.
  • However, cognitive ability is more variable in middle age.  Some folks perform better and some worse than when they were younger.  ( One study showed that middle-aged adults performed better on four out of six cognitive tests than they did when younger, hooray!)
  • People who show the most cognitive improvement in midlife also tend to be more physically, cognitively and socially active than those who don’t fare as well.
In my experience, and based on the reports of an unscientifically selected group of friends, we 50 somethings tend to be:

1.  More connected to what's important and meaningful in our lives.

2.  Less likely to give a crap about what other people think of us.

3.  More confident of our abilities and coping skills.

4.  Cautious when we should be, but generally less far less stressed, anxious, or intimidated.

5. Way less prone to melodrama.

6.  More able to let things go and forgive.

7.  Less invested in being "right."

8.  More adventurous about lifestyle choices.

9.  Happier and more grateful.

10. Way more likely to enter a room only to realize we have no idea in hell what we went in there for.

Ah well, nine out of ten ain't bad.

Whether or not you're middle aged, what have you noticed about your brains as you've gotten older?

(Oh and here are the books mentioned in this post, just click on 'em if you wanna buy 'em & I get a tiny commission):

Cougar photo: dracobotanicus 
Mrs. Robinson: she's all over the web, if I'm the only one who gets sued that would suck.

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