The Time Of My Life
Your middle years can truly be the best if you approach them with positivity and a game plan
(This article first appeared in Image magazine, April 2016)
The term ‘midlife’ must rate amongst the most feared in the English language, whispered only behind closed doors and midst trusted friends. Often pride and nostalgia for our younger days get in the way of us embracing what could be the time of our lives.
However our menopausal years are getting a serious makeover. Yes, life after 45 can be sweet. I, along with a host of celebrities, from Julia Roberts to Julianne Moore, are living proof – my middle years are my best yet. Yes, my life (not to mention my body) has changed greatly, but I’m not dried up and finished. Far from it in fact, there’s plenty of life left in this bird and, for once, I’m choosing how to live it!
Science now tells us that age is no barrier to a full, vibrant life. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by the year 2025, there will be 1.1 billion women aged 50 and over. We are in good company. What’s more, given that we may actually live until we are well over 100, we have a lot of living to do. So it’s time to take control and embrace the next act.
Embrace your age
Now is the time for a new beginning. Although at the age of 51 my baby-making days are over, so too is the pre/during/post-menstrual tension and the bothersome monthly inconvenience that went with it. So much more has been gained. In addition to the extending lines comes the courage to say what I think without caring too much about what other people might think. My life is clearer and more focused than it has been for many years. I am also stronger, wiser and more confident in and about myself – one of the many benefits of being older!
As India Knight says in her book In Your Prime : “I’m 48. That’s two years away from 50, arithmetic fans. I don’t feel old. I don’t feel young, either, but I don’t mind about that at all, because I’d rather be the person I am now than the person I was at 25 — so anxious and unsure about so many things, so tentative. I prefer 48; plus, I’m kinder, wiser, more patient, less judgmental. These are all improvements. I genuinely feel like this is a brilliant time. Like I’m in my prime.”
What I have learned is that when thinking about health, you cannot separate the different parts of the body from each other; you cannot separate the mind from the body or people from their environment. Everything is connected and while the level of effort needed to maintain a healthy resilient body and mind, when we choose to live moment to moment in this way, we can become radiant, passionate and wise women.
Menopause (which on average happens between the ages of 48 and 55) brings an exhaustive list of symptoms (over 40 in fact!) which in our mothers generation were rarely, if ever, discussed, including weight gain and body fat changes, hot flushes and sweats, sleep disturbances, skin and hair changes, mood swings and panic attacks and waning sexual desire and vaginal dryness; but while these may sound like the beginning of the end, they’re not. It’s just change. Remember when you were approaching adolescence? You faced huge changes in your body and mind and didn’t know ha to expect. Yes, there were bumpy roads at the beginning but you figured it all out. And this journey is just the same – another uneven surface to navigate.
Let's tackle just one of these symptoms - that languishing libido and reduced desire for sex, that is believed to affect 20 to 40 percent of women during their menopausal years. While there are many contributing factors, the reality is that the vulval and vaginal tissues have become thinner, dryer and less elastic, making intercourse extremely painful for many women. But this very same statistic also means that over half of us still enjoy an active sex life. In fact surveys have shown that many women enjoy better sex and better relationships with their partners post menopause. And why shouldn’t they? Many women feel more confident and less inhibited and restrained about sex as they get older. As sexologist Emily Power Smith says, “We need reminders that we are beautiful, desired, interesting and appreciated in non-sexual ways before we can engage with our sexual selves. Once we’re getting that, we can begin to look at what we need to do for our mojos.”
I am a firm believer in the benefits of regular exercise in keeping us healthier, stronger and more grounded in every way. Fitness makes us smarter too by keeping our brains active. So although far too many women become somewhat obsessed with exercising to burn calories, its real benefit lies in its ability to help build and regenerate new tissue and get our bodies running at a higher metabolic rate. A healthy balance between aerobic and anaerobic (resistance) exercise is key. The older I get, the more important yoga has become to me. There’s something really powerful and grounding about regular practice that I haven’t found with anything else. I don’t pound the pavements like I once did and I know now that intense exercise can in fact do more harm than good (just look at the weathered gaunt faces of those super skinny women running literally for their lives). Nor do I practice ashtanga (the style of yoga I first learned and loved). These days it’s vinyasa flow, kundalini and the calming yin yoga that weaves its magic every time I’m on the mat.
One of the great joys of this time in life is the chance to finally come into our own authenticity with a well-earned confidence in who we really are. I no longer need to prove myself and there is an honesty and openness that I don’t ever recall having which spills over into everything, from my family life to work and friendships. I wear what I want rather than letting the fashion’s whims dictate. I have found my tribe and surround myself with others who can support me and help me feel alive, with lots of laughs along the way! This is the real me – live and unedited. Although I don't relish the thoughts of getting old and I’m not loving the ever extending lines, I now know that between these lines is a calm confidence and radiance. I’m as free and happy as I choose to be.