Here’s a simple message to those of us who are over 50: it’s never too late.
Shakespeare once wrote, “What’s past is prologue.” What we do (or don’t do) in our younger years will have a huge impact on how we look and feel by the time we enter our 50s. Our earlier choices and decisions can also affect our finances, relationships, careers and general sense of happiness later in life. Why not get started as early as possible? What follows are a few guidelines that you may want to share, especially with those who have not yet reached midlife.
Now that I’m over 50, I look back at my younger self and wish that someone had pulled me aside, sat me down, looked me straight in the eyes and told me to follow these “Ten Commandments for Turning 50” as I’m about to tell you. Many, if not all, of these “commandments” you already intellectually know to be true. However, your current younger you may not be emotionally ready to accept them. You might still be in that glorious, relatively carefree stage of life where you think, “Oh, I don’t need to think about these things now. I’ve got plenty of time to think about them later,” a version of The Ant and the Grasshopper fable from Aesop. Or perhaps you’re simply too engaged with the business of life to bother. Or you are caught up in the very youthful idea that you are invincible.
Whatever the reasons, you can choose to think about these later and spend a bit of your early 50s playing catch-up, hoping for the best. Or you can do them now, and be far ahead of the game.
I. DON’T Stop Networking: Whether you stay home to raise children or not, you should never stop networking and building on that network. Try to stay connected to your career by moving from full-time to part-time work, if possible, which will make it easier for you to move back into full-time work when you’re ready. It is much better to have choices and options rather than not. Don’t put yourself into a potentially vulnerable financial position by not taking the time to think in terms of the “big picture” and your long-term goals. Stay in touch with others by joining Facebook, Twitter, and especially LinkedIn. Keep your resume current and if you’re not working for a salary, consider volunteering. It’s a highly effective way to create a path for reentering the workforce and adding to your network.
II. DO Create a Personal “Board of Directors”: Life is filled with change. Whether you’re looking to switch jobs or careers, pursue a relationship (or end one), or buy a new house, having a trusted group with whom you can review life’s challenges, is essential. Invest in several friends (or even just one) who will encourage, inspire and guide you. Having a consistent group (that meets regularly) you can depend on for unbiased and objective views and advice is critical, especially as you face major life decisions.
III. DON’T Smoke: Lung cancer is the No. 1 leading cause of cancer death for women, but it is avoidable. The No. 1 cause? Smoking, which is also associated with many other illnesses. We are considered the smarter sex, and yet women are picking up the habit more than ever before. On top of the health risks, what about the little bits of tobacco that linger at the bottom of your handbag, or the smell of smoke in your hair, clothes and breath? It’s not pretty or sophisticated and definitely not sexy.
IV. DO Wear Sunscreen: I spent my teenage summers basking in the sun at Coney Island with a mix of baby oil and iodine slathered on my body as well as a reflector aimed at my face. I threw away the reflector and tried to remember to put on sunscreen, but it wasn’t until my mid-40s, when I saw sun damage on my face and I developed skin cancer on my chest, that I got serious. Soaking up the sun feels great and who doesn’t look fabulous with a little peachy-bronzy glow. But, if you don’t apply sunscreen every single day of the year, including on your neck, chest and hands, you will put yourself at high risk for skin cancer (highly avoidable) and skin that looks much older than its years (wrinkles, brown spots, sagging, and leathery skin). Steer clear of tanning booths, too!
V. DON’T Have Risky Sex: Unsafe sex = higher risk for pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, some of which are lifelong. Don’t think because you are young (or over 50) you are immune and invincible. You are not. And don’t put pleasure before common sense. Make sure you know the scoop on your partner before you proceed, even if you’re in a steady relationship or married. Use condoms. Discuss your risk factors with your doctor, and get tested for HIV, Hepatitis B and C, and syphilis, especially when you start a new relationship. Insist that your partner do the same.
VI. DO Move Your Body Every Day: Get yourself into the habit of working out and don’t let excuses (even really good ones) get in the way of giving yourself this daily gift. Even going out for a daily walk will put you on the right path. Obesity is the culprit behind many serious illnesses, including certain cancers. One third of all cancer deaths are related to obesity, physical inactivity or poor nutrition. Make fitness a lifelong commitment.
VII. DON’T Ignore Your Young Bones: Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones that we associate with aging, and rightly so. But, it takes time to get there. Poor nutrition, specifically a lack of adequate amounts of calcium and Vitamin D (which helps the body to absorb the calcium) is partly to blame. A more powerful contributor is a lack of regular strength-training exercises. I was told that I had osteopenia, the first stop before full-fledged osteoporosis, when I was 50. After changing my lifestyle (including what I eat and how I exercise), my bone density improved. My doctor told me that every woman should start, and maintain, strength training exercises in her early 20s, and make them part of her life forever. Added bonus? Your body will be toned, sexy and strong. Also, The National Osteoporosis Foundation has invited all of us to help kick start a new campaign to build awareness about osteoporosis prevention and treatment by sharing our stories on the NOF Facebook page.
VIII. DO Save More and Spend Less: Retirement is, presumably, years away, but it’s never too early to plan for it. The more money you have when you reach 50, the less stress and anxiety you will have. One of the biggest fears among those over 50 is not having enough money to live a good life as they age. Boomers often admit they wish they had made better and smarter financial choices earlier in their lives. It’s not always easy to do, but the sooner you start saving (IRAs, 401Ks, and so on) the better you will be down the road. And, take the advice of the top money experts: use a fee-only financial planner to get you on the right path.
IX. DON’T Be Apathetic: We’re all busy with family, work and friends, but that’s no excuse to stop thinking about causes that are important to us and to the world. Americans are weary, it seems, about the economy, jobs, war and politics, yet are turning away from getting involved. More than ever, America needs the energy and ideas that the combined power of youth and wisdom can provide. This country is looking to the next generation to support all the efforts the boomer generation put in to fighting the good fight. We don’t want to pass the baton. We want to hold it out to you, so you can grab it, and hold onto it with us by your sides. Get involved, stay involved. Be the change.
X. DO Embrace Your Age: Don’t fight aging. Embrace it. This doesn’t mean you should spend your life focused on getting older and how to stop the process. On the contrary, live fully engaged with each year of your life, embracing the future ones with joy. It is a very powerful concept — letting go of your younger self, and embracing and loving your aging self. Treat yourself with kindness and respect, and take care of you — body, mind, and soul — as you would your children, your family and your friends.
Bottom line? We can’t control actually getting older… but we CAN control how we do it.
For more tips on living your best life after 50 (or 60, or 70…) check out “The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts’ Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More” and www.bestofeverythingafter50.com. Keep me posted on how you’re doing by subscribing to me on Facebook and “tweeting” me on Twitter at @BGrufferman.