A few months ago I turned 56. To commemorate and celebrate, I ran 5.6 miles around Central Park. It felt good knowing I could run that distance and still be fit enough to join my husband and daughters at a birthday dinner downtown a few hours later.
That's a sea change from when I turned 50. Then --what now seems like a lifetime ago -- running two miles would have been out of the question. I was out-of-shape and stuck in the mire of midlife madness, believing that gaining weight, feeling invisible and throwing in the towel were the only solutions to aging.
Years of media messages had wormed their way into my brain, tempting me to pull the proverbial blanket over my head, ready to give up and give in. I started to believe the articles, research and reports telling me that women over 50 are powerless, averse to change, glum, cranky consumers, unsexy and should step aside to make room for the infinitely more beautiful, desirable, hirable, acquisitive and loveable younger generation. Worse still, they all conspired to convince me that the only true path to happiness was to look younger, at any cost.
Luckily, I snapped out of it, came to my senses, and decided to research and write my first book, The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts' Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More. I started running (with walk breaks), doing 20 push-ups every day, held a Plank position for 60 seconds, changed how I ate . . . and basically took control of my health and my life. The pounds came off, my health check numbers improved, and by my mid-50s I was feeling pretty darn good about myself. Good enough, in fact, to run in the New York City Marathon last year to celebrate my 55th birthday. (I followed the Jeff Galloway program which calls for slow, gentle running with walk breaks ...perfect for every post-50 body.)
So what made turning 56 so different from when I turned 50? Here are my most important reasons, all of which are surprising (since I didn't think I'd ever be where I am at 56 based on where I was at 50):
- Got fit: Since turning 50, I've taken control of my health in ways I never thought possible: running every other day, daily push-ups, and eating well are all part of my life now. I'm 12 lbs. lighter than when I turned 50, and one size smaller. And, as a result of doing push-ups and the Plank, I'm working to keep osteoporosis at bay. On top of all that, my energy level is much higher, giving me the strength to do all the things I want to do, and need to do as I get older. That's good.
- Found my style: When I turned 50, my hair looked like roadkill on top of my head. And no wonder: I'd been highlighting and blowdrying my natural curly hair since the '70s. After I decided to make drastic changes to every aspect of my life, embracing my hair was part of the new program. At 56, my hair is the healthiest it's ever been. When I turned 50 and more wrinkles emerged, my first reaction was to cover them up. No more. Now, my makeup is lighter and fresher (taking less than 5 minutes to apply), and I've adopted a simple, classic fashion style (see chapter on fashion for details on what experts like Diane von Furstenberg urged me to wear to look my best after 50). I've never felt more comfortable in my own skin. That's good.
- Embraced my age: When I turned 50 I was confused and unsure about what it all meant, and was hesitant about revealing my age. Media messages almost convinced me to give up and fade into the woodwork. But I didn't. Instead I turned myself around and made "embrace your age" my mantra and helping other people over 50 to do the same my mission. I'm proud to be 56 and will be proud --and grateful --at every age. That's good.
- Became fearless after 50: I was afraid of what was ahead for me after I turned 50 because I hadn't yet taken control of my own destiny. But once I did, I got rid of fear just as quickly as I threw out my blowdryer. We can't control getting older, but we CAN control how we do it. It's a choice. We can either allow ourselves to become invisible, living in fear about what lies ahead, succumbing to whatever is going on in our lives that could pull us down (and, as we know, there's always something). Or, we can embrace each day with joy and without fear. We can take control of our health, and take care of ourselves as we take care of others. I chose to forge ahead, embracing my age, embracing my life, getting ready for what's next. At age 56, I am infinitely more fearless than when I was 50. That's good ...especially because of my next reason.
- Squeezed into the 'sandwich generation': When I turned 50 and grappled with my own view of aging, my mother and mother-in-law were engaged, involved, and relatively healthy. This year, both were diagnosed with Alzheimer's and have spiraled downward so quickly that our heads are collectively spinning. In six short years, both have gone from living independently to needing full time care. Our small family is doing everything it can to keep up with the pace of their decline, but it isn't easy. At the same time, we have a freshman in college and a freshman in high school, making me an official member of the 'sandwich generation.' Worrying won't help, but planning, taking action, and being fearless will.
- Remade my career: After spending decades in the magazine publishing world, then the international conference business, I arranged to take a few years off to be a full-time mom. My sabbatical was short, and when I turned 50 I was ready to re-enter the workforce but was scared out of my wits. My resume was solid, but I knew that going back to my old industries was not the right choice for me.
There are many other reasons I feel differently now than when I turned 50, including how I need to have a pair of readers in every room, and the fact that I am inching my way to 60, moving ever further away from 50, brings moments of worry and concern. Will my good health continue? Will I have enough money to live a nice life as I age? Will I feel as good about aging in four years when I turn 60 as I do now? It isn't always easy being fearless after 50, but it's one of the most important tools in our arsenal.
I'm the National Osteoporosis Foundation 'Ambassador for Bone Health' and a fierce champion of positive aging. 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. Photo credits: from Barbara Hannah Grufferman's personal collection