Home' LOTL : April 14 Contents The fact is, 50 is a demarcation. I saw that
vividly between Mrs. Obama and Oprah.
That decade difference is significant. At 50,
you can still claim middle age, even though
you’ve crossed an invisible line. Yet 50 still puts
you on the downward spiral. More years have
passed than you have left to live. It needn’t be
fast–it’s not a plummet from 50 to 80. But you
know the years you have left, however many
they are, will be fraught at some point by illness,
infirmity and frailty. That itself is daunting.
My partner and I are the same age. We
went to high school together. I am a month
older than she. So we are aging together. Just as
we grew up together. We’ve known each other
since we were fresh-faced, longhaired, mini-
skirted 14-year-olds. We were lovers in high
school, briefly. Then again in college, briefly.
And in this, our final incarnation, we celebrated
our 15th anniversary as the first lady was turn-
I remember my partner’s young body as I re-
member my own. There are photos all over the
house of me at various ages, from baby to tod-
dler, grade school to high school, college and
beyond. My hair was white blonde in the early
photos, then a deeper honey blonde. Now it
is white blonde again, the front white, under-
neath the colour it was when I was younger.
I learned early that the sun and I would nev-
er get along, so my skin is remarkably unlined,
except for that small sleep crease
and a small furrow between my
eyebrows. But despite
the good skin I in-
herited from my
mother, I know I
look my age or close
to it, as does my partner. Because 50 really
isn’t the new 40, and we are aging.
I’d like to say I’m fine with getting older, that
heading into menopause doesn’t make me feel
some sadness, along with the hot flashes. I ’d
like to say I didn’t wish I looked closer to 40
than 50. I’d like to read from Oprah’s script. Or
the First Lady’s.
I’m trying. I hear a clock ticking in the dis-
tance and I feel that I need to meet its chal-
lenge. Stuff my life as full as I can. But maybe I
need to let life stuff me full.
I’ve got time.
Here’s how 50 is the new 40: Women are
living longer. U.S. mortality statistics now give
women a life expectancy of 82 years. In 1930,
that number was vastly different: 60. Oprah
would already be dead, because that number
was even lower for black women–49 –which
means Michelle Obama would also have been
So since 1930, all women have gained anoth-
er 20 years of life. Twenty years. Think what 20
years means: If you’re 30, that’s your life since
4th grade. If you’re 50, it’s all the years since 30.
Twenty years is a lifetime, a generation.
Not all of us will get those extra decades.
Some of us will die of cancer or a sudden heart
attack or a car accident—the leading causes of
death for women under 50. But the likelihood
of us living to 80 looms larger than the possibil-
ity we won’t make it much past 50.
My partner and I sometimes talk about ag-
ing and about how, if we’d ever thought we’d live
past 30, we would have taken better care of our-
selves. We’re only half joking. When I was 20, I
thought I would live forever. “Self-care” wasn’t
a term in common parlance, then. When I was
26, I was diagnosed with cancer and the next
few years were a series of operations and treat-
ments. When I finally felt better, I felt I needed
to live like every day was my last day.
Myfather used to tell me,“Do as I say,not as
I do.” So I am telling you the same thing: Plan
for 50 and 50 really will be the new 40. Plan on
a long life, because in another decade, we’ ll have
tacked another incremental few years onto the
life expectancy. Plan on keeping your body and
mind fit, because you’ll need both.
Taking care of your body is simple: don’t
smoke and don’t drink or eat to excess. Exercise
at least three times a week. Walk, don’t sit. Eat
fresh fruits and vegetables. Stay away from too
much meat and too much sugar. Drink lots of
water and not too much alcohol. Forget vita-
mins except D. Exfoliate and moisturise, wear
sunscreen and don’t get sunburned. Don’t have
unprotected sex. Use lube because unlubricated
sex breaks down the walls of your vagina. If you
don’t have a partner, masturbate, because it’s
one of the best relaxation tools. Sex keeps us
young. Get enough sleep.
Taking care of your mind is harder. Read.
Learn a second language if you don’t already
know one. Do crossword puzzles or Sudoku,
play Scrabble or chess. All these things use the
parts of our brains we let be lazy. Keeping your
mind sharp will mean your older years could be
Meditate. Do yoga or Tai Chi. These things
will help you to live better and longer, because
mindfulness keeps you strong in all the ways
Delete the toxic. If there is anything I have
learned over the years, it’s how much damage
toxic people and situations can do. They dam-
age our immune systems, predisposing us to ill-
ness or autoimmune problems. They make us
angry, hurt, sad, depressed. No to the toxic.
Be a friend. Be social. Studies show that
women who have 10 close friendships live
Don’t be angry. Cortisol destroys our bodies
and ravages women more than men. Every time
you get angry it courses through your body. Let
Don’t have regrets. When you hit 50, re -
gret smacks you in the face like a dead fish.
As young as you can (start right now!), do the
things you want to do. Don’t put your life on
hold until some distant future that may never
come or not afford you the luxury to make big
moves or changes.
Volunteer. Studies also show that helping
others releases endorphins—just like sex and
chocolate and cocaine (no cocaine!), plus at
some point there will be that obituary and you
want it to be full. You want to leave a legacy.
Love your own body. I ’ve spent years hating
my body—and at each next stage of my life I
have looked at earlier photos and wondered
what could I possibly have found fault with?
Why couldn’t I see my own loveliness? Own
your body, whatever its size or shape or colour.
Own it and cherish it and don’t tell yourself it’s
not good enough. It belongs to you.
I wish someone had given me a road map when
I was 20 about what would be most essential to
make my life rich and full and long. Some of it I
knew instinctively, like having friends and giving
to others. But when I turned 50, I still had not
learned to love myself. That isn’t narcissism—it’s
acceptance. It’s being comfortable with who you
are. It’s not caring what other people think as long
as you know you are on the right path.
There’s no perfect template to follow. But
there is one goal: contentment.
That’s what you want. You want to move
into the second half of your life as close to
contented as possible; the first half is prep for
that. You want to share as much as you can
and embrace yourself and try hard to do ev-
erything on your bucket list.
We have 20 more years than our moth-
ers or grandmothers were given to live. That’s
huge. That’s awesome. Don’t worry that 50
is the new 40 is the new 30. Just go for that
best life: a body you love, a mind that’s sharp,
people you love who love you back. That way
when 60 hits, you can be like Oprah (albeit
without the billions)—ready to relax, breathe
deep, have life flood up around you. Like ac-
ceptance. Like love. Like the life you knew you
always, always wanted to be living.
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