A few weeks 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 post50 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.
- Entered 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. After going through my own personal re-evaluation and transformation, it was clear that being a writer, speaker, and champion of positive aging and women's rights was my new calling and would be my new career. Between the ages of 50 and 56, I wrote a book (my second will be out this year), appeared on all the morning talk shows, tons of radio programs, and contribute to some of the best known and regarded media in the country. It was accepting who I am now, embracing my age, and living without fear that allowed me to create my next chapter. At 50, I was confused, afraid, and lost about what I should do. At 56, I am ready for anything. That's good.
And how do others feel about turning 56 (or so) compared to when they turned 50? I put the question out on Facebook and Twitter, and here are just a few of the many responses (reprinted with their permission):
When 50 rolled around I was apprehensive. Coming up to 56 I am embracing every moment with deep appreciation and joy.
- Mary Linthicum
In the decade since my 50h birthday, I have released expectations of myself and others. Now, I feel better able to deal with what "is" as opposed to what "was" or "might have been". I laugh more and give myself permission to be more fully human.
- Valerie Phillips Scott
I appreciate life, good health, family and simple pleasures more each day.
- Sue Griffiths Gardner
At 50 I think I took much more for granted, now I am aware of each day and the love and light in my life. I speak my mind more and am willing to lose relationships with people who treat me poorly. My life is more precious; I have more health issues, but I take care of myself and try to be kind to everyone, and in letting go, I forgive, for we all are doing the best we can do with what we have.
- Jean Horton
What are your thoughts? Tell us by leaving your comments here. We'd love to hear from you.
For more tips on living your best life after 50 visit www.bestofeverythingafter50.com. Staying connected is a powerful tool! Keep me posted on how you're doing by subscribing to me on Facebook and "tweeting" me on Twitter at @BGrufferman. Check out my weekly columns on AARP and FOF, too. My next book, "The Best of Everything Guide to Your Best Body After 50 (and Beyond)" will be out in 2013!