It’s September 26: Twenty-Six Things That Get Better as You Get Older

Many of us are over 40 and are therefore considered “middle-aged.” It is widely believed that aging is inevitably a process of cognitive and physical decline, but that’s not entirely true. In fact, not everything about getting older is negative. There are a lot of non-tangible benefits to “growing older,” which can make you a stronger, better, more self-aware person, and being that today is the 26th, I’ll describe 26 of them:

  1. More self-confidence: A person’s level of confidence and self-esteem typically follows a bell curve. It gradually rises during the late teen years, peaks during middle age, and tends to decline after age 60, according to a 2010 study of people ages 25 to 104 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The researchers said the main reason for this pattern is that midlife is when people typically occupy the highest positions of power, status, and importance. They’re working, involved in relationships, and more adventurous about trying new things.
  2. More quality friends: Everyone knows that having friends boosts well-being. In the past, research has suggested that having numerous friends reduces the risk of medical conditions such as heart disease. However, a study finds that not all friendships are created equal. Researchers from the University of Leeds conclude that well-being is more closely related to how people feel about their friends than their overall number of friends. People who are 40-plus seek friends who challenge them intellectually, nourish their soul, and who are solid friends. Time is precious, and many of us want to spend it with people whose company we truly enjoy!
  3. Better at chess: A study of 125 years of chess matches, which analyzed more than 1.6 million moves in 24,000 games, found players made the most “optimum” moves at about 40. Performance started to decline from about 45, but not to a statistically significant degree. There is a lot going on in chess – perception, memory, and problem-solving – but older players’ “training and the accumulation of experience” seem to have a lasting advantage.
  4. Better self-esteem: Healthy self-esteem is a key component of good mental health, and a long-term data analysis has found it climbs from adolescence onwards, peaking somewhere between 50 and 70.
  5. Better endurance: Endurance gets better as we age, as well. If you’re thinking about running a marathon (or a 5K, 10K, or 10-miler …whichever distance you prefer!), don’t let your age slow you down. Some studies say that our physical endurance may actually improve as we grow older. Still skeptical? Just take a look at Fauja Singh, who, after running nine marathons since taking up the sport at 89, just hung up his sneakers at the ripe age of 101! ​
  6. Better at math: Our ability to solve math problems peaks at about 50! Dr. Laura Germine, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard, studied historical IQ testing data for more than 2,000 Americans. She found that one of the “later-life peaks – perhaps later than you might imagine – is in arithmetic ability, with test subjects best able to solve arithmetical problems around age 50.”
  7. More self-awareness: While self-awareness can be characterized as having a sense of one’s personality and character, it is also important for understanding one’s emotions. Through all the ups and downs we experience in our lives, as we get older, we become more equipped to deal with whatever life throws our way, because we’ve survived so much in our lives.
  8. Better vocabulary: Dr. Joshua K. Hartshorne, a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and Dr. Germine studied the rise and fall of different cognitive abilities across the life span. Their study on cognitive peaks looked at data from 10,000 people using a puzzle website. In that, vocabulary scores peaked at 65. That isn’t so surprising, according to Dr. Hartshorne, whose area of expertise is language. “The peak in vocabulary is getting later and later,” says Dr. Hartshorne. “We may have been seeing people’s vocabulary declining in their late 40s back in the late last century because they didn’t do a lot of reading once they were out of school, whereas now, both for work and entertainment, we spend more time with print.”
  9. We know that life is about experiences: Many of us have bucket list items, and in middle age we have started checking them off. Want to travel to Italy and see Tuscany? Do it! Want to see the Northern Lights and visit the Eiffel Tower? There’s no better time than the present. Life is short. Do everything. In the end, those experiences will change you for the better, even if it’s just making you a more well-rounded person with a wider worldview.
  10. We are nicer (some of us): Not everyone over 60 becomes nicer. Everyone knows a few sourpusses here are there. But generally, yes– there are both structural changes in the brain and neurochemical ones that make us nicer as we get older. The amygdala, the brain’s fear center, shrinks with age, causing older adults to become more trusting, compassionate, and empathic. Men produce less testosterone, which makes them less aggressive and less disagreeable.
  11. A positivity bias in memory recall emerges: Older adults tend to recall more positive memories and fewer negative memories. They also become more tolerant and accepting – what we call “grandparent syndrome.” One of the reasons is that, after a certain age, you realize: “I’ve had it pretty good. I’ve made it this far. I’m grateful.”
  12. We’re not afraid to ask for what we want: As you are getting older, you realize that if you don’t ask for it, you won’t get it! (Or as the great Wayne Gretzky once said, “(y)ou miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”)
  13. We’re not afraid of saying no: We’ve said yes to many projects and other commitments in our lives that we may have regretted. As we get older, we feel less inclined to say “yes” to everything.  We know our time, health, and keeping our anxiety levels low is more important than saying “yes” all the time.
  14. We’re proud of what makes us different: As we get older, we better understand what makes us unique. We’re okay with being different and spend time with those who appreciate what makes us that way.
  15. We have more body confidence (in our 70s!): In a 2014 poll of 80,000 Americans, satisfaction with body image peaked for women at 74. For men, it came even later, at about 80. A poll from 2014 is hardly definitive evidence, but a literature review in 2015 also found “the importance given to body image as it relates to physical appearance is lower” in Western seniors than their younger counterparts.
  16. We’re happier (in our 80s): “Happiness may seem like a young person thing,” says Daniel Levitin, professor of neuroscience at McGill University. “But the surprising thing is when older people are asked to pinpoint the happiest time of their lives, the most common response is not an age in childhood, teens, or early adulthood, it’s 82.”
  17. We accept people for who they are: As we get older, we accept that we can’t change people. We are more likely to understand that people are just living their truths, and if it doesn’t fit with our own, we can choose not to interact with them, or we can value them for everything else they bring to our lives.
  18. We realize our ability to make an impact in people’s lives: When we’re younger, we often don’t realize what an impact we are having on people. Over the years, we become more aware of the meaning we are bringing to others’ lives, based on their feedback.
  19. We’re better at reading people’s moods: According to Dr. Hartshorne, from his analysis of emotional intelligence, “(w)e continue to read people well from our 40s right into old age.”
  20. Decision-making: Among the perks of getting older, seniors tend to make better decisions, are more emotionally stable, and become less impulsive than their younger peers, according to research.
  21. Seasonal allergies, particularly hay fever, seem to dissipate over time, says Michael J. Welch, co-director of the Allergy & Asthma Medical Group and Research Center in San Diego. “We’re not sure exactly why, but we do see that older people don’t have as many symptoms of seasonal allergies,” he says. “We tend to outgrow food allergies, as well.”
  22. We become more empathetic: Researchers at the University of Michigan found that women aged 50 to 59 were more likely to make an effort to relate to different perspectives. “The more we live through and experience, the more understanding we are about other people’s issues,”
  23. We are closer with family: As the years tick by, family time tends to become important in our lives. Not only does family provide a consistent social network, but evidence has also led us to believe that the relationship a senior keeps with family has a direct impact on overall quality of life. Seniors who maintain strong ties with their family have even been shown to outlive those who report less favorable relationships.
  24. We are less stressed: We may never be completely stress-free, but the good news is that stress levels decrease as we age, according to a recent scientific analysis.
  25. Semantic memory: You may be a bit foggy about where you left your keys, but you’ll likely never forget how to make your favorite recipe. That’s because our semantic memory — the recollection of facts and figures — is relatively resistant to the effects of aging.
  26. Better judgment: The longer we live, the less likely we are to make snap (often regrettable) decisions. Years of learning from our mistakes certainly helps us to have better judgement as we get older.

Throughout the years, many experts have weighed in on keys to aging and longevity and things we can do to live longer. Read my longevity articles for more information about aging and living longer, research and studies on the subject, and things you can do to live the longest and healthiest life possible!

Plan Ahead for Peace of Mind  

Remember, as you’re doing what you can to maximize your longevity, it is also a good idea to plan for the always uncertain future of yourself and your loved ones.

If you have not done Incapacity Planning, Long-Term Care Planning, or Estate Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past three to five years), now is a good time to plan. Please contact us to make an appointment:

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.