health

Excellent news: that extra tummy roll can be a good thing.

Some years ago, Renata Singer was in her 60s – and feeling lost and confused.

She’d done a lot of jobs and had a successful business; she had three kids, four grandkids and many friends. But she didn’t have a clue about how to live the next stage of her life.

“My mother died young, my grandparents were killed in the holocaust so I had no role models for older women … I didn’t know how about being a grandmother, let alone an older woman”.

Renata might be married to philosopher Peter Singer, but she hadn’t heard about the philosophical U bend of life. It shows that no matter where people live in the world, happiness sits on a curve. Life is toughest in your 40s and 50s – but then happiness levels go up and up. By the time you are 85, you will be happier than you were at 18.

Inspired by the fabulous Bel Kaufman - who was 100, sporting red stilettos, a red scarf and enormous sunglasses and talking about her long and wonderful life - Renata began a quest to position ageing as something other than "a dithering, a decline and then a death".

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She interviewed 28 women aged between 85 and 100 to discover the key to a better life.  She asked them about work and play, sex and marriage, money and technology, health and home. The result is her book Older and Bolder. Life after 60.

Renata's book

Here's some of the amazing things she discovered that changed her attitude to the years ahead.

1.The rolls of fat around your middle will help your bones.

Older and Bolder cites a longitudinal Study of Women’s Health that finds while being a normal weight is good for preventing diabetes and heart disease, being fatter may be optimal for osteoporosis and mortality. The researchers conclude that, for women over 70, carrying extra weight is not necessarily a bad thing.

2. Your clitoris keeps growing.

At 71, Jane Fonda said she was having the best sex of her life, despite pain from hip and knee replacements and a back operation that put an end to her running. Now we know why.

The clitoris grows throughout our lives so that after menopause, it is about seven times larger than it was at birth. Not surprisingly women report increased sexual satisfaction as they get older. What's more, the clitoris never ages - unlike the penis. Once it matures, it maintains its sexual peak for the rest of a woman’s life.

Jane Fonda.

3. You'll have a greater sense of freedom.

The women Renata spoke to said they felt a new freedom after turning 60. With children grown up and work easing off, they embraced time for pleasure and creativity.

"They told me they'd never had more money, more freedom, more travel and better sex."

4. You have a lot to offer, don't sit around.

Renata Singer is glad retirement is no longer being forced on people in their 60s.

"A friend of mine left public service 18 months ago and has done nothing except read detective stories. She’s now depressed and taking medication," she said. "But I look at her and think she'd be perfect at teaching ethics classes in school. Retirement is like experiencing a death in the family, you need 6 to 12 months of lying around and resting, then you need to get up."

She was inspired by Margaret Fulton, who is still cooking up a storm in her family food business, former senator Lady Flo Bjelke-Petersen, who still receives visitors and shares her wisdom and former anaesthetist Dr Jean Allison, who is an activist and bushwalker.

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3. Forget the 'old dog new tricks' saying.

Renata Singer says most of us are never too old to learn new things. And in fact, doing so, keeps us young.

She met a sensei who achieved a black belt in Judo at the age of 98. Elisabeth Kirkby is a former politician, actor and farmer who became the oldest person in Australia to earn her PhD aged 93. Most  women she met said it wasn't ok to sit and play solitaire for too long. Everyone felt it was important to keep asking "what's next?"

This revelation changed how Renata Singer felt about her future. In her 60s, she started a new business called 'Fitted for Work' which helped dress women for success as they try to get back into the workforce.

"I was surprised I could start new thing in my 60s," she said. "But I've discovered talents I didn't know I had. Now I'm looking forward to discovering what I can find out myself in my 70s."

Bel Kaufman. Image: Youtube.

4. Don't worry about worrying - it's good for you!

Conscientiousness is the best personality predictor of long life. The staid and sober, the worriers, the stressed and ambitious all live longer than those who are happy-go-lucky, cheerful and optimistic.  It sounds counter-intuitive but it's true.

5. You learn to live with sadness and death.

This sounds depressing, but Renata says it's vital to happy living. Many women had lost their husbands and while some widows felt a freedom, most learnt to live with sadness so it didn't consume them.  Most of us will become adult orphans in the last third of our life, so we need to get comfortable with that.

6. Don't be anxious about old age - be audacious.

Renata's wise women taught her to be bold. To try new things. To grasp life when you have it and take all you can from it. She's converted to their cause. She's more optimistic about the future. She's learnt a lot and she's going to use everything she's learnt for the years ahead.

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