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".
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.
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.
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.