10 Unexpectedly Awesome Benefits Of Getting Older
Life has a depressingly simple trajectory. You’re born, you grow up, you spend a few years looking and feeling great and then you hit middle age and slowly sink into a quagmire of loneliness, despair, and terrible sex. Finally, you wind up sharing a care home with Grandpa Simpson and wondering why your kids don’t visit anymore.
At least, that’s the cynical view. But there’s a more positive way of seeing things. A way which suggests that aging is less of a slow decline and more of a doorway through which unexplored regions of awesomeness lie.
10You Get Fewer Colds
How many times have you caught a cold this year? As most of our readers are in the 18–35 range, we’re going to guess around three. That’s standard for young people. But our readers over 50 will have different answers. On average, they will have caught between one and two.
When we’re born, each new virus is like someone taking a sledgehammer to our immune systems. As we get older, our bodies get better at remembering certain invaders and fighting them off.
By the time we near 40, we’ve got a Facebook-sized directory of many of the bugs going around, with the result that we find it much harder to get sick in some ways. Of course, an older person’s immune system gets weaker in other ways, and serious illness can result from that. However, science has shown that everything from allergy symptoms to migraines declines as we enter late middle age.
9You Reach Peak Happiness
As general rule, life satisfaction dips the longer you live. From age 18 to the mid-twenties, most people rate their own happiness as taking a sharp plunge before plateauing for a while and then plunging again when they approach 40. By middle age, most of us are at the lowest we’ve ever been in our lives.
Then something unexpected happens. Things start to pick up. By 60, we’re as happy as we were at 18. By 70, the average person is more satisfied with his life than he’s ever been.
This is even more astonishing when you consider that sex drive plummets around the same time. Why would we be so utterly content when we’re unable to enjoy the most enjoyable thing in the world? According to scientists, it might be that we’ve finally learned to balance our emotions by our seventh decade after a lifetime of being tossed around by them. We don’t allow ourselves to get too worked up over little things, and we don’t do anything silly like running off with the local barmaid at the first sign of mutual attraction.
Although life satisfaction tends to decline again as you head toward 80, the good news is that it doesn’t dip any lower than how you felt in your early twenties. In fact, push on toward 90, and you’ll even be rewarded with it slightly picking up again.
8Improved Social And Gambling Skills
Looking to win big in Vegas? Forget counting cards. We have a much simpler tip for you. Next time, rope your grandma into playing with you. In 2012, German researchers discovered that old people are much better gamblers than their younger counterparts.
We don’t mean the elderly have a natural instinct for reading other players or anything. We mean they had such fantastic control of their emotions that taking crazy risks to redeem their losses was something they almost never did. This contrasted sharply with the 20-year-olds in the study, who were much more likely to pursue reckless strategies to overcome losses and then agonize over their failings when these foolish strategies didn’t work.
This understanding of and control over emotions manifests itself in other awesome ways. A 2010 study from the University of Michigan suggested that older people are better at dealing with social conflicts. Researchers gave “Dear Abby” letters to 200 subjects and asked them to give advice. The participants in their sixties were much better at imagining different points of view, thinking of multiple resolutions, and suggesting compromises. They could mediate situations that young hotheads would be hopeless at defusing.
7Declining Stress And Worry
Although stress and worry are universal, they’re not evenly distributed across the population—and not just because some people are too rich to be affected. According to a 2010 study, those entering old age are significantly less stressed, worried, and sad than the rest of us.
The study was based on a Gallup telephone survey of 340,000 people. Respondents were asked general questions about their levels of life satisfaction, followed by specific questions about when they last felt happy, stressed, sad, angry, and so on. The results showed that most of our bad emotions take a significant dip as we get older.
In some cases, this dip was extreme. For instance, our levels of worry stay the same from age 18 until age 50. Then they fall off a cliff. From our early fifties on, most of us can expect our levels of worry to drop at an astonishing rate. Meanwhile, stress declines steadily from 18 onward until it all but disappears by the time we reach 85. After rising steadily until we hit age 50, even sadness declines, reaching a low at age 73 (although it increases slightly as we reach our mid-eighties).
According to researchers, the best part is that this may come from biological or psychological changes rather than our individual circumstances, meaning that most of us should feel remarkably happy if we make it to 80.
We all know you’re meant to get less sleep as you get older. Heck, Stephen King once wove an entire novel out of old-age insomnia (creatively titled Insomnia). However, science suggests that we may be getting this cliche completely wrong. According to a 2012 study, people in their eighties may be getting much better sleep than the rest of us.
Published in the journal Sleep, the study involved researchers conducting telephone interviews with 150,000 people on their quality of sleep. Unexpectedly, they found that those in their eighties had fewer complaints about sleep disturbances or daytime fatigue than any other group.
There are several theories to explain this. One is that older people generally don’t have to worry about a job, which may be why other studies say we sleep better after we retire. Another theory is that the older generation is less exposed to technology like tablets that keeps us awake at night. Whatever the reason, there’s no doubting the health benefits. In their report on the study, ABC quoted a sleep specialist who said that those in their eighties who sleep well may be healthier than sleepless people who are decades younger.
Remember how we said earlier that sex drive drops with old age? Turns out not everyone’s desires are brought to heel so easily. Plenty of us still engage in frantic sexual activity well into our old age. Even better, multiple studies have shown that sex in the last decades of your life is absolutely mind-blowing.
A recent survey of people over 60 found that sex is apparently like a fine wine, improving as we age. These aren’t just little improvements, either. Nearly 75 percent of men and 70 percent of women reported that their sex lives after 60 were better than they had been in their forties.
Even more impressively, a separate study found that women in their eighties were likely to experience incredible orgasms. Of all the women surveyed, half still had orgasms either “always” or “most of the time” during sex. Those over 80 also reported a high degree of “orgasm satisfaction.”
It’s believed that all this great sex is the result of people throwing off their inhibitions. By the time we hit 80, we should know exactly what we want in the bedroom and have the confidence to ensure we get it. Far from going quietly into that good night, we want to go out with the loudest, most primal sex scream we can possibly muster.
4Physical And Mental Endurance
Most athletes peak in their twenties. A handful might hit their stride in their thirties. But generally, once you’re over 40, you’re over the hill. If you’re not training by the time you leave college, you should probably kiss those dreams of running an ultramarathon goodbye.
Or should you? Although researchers have found that those engaging in endurance sports generally perform better under age 40, they’ve also found that those over 50 are at no disadvantage. In fact, some older athletes competing in things like ultramarathons think their age gives them a massive advantage.
It all comes back to the advantage of experience. Competing in an ultramarathon or Ironman event is tough. You push yourself through your physical boundaries, experience pain like you’ve never felt before, and spend the whole time wanting to cry. For young people, pushing themselves to that level can be impossible. For older athletes who’ve spent about 40 years pushing their bodies to their limits, hitting those barriers comes as less of a shock.
Then there’s the benefit of mental resilience. As we discussed earlier, older people are better at controlling their emotions, so they find it easier to access the deep reserves of mental willpower needed to complete such an event. Finally, they know their limits, mentally and physically. Rather than entering an ultramarathon underprepared, they’re more likely to wait until they’re good and ready.
How we interact with our loved ones is one of the biggest keys to happiness in life. Yet how many of us can honestly say we’ve never overreacted to a stupid argument with our partner or held a grudge against a friend way too long? The good news is that those mistakes probably won’t haunt you for your entire life. Research shows that as we approach the end of our lives, our relationships with others improve considerably.
A 2010 study from Purdue University found that older adults tend to report better marriages, less conflict with children and siblings, and more supportive friendships. Whereas younger people might be tempted to hold a grudge or start an argument over something, older people appear more sanguine, leading to generally improved relationships. This agrees with other research that claims our friendships become more intimate with age as we start to prioritize what really matters to us.
Part of this relates to death. With the feeling that there’s not much time left, many people are less willing to hold grudges. But other research has also suggested that stereotypes play a role. Assuming that older adults are more relaxed and set in their ways, younger people don’t bother challenging older people on trivial things. This could explain why many of us find our parents hell to live with after a certain age but have no problem accommodating our grandparents’ eccentricities.
2An Aging Population May Reduce Crime
It’s no secret that many Western populations are aging rapidly. America’s old-age population is experiencing unprecedented growth. Some analysts now refer to the EU as “grandma Europe” because of its rapidly graying population. While this may have a negative effect on things like economic growth, there are some areas where an older population may benefit everyone. For example, crime rates may drop dramatically.
The young tend to commit far more crimes—especially more violent crimes—than the elderly. Historically, those under 25 have accounted for nearly half of all arrests for violent crime in the US. As the number of young people in the US drops in favor of those over 60, we might well see a corresponding decline in the crime rate. With a mostly gray population, violent crime might largely become a thing of the past.
Those aren’t the only changes that may be in store. In 2014, The Atlantic argued that a rapidly aging population could see all sorts of societal shifts, from a peaceful decline of the nuclear family to an end of rampant consumer capitalism.
Despite being something that roughly 99 percent of the adult population does on at least a somewhat regular basis, masturbation is still considered shocking by polite society. That might soon change. For years, medical professionals have known that our sex drive tends to dip as we get older and conditions like erectile dysfunction can become a problem. Now, some of these professionals have come up with a simple solution. Plenty of masturbation.
Turns out that DIY has real medical benefits. For men, it helps protect the nerve fibers and blood vessels responsible for erectile function. For women, it can offset the drop in libido that often comes with menopause. It can also help older women identify what gets them in the mood and feels good so that the unpleasant side effects of menopause don’t put them entirely off sex.
In fact, some have gone so far as to warn about the dangers of not masturbating as you enter old age. For a recent article on the subject, Medical Daily chose the headline “Use It Or Lose It” to reflect evidence that avoiding masturbation could render you sexually dysfunctional.
Who knows? If you practice enough, you might even wind up like former travel agent Shigeo Tokuda, who turned into a porn star and is getting paid to have more sex at nearly 80 than most of us will have in our entire lives.