We now live in the age of ageing. The world is bracing itself for the economic and social repercussions of an ageing global population. According to data from the United Nations, in 2017 there were an estimated 962 million people aged 60 or over – 13 per cent of the population – in the world.
But before we begin to worry, let’s consider some important details. Growing older has been associated with decay, disease and other negative implications for as long as humans have been around. However, recent scientific research suggests ageing isn’t all about straightforward decline. A report from BBC in 2015 suggested that life peaks later than we all think, meaning the prime of your life may be right now.
As the saying goes, ‘Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative’.
Here are some reasons why we should stop worrying about going grey and start seeing the silver lining.
We get smarter
While dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are real threats to cognitive ability, in a number of important ways, older brains are actually smarter. A longitudinal study in Seattle has been following the mental abilities of 6000 people since 1956. It tests the same participants every seven years and is the longest-running study of its kind.
The results show that participants become slower at responding to commands and their abilities at maths decline. However, in terms of vocabulary, spatial orientation, verbal memory and problem solving, they were stronger in their late 40s, 50s and 60s than they were in their 20s.
We fight disease better
It’s not just the brain that gets smarter. The body also learns how to fight off disease better. When you consider that the human immune system comes into contact with hundreds of potential dangers every day, it’s impressive to think about how our bodies learn to fend them off. For people who’ve experienced various epidemics, the body builds up a memory of how to fight disease and viruses.
This memory can remain in us for 40 or 50 years. According to John Upham from the University of Queensland, this ability can “begin to drop off in your 70s or 80s, but there is a bit of a sweet spot for people – particularly from your 40s through to your late 60s and early 70s – where the immune system remembers the viruses experienced over the years.”
As we age, we become better at controlling our emotions and prioritising what’s important. We learn the importance of making the most of life. When we’re younger, we tend to worry about things outside of our control. As we grow older, we learn how to differentiate between our wants and needs. This knowledge occurs through a range of life experiences, which help us to realise what matters – and what doesn’t.
We have better sex
There have been a number of studies showing that older people are having better sex (and more of it) than popularly thought. The Rancho Bernado Study, which asked 1303 women in their 80s about their sexual satisfaction, found that they still have orgasms ‘always’ or ‘most of the time’ during sex. The findings of other studies have supported this data. Another survey found that 74 per cent of men and 70 per cent of women aged over 60 reported better sexual satisfaction than when they were in their 40s.
So, as you can see, ageing isn’t all bad. There’s a reason they call them the golden years, after all.
In your experience, what have been the benefits of getting older?