The 50 things you should be doing after 50
It’s true that I anticipated the passing of my 50th birthday with as much glee as passing a kidney stone. I was in denial, furious with my husband for planning a party, cross at the length of the guest list.
I was an idiot.
Shortly afterwards, I was walking in the park with a friend in sheeting rain discussing The 50 Thing. Our faces were blue with cold. As our dogs scampered in the distance she said: “We’re none of us ever going to look better than we do right now so we might as well get on with it.”
In that slightly ridiculous moment, I became fine with it. It’s true your body betrays you. Creaks happen in joints you didn’t even know you had, knees rebel, necks soften. You begin to hold menus so far away from your face to read them that you might as well give them to someone on the next table to hold.
But if you’re lucky, everything else comes into sharp focus. By now, you have learnt to live with regrets, small and large, whether it’s that you’re never going to sing at the Opera House, win an Oscar or hold your own baby in your arms. When you’ve faced that, have learnt that life can smack you hard over the head and then go in for the shins too, it frees you.
Sure, there’s nostalgia for the intoxicating optimism of youth. But then you remember how much time you wasted waiting for a boy to call, living off yoghurt, and worrying about what everyone thought about you, from your boss, to your boyfriend, to the woman at the dry cleaner’s.
Nora Ephron wrote in her book about growing older, I Feel Bad About My Neck: “Here are some questions I am constantly noodling over: Do you splurge or do you hoard? Do you live every day as if it’s your last, or do you save your money on the chance you’ll live 20 more years? Is life too short, or is it going to be too long? Do you work as hard as you can, or do you slow down to smell the roses?”
The truth is, we’re all still working it out, worriting away at who we are and what we want, but in a calmer, less terrifying way than we did at 20. We’re in the foothills of the next part of our lives, and scanning (OK, possibly squinting at) the peaks beyond.
It’s possible the view’s never been better. New research indicates entering your 50s can trigger a burst of creativity. The journal Trends in Cognitive Science recently published a report by researchers from the University of Toronto and Harvard which indicated that younger people focus more tightly on information. But what plays well in the lab may not be so effective in real life, where an ability to have a broader focus (essentially, to be massively distracted) means older people are able to solve problems more creatively.
So I’m celebrating my tired, overworked distracted self, with my To Do lists, handbags bursting with scribbled notes, and head full of plans.
It’s time to get on with it. This can be the best time of our lives. We have things to do and there’s never been a better time to do them.
With that in mind, here are 50 life-enhancing things you can do if you are over 50.
1. Learn to fly
There is no upper age limit for a Private Pilot’s License in Australia – all you have to do is learn (and pass the medical). Airborn Aviation recently had a student complete his first solo flight aged 83 years young!
2. Learn to ballroom dance
Thanks to Strictly, everyone knows that ballroom dancing can revitalise not only your physique but also your career and your romantic prospects.
3. Learn a language
It’s a myth that only young people learn new languages well. Over-50s have a larger native vocabulary than younger students, and a greater awareness of cultural context. But they are more likely to pick up an extensive vocabulary than a convincing accent, since ingrained native accents are harder to displace than the youthful version.
4. Get a motorbike
More than 3,000 over-50s in the UK passed their motorbike test last year. Spending by the over-50s on motorbikes is up 40 per cent in last few years, with women getting involved twice as fast as men.
5. Find yourself
“What does it all mean?” is a common question among the over-50s. Countless university philosophy courses will help you find out.
6. Become a mentor
You could be a role model for young people in your area. There are many local-government-backed schemes; AIME is a national charity that supports indigenous students through highschool and into university.
7. Take up cycling
It is easier on the knees than running, and recent research found that people who cycle regularly in mid-adulthood typically have a “fitness age” that’s 10 years younger than their actual age.
8. Try a martial art
It is quite wrong to assume that the martial arts are limited to younger players, since the getting of wisdom is central to the disciplines.
9. Take up fencing
Georgina Usher, the chief executive of British Fencing, says: “It is fantastic that we have a team [at the veterans’ world championship] containing fencers who started in their 50s representing their country alongside ex-Olympians.”
10. Become a museum guide
If Night at the Museum gave you ideas, many museums around the country have vacancies, both paid and volunteer.
11. Retrain as a teacher
Now Teach is actively seeking and training older recruits for the teaching profession, especially successful people looking for a meaningful full-time career. nowteach.org.uk
12. Become a magistrate
As with teaching, real-life experience is a bonus for recruits to the bench, and dedication and commitment, as well as considerable common sense, are required.
13. Become an Olympian
There’s no age limit at the Olympic Games – but no veterans’ events either, so you have to be good, regardless of your age. At the Rio Games, one of the oldest competitors was show-jumper John Whitaker, 61, who had a horse to do most of the hard work for him.
14. Join a gym
One of the fastest-growing cohort of gym-goers are the over-50s. Coaches and trainers will be delighted to tailor a programme to your physique, fitness and goals.
15. Write a novel
Authors who had their first bestseller published after 50 include Raymond Chandler, Richard Adams and Mary Wesley. Innovative publishers such as Unbound (unbound.com) can help you raise the money to publish your work.
16. Plant a tree
You are old enough to understand the importance of maintaining the planet’s tree-cover, and young enough to have a reasonable expectation of seeing your sapling reach a good height.
17. Become a zookeeper
Many zoos recruit volunteer keepers to work alongside their regular full-time staff interacting with the animals and the public and have found that the over-50s are more knowledgeable, more reliable, less excitable, and are far more likely to understand the necessity of sweeping up poo.
18. Become an apprentice
Last year more thousands od people over the age of 50 found work through apprenticeships in public services or health care. See Mature Age Apprenticeships for more info.
19. Take up walking football
The game is catching on fast, and Premier League clubs are jumping aboard the bandwagon and forming senior squads.
20. Hit the catwalk
Research by L’Oreal suggests that the middle- aged are more confident in their looks than their younger compatriots. Now model agencies and designers are catching on to the potential of older models, who regularly appear at Fashion Week and on the pages of national publications. There are specialists agencies too, such as Silverfox MGMT Group.
21. Invent something
Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone to the world when he was 51. Henry Ford introduced the Model T when he was 45. James Dyson set up his manufacturing company in his late 40s, and has produced his most innovative designs in his sixth and seventh decades.
22. Join a choir
Many people find that their singing voice improves with age, gaining character and settling into a comfortable range. There are thousands of choirs in Australia – start your search here at the Australian National Choral Association.
23. Put your home on Airbnb
Seniors are the fastest-growing demographic of Airbnb hosts in Europe.
24. Do a house swap
If your arrival in your 50s coincides with you children’s departure for university, or if you simply fancy a change of scene, a house-swap can be an exciting and inexpensive adventure. Just google House Swap Australia.
25. Become a guinea-pig
Researchers for medical and other academic trials often seek over-50s who have made a variety of challenging lifestyle choices – and you will be generously reimbursed for your time.
26. Write a song
Leonard Cohen was 50 when he released Hallelujah and had been fairly unsuccessful until then.
27. Build your own house
“The average age of self-builders in the UK is very high in comparison with European countries. Most self-builders in the UK are older people looking to build their dream home to retire to” – so says a University of York report.
28. Research your family tree
At 50 or thereabouts, you are ideally positioned between the generations. Waste no time in noting down information from older relatives, then build your tree on websites such as ancestry.com.au
29. Become an artist
From Paul Cezanne to Louise Bourgeois, some of our best-known artists failed to achieve recognition until well after their 50th birthdays.
30. Become a baker
A course with Anneka Manning from Bakeclub will give you the skills and confidence to create delicious baked goods. Your friends and family with thank you.
31. Retrain as a garden designer
Many garden design students are individuals looking for a change of career, and a high proportion are over 50.
32. Become an artists’ model
Artists welcome the more mature, er, interesting figure. Less demanding than the catwalk, more tea-breaks. But also less clothing.
33. Go to Las Vegas
And don’t tell anyone what happened when you got there.
34. Star in a film
Morgan Freeman was 50 when he starred in his breakthrough movie, Driving Miss Daisy, in 1989. More recently, character actor JK Simmons had to wait until he was almost 60 for his first lead role. He won an Oscar, Golden Globe and Bafta for his performance as a sadistic music teacher in Whiplash (2015).
35. Go rowing
Rowing is a low-impact, full-body workout, and local clubs field crews of all ages and abilities.
36. Take up ballet
The Australian Ballet, along with other companies around the country, recognise that older dancers bring grace and elegance to their studios, and gain fitness and poise in return.
37. Become a historical figure
Australia is as rich in historical re-enactment groups as it is in heritage, and many seek recruits of a certain age to accurately reflect the 50-somethings of a bygone age.
38. Take to the water
The number of over 50s in boating is rising as more canals are cleared and the idea of life puttering between moorings becomes more appealing.
39. Become a ‘midcentury’ connoisseur
The furniture and clothing of the Sixties is now prized by hipsters. Employ your first-hand knowledge of the styles of your youth to plunder car-boot sales and resell on eBay.
40. Become a YouTube beauty vlogger
They are not all sparkly, shouty teens. The ladies featured here are all over 50 and between them have tens of thousands of followers. Chances also abound for fitness demonstrators, DIY experts, fashion mavens, etc, of every age, gender and orientation.
41. Run for office
Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn and other, perhaps more inspiring politicians all achieved senior elected office or political roles for the first time late in life.
42. Sign up for a marathon
Almost 2,400 more over-40s completed the London Marathon in 2016 than in 2010.
43… Or a triathlon
Thirty-three per cent of those who took part in this year’s London triathlon were over 40, compared with 25 per cent five years ago.
44. Go rambling
You will be among friends. The average age of new joiners of Ramblers UK is 51, but since studies indicate that recreational walking is more likely to maintained later in life than other sports, this could be the start of some long friendships.
45. Share your wisdom
The University of the Third Age (U3A) is a nationwide network of learning groups aimed at encouraging more mature individuals to share their knowledge, skills and interests in a friendly environment. There are now more than 1,000 groups in the UK, learning about subjects that range from Arabic to Scrabble.
46. Make something with your own hands
In 2013, the then-55-year-old Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis announced that he was taking time off from acting to begin a five-year apprenticeship in stonemasonry and wood turning.
47… or take charge of your own destiny
There are four million self employed workers in the UK, of whom 42 per cent are aged over 50. You may be inspired by McDonald’s founder Raymond Kroc, who established the global fast-food chain when he was 52 – or by Colonel Sanders, who found success with Kentucky Fried Chicken in his sixties.
48. Become an oenophile
Start your own cellar. The health benefits of moderate tippling are well known, and if you start in your 50s you can lay down vintage wines to comfort your old age.
49. Tick off that bucket list
Head off to an amazing happening that you have always promised yourself that you would visit. Fifteen per cent of those at the Burning Man festival in Nevada are aged between 50 and 70.
50. Give your money away
Research has discovered that people over 60 are twice as likely to give money to charity than those under 30.
The Telegraph, London
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