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The Truth About Being Over 50: It's Hard Work!

Older age used to be a time to relax. But our generation has redefined aging as a participation sport.

posted by John Stark, May 25, 2012 More by this author

row of seniors on treadmill at the gym

John Stark has held top writing and editing positions at such magazines as Cooks' Illustrated, Body + Soul and People. For 14 years, he was a feature writer and movie critic at the San Francisco Examiner/Chronicle.  Follow John on Twitter @jrstark.


row of seniors on treadmill at the gym
iStockphoto | Thinkstock
Every time I pick up a newspaper or go on the Internet these days, I read another article by someone over 50 telling the world how great it is to be over 50, and how they would not want to be young again. I recently turned on Morning Joe to hear Anna Quindlen talk about how much better her life is now that she’s almost 60. Author Suzanne Braun Levine just wrote a column for this website "Why I'd Never Want to be 30 Again."
 
I’m glad all of my peers are in such a happy place, and that goes for me, too. There is, however, one thing that’s not being disclosed in these “gee it’s so great to be over 50” sales pitches: It’s hard work. I mean really hard work. Our generation has redefined what the second half of life is. No rocking chairs for us. We’re not content to sit back and just let nature take its course on our minds and bodies.
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Every day there’s a new scientific study about how we have to keep the brain active to build new cells and ward off dementia. I’m working at doing my part. I’m up to six crossword puzzles a day. I even got rid of my GPS so I would have to navigate on my own when I go out driving. I just spent two days and nights touring Minneapolis, where I recently moved, all because I went to Costco and couldn’t find my way home on my own. But when I finally pulled into my driveway last night, I was definitely smarter from all the neurons and glial cells I’d acquired on my journey. 
 
When I was younger, I figured the upside to getting past age 50 would be that I wouldn’t have to go the health club anymore. Think of all the time and money I could save. Now I have to go more often, daily in fact — if not, say the studies, I’ll turn into the Pillsbury Dough Boy with a walker. And I'm not the only one of my generation who's doing push-ups and planks. Sometimes when I look around the gym floor I think I’m on an Alaska cruise ship. It used to be that if you were over 50 you were relegated to stretch classes in the shallow end of the swimming pool. Not anymore. We boomers are hogging all the Nautilus and ellipticals. And since so many older members are retired, they come all day long, so the gym is always packed.
 
The other day I was given a fitness endurance evaluation by my new personal trainer, Jim, who’s 66. Turns out I had 19 percent body fat. I thought that was pretty good for someone who’s 63. But it wasn’t good enough! “We have to get that down to 16,” Jim said, looking very concerned. “It’s at the high end.” For whom? A Nigerian marathoner?

So Jim now has me doing a longer warm-up on the stationary bike, and added leg lunges and a boxing class to my routine. I am looking trimmer and fitter. I'd even start dating again if I thought I could stay awake through an early bird dinner. 
 
When my grandparents were my age, their diet was easy: bran flakes for breakfast and fish cakes for dinner. Nowadays, every supermarket has an entire section devoted to health foods, and another to vitamins and nutritional supplements. Our website just published "The 50something Diet," which got more hits than any other article we've published. When my parents used to give dinner parties, the guests would arrive, get sloshed on highballs, and not care what was put in front of them. Today, giving a dinner party is tough work, and I don’t mean the cooking. It’s dealing with the guests. All I hear is: “Can’t eat this, can’t have that. Don’t do flour. Not into sugar. I’m vegan. I’m Paleo. I’m raw foods. I'm boycotting berries. Can I have it without the bun?” Next dinner party I’m just serving bottled water.
 
It's a full-time job trying to keep current on all those conflicting food studies. Drink red wine. Don’t drink red wine. Now it’s coffee, which I had given up for green tea until I heard a report on NPR saying I should be downing it all day long if I want to retain my health. I had so much French roast last Saturday morning that I cleaned my entire house in 20 minutes, then went next door and cleaned my neighbor’s. I’m so jacked that all I do is shake and twitch. You should see the looks of pity I get. I went to the theater the other night and a kind man gave me his aisle seat.
 
A common theme among our generation is now that we’re older we can finally tell everyone the truth about how we feel. No more being a people pleaser, Levine wrote in her blog. I don’t know about you, but being direct has never come easy to me. I hate hurting people’s feelings by telling them the truth about themselves. But give me credit as I have been making a real effort. So far my honesty hasn’t cost me any friends, but that’s only because most of them can’t remember what I told them a few days later, or they're half deaf.
 
Levine also said that she used to be the one who never forgot a slight. But no more. She moves on. Me, too, but boy does it take restraint to not deck someone who unintentionally insults me, like my doctor. The last time I complained to him about my aches and pains he told me that my body parts were starting to wear out. Or as he put it: “You’re like a used car.” Excuse me? Do I really look like my 1999 Toyota with its missing front bumper and trunk that pops open every time I hit a bump?
 
Another thing all these over-50 lovers say is that at our age we can finally be comfortable in our own skins. For me, that means not caring so much what I wear or look like. No more suits and ties. But do you know how much work it is to achieve my nonchalant, I-don’t-give-a-damn appearance? My tattered jeans with worn-out knees cost $300 a pair. I spend $100 every two weeks to get a shaggy haircut that makes me look like I desperately need a haircut. But, hey, I’m over 50. I'm just telling the world to take me as I am.
 
I was watching TV this morning when a commercial came on for a financial investment firm that specializes in retirement funds. As a bunch of happy midlifers were doing their thing — playing golf, running in a race, shaking their booties — a tagline appeared on the screen that said: “60 is the new 20.” I’m sorry. When I was 20 I was sleeping until noon and eating and drinking whatever I wanted. Life was so easy back then. Did we really have to dial it up at our age?