While you're busy stressing over that one gray hair, you may miss some of the subtle shifts that make getting older a good thing. It's time to celebrate! By Kim Tranell, REDBOOK.
Fewer pesky illnesses
You know how the flu often hits the youngest and oldest people the hardest? Your immune system will eventually weaken, but experts say you experience a sweet spot for fighting off infections in your thirties and forties. "Over time, we store more and more different kinds of antibodies in what I like to call our 'antibody libraries,'" says Roxanne Sukol, M.D., staff physician at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. "Years later, when we are once again exposed to that virus or a similar one, our antibodies become a powerful tool to prevent re-infection, either entirely or partially."
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If you're thinking about signing up for a race, do it! Many of the world's top female marathoners have secured big wins during their thirties, falling right in line with research showing that our bodies reach peak fitness around age 35. "As women, we have an ability to maintain a very efficient use of our body fuel, especially our body fat," says Pamela Peeke, MD, author of Body For Life For Women. But if you're not an elite athlete, you can absolutely still slug it out into your forties, say experts. In fact, one recent study found that among recreational runners, marathon and half-marathon times were nearly identical for the age groups from 20 to 49. "So much of it is mental," says Christiane Northrup, MD, author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom. "Most of the time, in your early twenties, your life has not tested you, so you don't really know what your reserves are. But now you can tap those deep, inner resources to keep going."
Higher sexual satisfaction
Think you're destined to lose some of that between-the-sheets sizzle? We have great news: A shift in your hormonal balance in your early forties can actually increase your sex drive and your ability to have orgasms, says Dr. Peeke. "Plus you feel more comfortable in your body, you trust your partner more, you tap into experience and the subtler ways to find pleasure during sex - all of these things translate into an ability to achieve orgasm and have heightened sexual enjoyment." According to the nation's largest sex survey, just 61 percent of women ages 18 to 24 experienced orgasm the last time they had sex, compared to 65 percent of women in their thirties - and a whopping 70 percent of women in their forties and fifties.
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Remember all of that precious time you used to spend fussing in front of the mirror? Not only do we stress less about our appearance as we get older - but our body itself also requires less maintenance. "Your scalp produces less oil as you age, so you don't have to wash your hair is often," says Debra Jaliman, MD, a New York City dermatologist and author of Skin Rules. "Body hair also decreases - thanks to lower estrogen levels - so you're not shaving and waxing as much, either." Bonus: As those hormone levels stabilize, many women notice clearer skin and fewer breakouts, too, says Dr. Jaliman.
You can call it the been-there-done-that benefit of getting older: While your body's stress response never changes, the list of what's going to send it into overdrive becomes much shorter, says Dr. Peeke. "How many times do you have to face a terrible commute or a micromanaging boss before you just accept that it is what it is?" she asks. Plus, as time goes by, you grow more secure in your body, your relationships, your career, and your life choices - all while picking up a solid sense of what you can and can't control. "When you walk around with your skirt tucked into your tights, it's not the biggest deal in the world anymore," says Dr. Northrup. "Your addiction to worrying about how you look fades, giving you more energy for what truly feeds you on a soul level." Say it with us now: Ahhh.
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More brain power
Sure, you might eventually get a little foggier or more forgetful, but new insight proves that some mental abilities actually grow stronger in middle age. "We have the term 'neuroplasticity' now, meaning that we have the ability to learn our entire lives," says Dr. Northrup. But that's not all: Studies have found that you start using both sides of the brain to tackle routine tasks, making you better at problem solving, which may explain why women in their forties, fifties, and sixties tend to score higher on tests of complex cognitive skills, like vocabulary and verbal memory. So go ahead and challenge your twenty-something cousin to a crossword puzzle.
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