As we navigate our 50s and beyond, it’s good to know that there are some excellent books to help us on our way. One of my Fabafterfifty recommendations is Too Young to Get Old by Christine Webber. We asked Christine about her own experience of life after 50, and her inspiration behind the book.
Was turning 50 a significant factor in your life?
I suppose it’s a landmark moment for anyone: half a century and all that. But I think that since then – and there have been quite a few further birthdays – I’ve tended to treat my age as a bit of a joke. I feel so unlike what I thought 50-plus would feel like, and so unlike how my parents were at my age, that I almost feel there must have been some sort of mistake. Mind you the date on my birth certificate doesn’t lie!
Has your life changed since turning 50, and if so how?
My life has changed in every decade – and long may that prove to be the case. I started a private psychotherapy practice in Harley Street after turning 50. I’ve become far more physically active. I’ve made lots more friends. I’ve moved to a part of the country (Brighton and Sussex) that I really like. And I have plenty of plans yet …
What prompted you to write Too Young to Get Old?
To be honest, I needed a break from writing books for anguished 35-year olds. I felt I’d really done that. Also, I was facing up to being older myself, and I felt there was little out there for upbeat, vibrant mid-life women who wanted to keep abreast of life’s possibilities and how to achieve them. So I came up with the idea of a digest of information on the topics that need to be looked at if we are to do ‘old age’ differently from previous generations.
I can tell you that it was really hard to get this concept off the ground – because it didn’t just fit into one category, like health. Also, despite the evidence that our age group and gender buy the most books, I did come up against people saying: ‘Oh, books for the over 50s are such a turn off’. Anyway, I ended up moving agents and publishers and finally achieved my goal. And I am so pleased that I did.
In researching your book, what were the ‘upsides’ that came through about ageing?
I was thrilled that the great majority of women over 50 told me that they felt happier now than they had when they were young. They also said that the best thing about getting old was feeling far more confident. Isn’t that heartening?
What were the downsides?
A lot of women are not as fit as they perhaps ought to be. I was appalled when I found out that baby boomers are the most out-of-shape of all generations. I thought there must be some error in the statistics! After all, we weren’t reared on junk food, and we learned to cook properly – and take-aways when we were young were limited to the occasional treat of fish and chips. But unfortunately, the stats were correct: 69% of female baby boomers are overweight. Clearly this is a worry. Being heavy can lead to the sort of illnesses (diabetes, some cancers, heart disease, joint problems) we all want to avoid if we are to live long and prosper. The other thing I learned – and I am by no means a financial expert – was that far too many of us haven’t really saved enough. And I think I’m probably one of them.
Of the women you interviewed or who took part in your survey, was there one thing they feared most about ageing?
Immobility – and having no control over their own lives
What can be done to counter this?
Well, I think that we all need to take responsibility for keeping ourselves as fit as possible. There is a lot of evidence now that taking regular exercise is the best thing for mental – as well as physical – health. This is important to me because my mother got Alzheimer’s and had a slow and long decline into a state that was truly dreadful.
From my own experience, I know that it is possible – post 50 – to decide to get active, and to come to enjoy it. This is quite amazing for me as I used to hate games at school. I never got picked for a team. Always dropped the ball at a crucial moment, and so on. But since turning 50 I’ve learned that there are loads of things you can do to be fit. I now do ballet (which I never did as a child) and a class called Body Pump and lots of walking. I also go to the gym regularly and I like to play tennis, though I’m not very good. As a result, I think I’m fitter than I’ve ever been. And I’m quite sure it’s not just my physical fitness that’s improved. I definitely feel sharper mentally. And that’s a terrific feeling.
How do you think today’s midlife women differ from our mothers’ generation?
I think we have had so many more advantages than our mothers that we want to carry these on into the next few decades. I believe that women before us were rather surprised to live to be old – mostly because many of their parents had not. And it seems to me, from observing my own parents and other relatives, that ‘old age’ went on for a long time – probably from about 60 till they died in their mid to late 80s. Now, clearly today’s baby boomers don’t define themselves as elderly at all. Even the oldest of them, who are now 65, see themselves as mid-lifers. And most post-50 women have got loads of plans for things they still want to do. My researches showed that a large proportion are keen to start up a small business involving a talent that had previously been a hobby. I think this is terrific.
I also found that the most popular ambition for 50-something women was to travel. The only downside to this appears to be that a lot of women are co-habiting with guys who are keener to stay at home! And that leads me to another point. I am sure that many female baby boomers are going to reappraise their relationships in a way that our mothers would never have done. And if they don’t like what they find, I think lots of them will get out of marriages and other relationships while they still feel they have time to forge a new life, either as a single person or with someone new.
What are your views on retirement for the boomer generation?
I have enormous sympathy for anyone who wants to stop what she’s been working at for the past 30 years. But I think that conventional retirement is to be avoided. It just seems to make people old before their time. We need structure in our days if we are to remain vital and alert, and the harsh truth is that most of us can’t afford to stop and live off such savings as we have. So it seems to me that we should think of doing some sort of paid job for as long as possible. And if women don’t need the money – or can’t find employment that pays – I think volunteering is a great option. It’s a great way to get real routine back into your life, and it’s terrific to feel you’re needed at a time when you might be wondering if perhaps your useful days are behind you.
Is there one woman who stands out as being truly inspirational , and a role model for ‘ageing well’ and being ‘too young to get old?’
There are loads of them! Dame Helen Mirren is one of my heroines. She’s busy and successful and beautiful and still a rugged individualist. But every day I meet mid-life women who are interesting and fun and embarking on new projects and achieving truly wondrous things. I have a friend who qualified as a psychotherapist on her 60th birthday. Another pal in her late 50s has just landed her own radio show. I love it that vast numbers of post-50 women are so ‘up for life’ and so inspirational.
Do you have any more books planned for the future?
My first book, published in 1987, was a novel and – after having written 11 factual books – I would really like to return to fiction. I have an idea for something funny about women of our age. And my agent is trying to sell it. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Too Young to Get Old: The Baby Boomers’ Guide to Living Life to the Full is published by Piatkus