Aging is awesome
The saggy, wrinkly view of aging may have a much more positive, and real, counterpart: Getting older has its perks, lots of them, from needing less sleep to having better sex. Here's a look at why the crowded candles on your birthday cake, as you enter middle age and beyond, are just plain awesome.
More awake time
That's right, more time to enjoy life. Seniors need about 1.5 hours less sleep on average than their younger counterparts, according to one study.
In another study of 110 healthy adults who were allowed eight hours of bed time, the oldest group (ages 66 to 83) snoozed about 20 minutes less than the middle-agers (ages 40 to 55), who in turn slept about 23 minutes less than the youngest group (ages 20 to 30). The simplest explanation for the fewer shut-eye minutes: Older adults need less sleep.
Another explanation, and one supported by research: Older adults just can't get the sleep they need, taking longer to nod off, spending less time in deep sleep, and having more trouble staying asleep. In fact, more than half of men and women over the age of 65 say they suffer from at least one sleep problem, with many experiencing insomnia, according to WebMD.
Wearing rose-colored glasses
Being happy may come down to attitude, studies have shown. That's great news for older adults, whose brains seem to be wired to remember the good times. A brain-scanning study published in 2010 in the journal Cortex revealed that older adults' rose-colored glasses may be linked to the way the brain processes emotional contents.
The researchers scanned the brains of participants — young adults (ages 19-31) and older adults (ages 61-80) — as they viewed a series of photographs with positive and negative themes, such as a victorious skier or a wounded soldier. The older adults showed strong connections between the brain regions that process emotions and those known to be important to the successful formation of memories, particularly when processing positive information. The same strong connections weren't found for the younger participants.
Aging adults don't just recall blissful moments of the past in vivid colors. It's also becoming apparent to researchers that being old could lend itself to optimism. In one recent study, both old and young participants were shown virtual faces portraying sadness, anger, fear and happiness. Eye-tracking technology revealed the older participants, ages 18 to 21, focused on the fearful faces, while those ages 57 to 84 zeroed in on the happy faces, avoiding the angry ones. The researchers, who detailed their study in 2006 in the journal Psychology and Aging, think that as a person's life expectancy decreases, they might focus on what makes them feel good now rather than focusing on the negative. [Read: Does Old Age Bring Happiness of Despair]
No diapers. No temper tantrums. No fevers and ear infections. Aging means you get to enjoy grandkids, as if they were your own, but without any of the frustrations. Pop-pop and G'ma can do no wrong in the eyes of grandkids. Research has suggested grandparents can increase the chances of a child surviving during the high-risk period of infancy and childhood in traditional societies. The same link may hold true in Western societies, according to David A. Coall of Edith Cowan University. a"We felt if such as association existed in Western societies, where the fertility and childhood mortality rates are much lower, grandparents could make a substantial public health contribution to our society," Coall said in a statement.
And you're good at it, too. A study published in the November 2008 issue of the journal Pediatrics, by scientists at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, showed that kids cared for by a grandmother were 50-percent less likely to get injured than children cared for by daycare workers, other relatives, or even the child's own mother.
Like a fine wine, older adults have been aged to perfection it seems, at least when it comes to wisdom. As you age, you may have a tougher time tuning out irrelevant information, but this lack of focus can actually boost memory, according to research published in 2010 in the journal Psychological Science. More specifically, seniors have the unique ability to "hyper-bind" the irrelevant information, essentially tying it to other information that is appearing at the same time. This type of memory could help older adults with decision-making and problem-solving, the researchers suspect. For instance, if a manager wants to promote an employee, it might be helpful to recall not just that employee’s work performance, but also his interaction with other employees. [Read: Distraction Boosts Memory With Age]
Rewarding sex life
Sex drive seems to stay strong as you age. One 2007 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine surveyed adults ages 57 to 85, finding more than half of 75- to 85-year-olds reported a roll in the hay at least two to three times a month, and 23 percent reported having sex at least once a week. Oral sex appeared to be less "ageless." Nearly 60 percent of the participants under 65 years old said they had engaged in oral sex in the previous 12 months, compared with 31 percent for the over-75s.
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Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.