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Good old days: why body confidence improves after 60

Name: Happy retirees.

Age: Well, as you know, people retire at different ages, typically from about 60 onwards.

And they are happier then? They can be.

Because they no longer work, presumably. That could be one reason.

But [looks down] they can’t be happy about what’s happening to them physically. Well, that’s where you’re wrong.

Really? Go on. A recently published study has found that body satisfaction increases with age.

Pah, what, a study of some incredibly fit 60-year-olds? No, it’s a survey of more than 15,000 men and women aged between 18 and 94 in New Zealand, over the course of six years, published in Body Image, an international, peer-reviewed journal that publishes scientific articles on, well, body image.

And what exactly are the findings of this one? That body satisfaction increases as you get older.

No way! Well, actually, men’s body image is relatively stable – and consistently higher than women’s. But for women, it fluctuates over a lifetime, eventually increasing the older they get.

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Is that because by the time you get to 60, what you look like is the least of your worries? Well, yes, there are more important things than looks.

Is that what you tell your partner? Shh. And it’s not just about body image. We may actually get increasingly happier into our 80s.

Says who? The author Daniel Levitin. He says in his book The Changing Mind: A Neuroscientist’s Guide to Ageing Well, which highlights research carried out by eminent economists David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald, that people reach their happiness peak at 82.

ALEXIA HARRISON case study for Mental Health Supplement.
How much does poor body image affect mental health?

So we don’t just forget things and get depressed? Not according to Levitin. “We now have strong evidence in the last 10 years that a number of brain faculties actually get better, right on up till the end,” Levitin said on Radio 2.

By which token, Clint Eastwood, say, who’s 91, would be as happy as Larry. Dirty Larry maybe … Funny you should say that – Levitin consulted Eastwood for his book.

Go ahead, make my day: what did Clint say? “I just don’t let the old man in.”

Do say: “Life, it’s like a fine wine …” You know how the rest goes.

Don’t say: “It’s ’cos they’re Kiwis – with their lovely PM, and all the scenery – it’s not exactly surprising they’ve learned to love their own bodies.”

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