Booker winner Margaret Atwood believes that older people have more energy. The data backs her up.
Booker Prize winner Margaret Atwood believes that older people have more energy. The databacks her up, says Rowena Walsh.
Novelists Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo shared the 2019 Booker Prize after the judges decided in a “joyful mutiny” to break with tradition and announce two winners.
The women share certain similarities: Bernardine Evaristo is 60, the same age Margaret Atwood was when she won the Booker Prize for The Blind Assassin and neither of them believes in the myth that older people don’t have energy.
Bernardine, author of Girl, Woman, Other, says if you look after yourself, you have energy.
Margaret Atwood goes further.
“You often have more energy, because it isn’t going into the things it goes into when you’re younger such as hormonal changes every month,” she told The Guardian following the October award ceremony.
“There’s a middle period when you’re taking care of everybody — your kids, your parents — and you are really stretched.
"Then, as you get older, bad things happen, people die, but you are no longer caregiving to such an extent.”
Rose Anne Kenny, professor of medical gerontology at Trinity College Dublin, definitively dismisses the myth.
She is the principal investigator for TILDA, the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, which collects information on all aspects of health, economic and social circumstances from adults aged 50 years and over in Ireland.
“We see the same people every two years,” she says, “so we have some understanding of the process of ageing, what it’s like to get older in Ireland and what are the factors that influence getting older in Ireland.
“In that context, we have asked about fatigue and exhaustion and they’re very uncommon, unless you have frailty.
"But you only get frailty if you have an illness or you’ve had a big operation or for some reason, you’ve been immobile for a period of time.”
She says that the prevalence of frailty is about 4% in people over 50, “The rest of the population are robust.”
According to a study by the London School of Economics and Political Science titled ‘More years, less yawns’, seniors felt 28% less fatigued than young adults.
The researchers concluded that: ‘Tiredness is not an inevitable aspect of ageing, regardless of health status’.
Professor Kenny says “if you’re not sleeping very well, you’re tired the next day. Everybody is, that applies to all age groups. Because we’re less active as we get older, sleeping patterns can change.
"It’s important to get a good night’s sleep and in order to ensure a good night’s sleep, one of the important factors is exercise.
“We are inclined to sit more as we get older and some people drink more — all of those factors do contribute to fatigue but overall the prevalence of fatigue is not common, and it’s usually associated with something else going on, not ageing per se.”
Our subjective age, or how old we feel compared to our chronological age, is crucial.
As part of TILDA, Prof Kenny says people were asked about their perception of ageing.
“People who perceived themselves as being their chronological age or older, actually aged more rapidly than people who declared themselves to be younger than their chronological age,” she says.
It’s very hard for people, as they get older, to have a positive attitude towards ageing and to feel youthful when there’s so much ageism around them in society, she says.
“We’re constantly being inundated by ‘this cream will make you look younger’ or ‘this will stop you from getting old’.
"The media, in terms of advertising, are bombarding us with subtle ageist messages.”
Prof Kenny says that you can’t start early enough to prepare for getting older. She is a strong advocate of exercise, social engagement and good nutrition.
Ageing often brings perspective, says Margaret Atwood.
“When I went to the US right after the Trump election, these younger women were saying: ‘This is the worst thing that’s ever happened.’ No, it’s not. It’s not. Many worse things have happened.
“I also say that if your heart is broken when you’re 18, by 28, you’ve got some perspective; at 38, you’ll probably think it’s funny.
"And when you’re my age , you cannot remember who it was who broke your heart.”