An enduring gusty attitude drives actress Judi Dench, who continues to look for new challenges in her 80s, says Margaret Jennings.

SHE read a poem at the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and she features in a new Tim Burton film in cinemas next month. 

In June she hit the headlines when she revealed that a tattoo inked on her right wrist had been a gift for her 81st birthday last December, from her daughter Finty.

It seems there is no holding back Judi Dench, the multi-award winning British actress, and fitting that the tat she chose was carpe diem, the Latin for seize the day, a motto which seems ideal for this feisty grey-haired icon.

Ageing with attitude: Seize the day to hold back the years

It’s no surprise that four years ago, the Alliance of Women film journalists gave her the award for the category of ‘Actress Defying Age and Ageism’ for her role in Skyfall, her final time as M, the head of MI6, in a James Bond film, since she first played the character in 1995.

Her attitude towards life — as in seizing each day — obviously contributes towards that defiance of age and ageism. 

But like most of us with less extraordinary lives, it has not all been plain sailing for the film icon. 

So here are some reasons why we think she is showing us all how to move forward with vitality through the decades:

AGE IS JUST A NUMBER

Results from a study last January carried out by the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing at Trinity College Dublin suggested having a positive attitude about ageing may help us from becoming frail, which in turn appears to keep our minds sharp.

Dench’s positive attitude has made her critical of prejudice in the movie industry against older actresses. 

Ageing with attitude: Seize the day to hold back the years

In 2014, she said: “I’m tired of being told I’m too old to try something. I should be able to decide for myself if I can’t do things and not have someone tell me I’ll forget my lines or I’ll trip and fall on the set”.

She told The Hollywood Reporter magazine: “Age is a number. It’s something imposed on you. It drives me absolutely spare when people say, ‘Are you going to retire? Isn’t it time you put your feet up?’”

USE IT OR LOSE IT

We now know that our brains have a plasticity which responds to novelty so in order to grow new cells and age healthily we should challenge ourselves regularly. 

Dench has spoken of her love for poetry and how she tries to memorise a new poem every day, or at least a new word, to keep her mind active. 

And of course she’s always taking on new challenges.

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

It is inevitable most of us will suffer some physical deterioration the longer we live. 

But research on healthy ageing suggests staying active can help keep us mentally well. 

Dench underwent knee surgery in her late 70s but obviously, that hasn’t stopped her from embracing life fully. 

Ageing with attitude: Seize the day to hold back the years

Neither did the fact she suffers from macular degeneration, a disease of the retina that causes an eventual loss of eyesight. 

She has admitted she needs someone to read scripts for her, but it has not stopped her accepting roles — or them being offered, for that matter.

LOVE AND GRIEF

Research into longevity indicates that close relationships contribute towards our emotional, physical and mental wellbeing as we age.

Dench was married for 30 years to Michael Williams, who died aged 65 from lung cancer 15 years ago. She is now a grandmother to their child Finty’s, son, Sam.

Ever open to what life throws up, the actress has been in a relationship with conservationist David Mills since 2010. 

In a 2014 interview with The Times Magazine, she discussed how she never expected to find love again: “I wasn’t even prepared to be ready for it. It was very, very gradual and grown up ... It’s just wonderful.”

HUMOUR

Laughter is the best medicine to keep us young. 

There is a story that she once told Hollywood director Harvey Weinstein she’d got his name tattooed on her bum, then got her make-up artist to write his name on her behind, and showed him during lunch at The Four Seasons in New York.

ALWAYS STRIVING

Researchers say having a purpose in life is one of the big influences for ageing well. 

Dench told Stylist magazine: “I don’t think we need to make bucket lists, but we should be open to new opportunities. If opportunities don’t come up — make them come up.”

Among her many accolades are seven Oscar nominations, all received when she was over the age of 60. 

But asked if she now feels fulfilled she said: “No, no, no, no, I hope not. Being fulfilled is closing the drawer again and I don’t want to do that just yet. I’d bore myself silly.”

Heart disease

Ageing with attitude: Seize the day to hold back the years

Women’s chances of being high risk for heart disease including stroke, begins before the menopause . 

Researchers at the University of Virginia studied the medical records of nearly 1,500 women looking at the causes and effects of hardening of the arteries over 10 years, as they went through menopause transition. 

The five risk factors evaluated included a large waistline, high blood fat levels and high blood pressure. 

The researchers stated there was a continued worsening of risk factors in the years leading up to the transition, whereas this plateaued out post menopause.

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Ageing with attitude: Seize the day to hold back the years

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Ageing quote

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are." 

- Joseph Campbell

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