While sharing a ritual lunchtime with girlfriends, one friend commented about how inspired she was by her new 45-year-old female trainer at the gym. I mentioned my vivacious 51-year-old yoga instructor, and another friend chimed in with her 48-year-old female neighbour who still runs marathons.
It dawned on us: We were surrounded by strong, fit, energetic, successful female role models that were by no means slowing down in their 40s and 50s. Today’s female role models include people like Oprah, Diane Sawyer, and Silken Laumann, inspirational Olympic and world-champion rower. All of these women take wonderful care of themselves nutritionally, physically, and mentally.
Women in their 40s and 50s today feel and look younger than their counterparts in previous generations. Many women of this age are starting new careers and learning new sports. A study done in 1999 found that 70 percent of women between the ages of 45 and 60 are not afraid of tackling new accomplishments or going back to school.
In addition, they look at least a decade younger than they are, they dress well, and they by no means give the impression that they are winding down or getting old. I couldn’t help but wonder…why is the daily life of a woman in her 40s or 50s today different than in previous generations? Where did this shift begin?
For many generations family life seemed all-important to women, and young women were urged to marry soon after finishing high school. Women’s magazines, television shows, newspapers, and advertisements portrayed women in connection with domestic life alone.
The Women’s Liberation Movement created opportunities for women to attend school and take on well-paying careers. Young women began to dream about their futures in an entirely new way. Family life was still of key importance to many women, but as new possibilities opened up to them, women began to expand their influence. New role models emerged, and women realized that they had strengths they had not tapped into along with new opportunities to create the life they desired.
Asserting their Economic Force
In the 1950s women represented a small portion of the economy and few industries paid attention to their needs. However, as women became more educated and gained success in the workplace, they became a dominant economic force. Women entrepreneurs are now one of the fastest growing segments of the Canadian economy.
As women’s success in the business world continued, they accumulated more disposable income and the power to spend it on what was important to them. For many women it has become of prime importance to choose a lifestyle that positively impacts their own health and the health of their families. Women are responsible for 83 percent of all consumer purchasing. They make 95 percent of all household financial decisions and 80 percent of family healthcare decisions.
Big business realized a new opportunity for sales and began creating and marketing products that approached health issues from a woman’s point of view. Women can now buy organic food and vitamins in the local grocery store, get a massage while waiting in the airport, and purchase all-natural cremes that they feel good about using on themselves and on their children.
Empowering Good Health
At the same time that this new industry was growing, women began empowering themselves with the knowledge they required to influence their own healthcare decisions. Gone are the days when women just listened to the doctor and followed his/her advice without question.
Women of this generation are active participants in their healthcare choices and are taking the time to become educated about all their options. Women see themselves in partnerships with their healthcare providers. They are also listening to their bodies and trusting their own instincts.
As they age, women have set new standards for themselves and no longer accept the middle-age spread. Over-40 fitness gurus, such as Denise Austin, show women how to remain fit and vibrant as they age.
Staying Fit Longer
Across North America, a new generation of female athletes is breaking barriers. These pony-tailed jocks are not in high school or college. They’re the moms and aunts who previously cheered from the sidelines.
Women are embracing the opportunity to join a team or test their physical limits with activities such as Pilates, running, and swimming. Many mature women are realizing that it’s not too late to begin an activity they have always wanted to try. They know what it means to be in shape and feel strong.
Eating for Health
Along with staying fit, women continue to put a great deal of emphasis on the foods they eat. Women are aware that an ideal body weight and proper nutrition provide them with the energy they require in order to stay vibrant and healthy.
Women are reading labels, asking questions at health food stores, and searching out simple, healthy recipes to prepare for themselves and their families. According to Dr Joey Shulman, author of The Natural Makeover Diet (Wiley, 2006), “Nutrition tends to be more important to women, and they are more likely to use vitamins regularly than their male counterparts.”
More and more women understand the importance of making healthier choices such as ensuring that they reduce bone loss through proper calcium absorption, choosing a low-fat diet to decrease the chance of breast cancer, and controlling the symptoms of menopause through diet and supplements.
Choosing Family Time
Part of the reason for this shift is that women are having babies at an older age than they used to. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that the rising birth rates among older women show a continuing trend of delayed marriage and childbirth.
Health and vitality have come to the forefront of women’s thoughts because, as they approach their 40s, many of them are not only spending time and energy building their careers, but they are also often raising young children. Women realize that feeling young and vital is crucial to having enough energy to make the children’s lunches, give a presentation at work, make dinner, take the children to soccer, get children to bed, fall into bed themselves–then wake up and start all over again.
Staying Young at Heart
One of the most powerful changes women are making is in the way they think. Although looking youthful is important to them, most women would agree that being “young at heart” is crucial to maintaining their happiness and level of fulfillment. According to a 1999 study, 93 percent of women over 45 years old disagree with the statement “it is all downhill after 30,” and 94 percent of women over 45 see the upcoming year as “full of possibilities for adventure.”
Women are learning to value themselves as much as they value those around them. Women have realized that they must take care of themselves first in order to have the strength to take care of others. It is OK to take a few hours out of the week to go to Pilates; somehow the phone messages will get answered. If they take the time to read a good book, somehow the laundry will still get done.
Sharing the Inspiration
Women not only want to be a positive role model for their daughters, but they also want their sons to value and respect all the qualities a woman has to offer. Women understand that the best way to teach this to their children is by example.
What keeps today’s women so young and vibrant? Communicating with other inspiring females. Women have a sincere interest in what is happening in the lives of other women. They share ideas, help each other through challenges, and share each other’s goals. Women grow together by feeling each other’s pain and celebrating each other’s successes. Many of women’s strongest role models are the women they interact with in their daily life, their best friends, and their sisters.
As we finished our monthly girlfriend lunch, I realized how inspired I was by my friend who had just left her stable job, got a new funky haircut, and was about to realize one of her lifelong goals of writing a book. “How did you find the motivation to make that shift at this point in your life?” I asked. “Haven’t you heard?” she answered. “Forty is the new 30.”
Empowered Women Empowering Men
Both men and women have empowered more areas of their lives, and it has transformed their relationships. Men are now able to talk with women about any subject in their lives. Women can now relate to the challenges men face at work while men have greater insight into the best decisions for their family. Women and men can be found sharing ideas about everything from the daily interest rate to the latest health food store. This new dynamic has given fresh meaning to the phrase “marrying your best friend.”
The most important part of this new dynamic is that it empowers each family to design a life that is perfect for them. Men are able to ask themselves the question: “How would I love to divide my time and energy?” There is no single right answer to this question. Some men choose to devote themselves to a high-powered career; however, others enjoy the option of balancing their energy between work and home.
As the role of men continues to change, I doubt they are enthralled by the laundry they are now folding or the lunches they are now making, and I am certain that there are moments when a boardroom would feel more relaxing to them. However, I also know that when I see the fathers at the swim lessons, beaming as their children receive their next badge, these men look as though there is nowhere else they’d rather be.
Women Empowering the Economy
- Four out of five businesses are started by women.
- Women’s entrepreneurship has tripled over the last 20 years.
- There are more than 821,000 women entrepreneurs in Canada, who annually contribute in excess of $18 billion to Canada’s economy.
- One-third of self-employed Canadians are women.
- The average age of woman business owners is 45. Almost 80 percent are married and over half have children.
- Women-owned and women-led businesses provide 1.7 million jobs, compared to 1.5 million jobs provided by Canada’s top 100 companies.
- The number of women business owners in manufacturing, construction, transportation and communications is growing rapidly.
Source: Industry Canada, Statistics Canada
A New Relationship Dynamic
Although women are making more advances in the workplace, family and friends are still closest to their hearts. Women continue to expand their influence, while a new world of opportunities has opened up to men. In the past, as women took care of the children and the household, men were spending most of their energy at work, earning an income in order to support the family. This often created polarization between the two sexes, because it was very difficult to relate to what each partner’s day was like, let alone share similar experiences.
Women have begun to experience the ups and downs of a career, and men are experiencing the joy of spending more time at home. Men are often choosing to play a more active role in raising the children and are being rewarded by memories that will last a lifetime. Dads are taking their children to swim lessons, helping out with homework, and ensuring that everyone in the family eats properly. Yes, often that means that the children eat carrot sticks with the pizza that was just delivered, but men get points for trying.