This is 50

Michelle Obama's big day: 5 things to love about turning 50

Jan. 16, 2014 at 9:51 AM ET

epa04018515 (FILE) A file picture dated 20 September 2013 shows US First Lady Michelle Obama delivering remarks during a luncheon in honor of the winn...
MICHAEL REYNOLDS / EPA
First Lady Michelle Obama celebrates her 50th birthday this week.

Michelle Obama is turning 50 Friday. For some, it's the big FIVE-OH-NO, an age burdened with stereotypes: you're either a crotchety witch or an over-sexed cougar. Or you get asked about plastic surgery or menopause, as the First Lady was in an exclusive interview with People magazine interview this week. 

Whatever. 

In reality, for the majority of women, being 50 is no big deal. Regarding her upcoming birthday Obama told Parade Magazine: "I have never felt more confident in myself, more clear on who I am as a woman.”  

Some other reasons 50 is a lot more fab than frumpy:

It's the 'perfect' age

"If you could skip time and live forever in good health at a particular age, what age would you like to live at?" Based on a recent Harris Interactive Poll, it's 50. 

That’s not surprising to midlife blogger Emma Nicholson who turned 50 last year. 

Nicholson got her massage therapy license at age 45, and has raised two adult children. The thought of being in her 20s or 30s again makes her “want to barf,” she says. “I wouldn’t go through all the angst again ever for anything.” 

Nicholson, like Mrs. Obama, says she is also more confident, so confident in fact that she felt perfectly fine going to a Pearl Jam concert by herself when her husband was too busy with work. 

“It was pretty cool since there were a bunch of other 50-something women sitting around me,” she says. “We all looked at each other and laughed and pretty much drooled over Eddie" [Vedder: age 49]. 

More control and greater well-being

Life rocks for most people between the ages of 40 and 60, according to a 1999 study from the MacArthur Foundation Research Network. They felt a greater sense of control and reported more positive emotions than negative emotions. 

More recent research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found we feel happier as we age (barring of course those in extremely stressful situations or those suffering from dementia.) 

For 58-year-old Lynette Padwa, the half-century mark was actually “a second youth." 

“You still have a ton of energy, more experience, most of your physical capabilities and if things aren’t making you happy, you change them," says the author of "Quick Answer Me Before I Forget The Question: Everything You Need to Know About Turning 50." 

Let’s get it on

Sorry, Miley, sex may actually be better at midlife. A study of some 800 women, age 40 and older, by the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System found the majority were moderately or very satisfied with their sex lives. And they were actually more satisfied the older they got.  

“Sex does not stop at age 50, and I have many 70- and 80-year-old patients who are quite happy with their sex lives,” says family medicine specialist Dr. Vanessa Maier, University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

“The point is to try to keep yourself healthy so you can enjoy sex at midlife,” says Maier, citing exercise and diet as libido boosters. 

Friendships matter  

Both middle-aged men and women have improved well-being when they have a wide circle of close friends, according to a study published in 2012 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. In fact, making time for friends may be one of the hallmarks of midlife, especially since you are less likely to spend time with people who don’t care about you. 

“I was a people-pleaser all my life,” says Jean Snyder, 51, of Highland Heights, Ohio. “When I turned 50, I made a decision to spend more time with my real friends and cultivate new friendships.” 

You're smarter and wealthier, too

Folks of a certain age performed better on four of six cognitive tests compared to when they were younger, according to the Seattle Longitudinal Study, which tracked the brain function of adults over the past 50 years. We’re also a lot better at abstract and spatial reasoning, verbal acumen, and even simple math, the study found. 

Maybe all that brain power is why mature women seem to control a lot of wealth in the U.S., with those age 50 and older controlling net worth of some $19 trillion.  

“It makes me crazy when women say they feel invisible after age 50,” says Barbara Hannah Grufferman, author of "The Best of Everything After 50." “We are huge, and powerful, but we have to use our voices and be heard, not fade away into the background.”  

The First Lady could be a “beacon of light” for the 50-plus crowd, says Grufferman. 

“She dances, she takes care of herself, she likes her friends, and she’s embracing her age,” she says. “That’s what we all should do.”

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