50 reasons to start having the best time of your life

The bottom may have fallen out of the economy, but there's never been a better time to be over 50. Find out why, here.

Barrie Hopson is a man armed with facts.

The steady stream of statistics begins as he prepares coffee. An hour or so later, I know that of all the people in the history of the world who ever reached 65, half of them are alive today.

I know that a third of over 50s own their own property. I know that 30 per cent of companies are actively looking to recruit over 65s. I know in 1953 when the Queen ascended the throne she sent out 200 centenary telegrams.

More importantly, I know that in 2005, 12,000 telegrams left Buckingham Palace.

"Incredible isn't it?," says Barrie, adding for good measure that over 50s indulge in as much as exercise as those half their age. "In the past, life moved between rigid boxes. You went to school, you got a job, most people got married, you retired, then you died. My own father was only 59 when he died, but he seemed very old. He was very old. That was what the 20th-century was like.

"Now when you get to 50 you may have only lived half your life. We may not have got rid of all the stereotypes, newspapers still often refer to anyone over 60 as elderly, but the difference now is there's a lot of people like me who won't let them get away with it."

While there has been much talk as to how the world will cope with its ageing population, Barrie has little time for brow-furrowing. At 64, he has a personal trainer who comes to his north Leeds home every three or four weeks, he runs regularly with a couple of doctors who live nearby and in between juggling half a dozen other projects he has just written The Rainbow Years with friend Mike Scally to help the over 50s make the most of their time in the sun.

"Obviously there's poverty in any generation and we're not saying everyone is living the life of Riley, but what we are saying is that when you take everything into consideration, the over 50s have more opportunities than ever before and in most cases the time and the money to enjoy them.

"This is the regeneration generation. There are opportunities for reinventing yourself in ways never possible before. Adolescence is the great age for making lists of what you're going to do with your life, but now at 55 the wish list comes out again and often for the first time people have the chance to realise their ambitions."

Even in the world of celebrity, where P45s are issued at the first sign of a female wrinkle, the age barriers are showing less resistance. Sally Field, Meryl Streep, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dame Judi Dench have never been more in demand and last year Helen Mirren said what a lot of other people had been thinking – getting old was a relief.

"When you're 16, you think 28 is so old," said the actress, who will turn 64 in July. "And then you get to 28 and it's fabulous. You think, then, what about 42? Ugh! And then 42 is great. As you reach each age, you gain the understanding and experience you need to deal with it and enjoy it."

Somewhat inevitably 70 is now being talked of as the new 50. Not everyone may be able to muster the same enthusiasm as Barrie for these landmark birthdays, but he says the key is accepting the inevitability of change. "John Lennon was right when he said, 'life is what happens while you're busy making other plans'," he says, admitting that he has never made a career plan in his life, preferring instead to surrender to the unpredictability of life. "At some point we'll all find that our life has taken an unexpected turn.

"Before we started writing The Rainbow Years we sent out 100 or so questionnaires just to get a snapshot of the kind of situations people had found themselves in. What was amazing was how

many people in their 50s and 60s had faced some unexpected event. Two had tragically seen the death of a child, one man had lost his leg, but there were also positive changes.

"One man had fallen in love at 63, others had embarked on a whole new career. Sometimes these events can seem overwhelming, but there is always a light at the end of the tunnel."

When Barrie and Mike wrote their first guide to careers some 10 years previously, the world was a very different place. The internet was just on the brink of delivering on its promise to make the world a global village, mobile phones remained a luxury rather than a necessity and most people didn't have an email address.

"How quickly things have changed in just one decade," says Barrie. "We tried to pull together a list of all the issues people over 50 have to deal with, whether it be health, relationships, financial planning and how to spend their leisure time. It's impossible to write a one-size fits all guide, so instead the book includes a series of exercises which we hope will help people reassess where they're at and where they want to be."

It's also about dispelling myths, not least that early retirement is the 21st century's holy grail.

"It's a complete misnomer that over 50s don't want to work or that everyone is counting down the days till they can retire," says Barrie, who admits he finds it impossible to think of his own future without work. "A lot of people want the benefits which work can bring and I don't mean just a regular salary. Work keeps the mind active, it's sociable, but what many people aren't prepared to put up with is the nine to five toil. They want flexibility.

"Over 50s may look after grandchildren or their own ageing parents – do you know women now spend more years caring for the aging parents than they ever do caring for their own children – they may want time off to travel and work has to fit around those demands. It's what we call a portfolio lifestyle."

In tough economic times, when many are just happy to have a job, it would seem logically that such demands may have to be tempered. Apparently not. Even in a recession it seems the over 50s will come up smelling of roses.

"There's just been some research in America which shows that companies are actually trying to keep hold of their older employees," adds Barrie. "It shatters the myth that older workers are particularly vulnerable in an economic downturn. They may cost more in salary and benefits but their experience and knowledge makes them highly valued. Firms don't want their experience walking out the door when times are tough."

Despite falling property prices, pension shortfalls and many investments worth just a fraction of what they were 12 months ago, the over 50s still have more financial security than the generations following in their footsteps. Some have suggested their relative wealth will cause resentment, but Barrie insists the benefits trickle down.

"A few years ago there was an advert for Lufthansa which said, 'If you don't fly first class your children will'. I thought that was just great. However, while it's true that the over 50s are now just as likely to go to Thailand as Torremolinos, they are also able to financially support their children and grandchildren.

"Twenty-somethings are in no hurry to leave the family home and I read somewhere the over 60s give 1.6bn a year to their children. Add in the hours of unpaid babysitting and we should all be grateful that for perhaps the first time ever the over 50s are in such a fortunate position."

The Rainbow Years by Barrie Hopson and Mike Scally published by Middlesex University Press priced 14.95 is available to order through the Yorkshire Post Bookshop on 0800 0153232 or online.

The book is accompanied by a website and Barry and Mike run their own blog.

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