MAY READING: Middle Age - A Natural History by David Bainbridge

Just say it out loud - middle age - how drab, dull and gloomy sounding is that. The long slow slide to old age and beyond. Bits of body drooping, face showing cracks of a life lived, being overtaken in the job stakes, can't keep up with the ever changing language, music, TV of the youth, never heard of before medical issues, worries about retirement, elderly parents, teenager offspring, and so it goes on and on.  Paraphrasing Frankie Goes to Hollywood - Middle Age, What Is It Good For. 

Well, according to David Bainbridge, trained vet surgeon and with a PhD in Zoology, middle age is actually good for quite a lot of things. Mind you, he was only 42 when he wrote this book, so he has barely scratched the surface really in terms of the realities of middle age. Unlike some of us...but if it makes you feel better, keep reading.

The author has taken a biological viewpoint in his analysis of why human beings are really the only species with a defined period of time in the life cycle that can be called a middle age. We are neither young and we are neither old; we are, quite simply, in the middle. He defines the period of middle age as being the fifth and sixth decades, ie one's 40s and 50s. Because we are the only species which has a middle age, then from an evolutionary point of view, this period of time must be a necessary stage in the human life span. Essentially he puts this down to the very large brain that humans have - no other species has a brain quite so large as the human brain in proportion to the rest of the body mass.

His research and conclusions cover a huge range of topics broadly divided into three parts - Why Middle Age Has Never Been About Growing Old; The Triumph of the Middle Aged Mind; and Romance, Love, Sex and Babies After 40. So we learn that middle age spread is there for a reason, that the whale is the only other mammal to go through menopause and it is not about your eggs running out, is there really such a thing as 'empty nest syndrome' and 'mid life crisis', why we have the feeling that time moves faster as we get older, why mental health issues are at their lowest level during this time. And this list really just touches the sides of what middle age is all about, and how, really, according to the author, it is probably the best time of your life to be alive. Wow - bet you never thought that as you contemplated another grey hair, or hankered inexplicably after that brand new Porsche.

Initially when I started reading this, I thought how good it would have been to read it when I was in my early 40s, right at the beginning of 'middle age' - what to look forward to. But as I got closer to end of the book, I realised it all made a lot more sense, having a bit of experience of 'middle age' under my belt. Unbelievably perky, upbeat and optimistic about this stage in the human life cycle, this book makes for very interesting and entertaining reading. Not light enough to be a bed time read - deteriorating eyesight (!), but easily absorbed at any other time of the day, you will learn plenty about yourself and how this is really a stage to enjoy rather than get down in the dumps about.

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