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What to Expect in Your 70s and Beyond

The good and bad. Plus advice on feeling happy, sexy and pain-free

Be Happy

The Good News: We're pretty happy. A recent AARP survey showed that of all the decades surveyed, the 70s tend to be some of the happiest years of your life. One explanation for the trend: years of experience. "As you get older, you know that bad times are going to pass," says Laura Carstensen, Ph.D., director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. "You also know that good times will pass, which makes those good times even more precious."

The Not-So-Good News: You might stay away from stressful situations, thereby missing out on new opportunities. Just make sure all of your social interactions stay strong. They may be key to facing future challenges with resilience.

What's Up With That? Does your spouse seem mellower than he or she once did? "The ability to regulate one's emotions improves as you get older," says Bob Knight, Ph.D., professor of gerontology and psychology at the USC Davis School of Gerontology in Los Angeles.

What's Ahead: As long as your health remains good, you can expect to be happy. Studies also suggest that negative emotions like anger and sadness become less frequent with age, perhaps because older adults get better at tuning out negativity.

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As you age, your eye muscles slow down, causing your eyes' pupils to react more slowly to changes in light. — Photo by Craig Cutler

Stay Sharp

The Good News: Research shows that the steep loss of brain function once thought intrinsic to aging is often avoidable. "You can improve your brain health by getting regular mental stimulation, social interaction and physical activity," says Gary J. Kennedy, M.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral science in the Division of Geriatric Psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York. And your gut instincts remain sharp as you age, too. In one study, older adults fared as well as those under 30 on intuitive decisions.

The Not-So-Good News: Part of your brain circuitry starts to burn out with age, but most of us compensate by relying on other parts of our brain, and our past experiences, to make decisions. "That's the 'wisdom' that accrues with older age," says Kennedy.

What's Up With That? Feeling increasingly forgetful? This happens because the transmission of nerve impulses between cells slows down as you age.

What's Ahead: Real cognitive decline becomes more prevalent by your 80s; nearly half of Americans 85 or older have Alzheimer's. Your best prevention plan, as Kennedy advises: intellectual stimulation, time with family and friends, and exercise.

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