Ways you reach your peak in middle age and beyond

Emotional awareness, mental arithmetic skills, and life satisfaction all get better with age

Close up of older woman's blue eye


Okay, so you were most likely fitter and stronger in your 20s and 30s, but getting older isn't all doom and gloom. In fact, research shows that people don't peak in many areas of life until they reach middle age or beyond.

See also: Eight ways to keep your brain sharp

See also: Five surprising things that can prematurely age your brain

Emotional awareness: 40s and 50s
They say that life is the best teacher, so it should come as no surprise that people's ability to read other's emotions improves with age. Researchers showed photos of people's faces, cropped to show only their eyes, to volunteers of various ages. Participants in their 40s and 50s were found to be the best at correctly reading other people's feelings.

Peak arithmetic skills: 50
Reckon young people can't add up because they rely too much on smartphones? You might be right. Studies show that our mental arithmetic skills get better with age – with 50-year olds performing best at answering maths questions.

Attention to detail: 50 onwards
You might take longer to switch your focus from one thing to another in middle age, but your brain is better at paying close attention to detail. Researchers in Germany found that younger people spread their attention wide, gathering lots of information from different sources, whereas older people focus their attention, looking more at detail.

Life satisfaction: 69
Several surveys have shown that life satisfaction peaks in our early twenties, and then drops off, before peaking again as we head into our seventies. According to the Office of National Statistics, people in Britain are most satisfied with life from the age of 65 to 79.

The survey of more than 300,000 adults across the UK found life satisfaction, happiness and feeling life was worthwhile all improved with age, but then dropped for the over-80s. The news isn't so good for those aged 45 to 59, who experienced the lowest levels of life satisfaction, with men on average less satisfied than women.

On a positive note, life might get better than you think – another survey found that people over 60 had better life satisfaction than anticipated by those in their mid-50s.

60s & 70s: Verbal intelligence improves
While some cognitive abilities decline with age, overall memory remains strong for most people throughout their 70s. In fact, studies suggest that the average 70-year-old performs as well on many cognitive tests as do many 20-year-olds. And in verbal intelligence tests, people in their 60s and 70s score significantly higher than younger people. Studies show that scores on multiple-choice vocabulary tests keep climbing into people's early 70s.

Moral decision-making and reading social situations: 60-90
Older people are also better at regulating emotions and reading social situations, according to a team of researchers in the US. Scientists asked study participants to read about a conflict, then answer questions about it. They found that people aged 60 to 90 were better able to see things from someone else's point of view, anticipate change, consider multiple possible outcomes, and identify opportunities for compromise.