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Pamela Ballantine: The secrets to why we feel so fabulous at 50-plus

New research from University College London says that for the over-50s the key to a longer life is having fun — so much so that enjoying yourself can cut the risk of dying in the next seven years by a quarter. Karen Ireland talks to four fifty-something personalities who say that they’ve never felt better.

Pamela Ballantine  (58) is a UTV presenter. She lives in Belfast. She says:

My life is very busy and active and this is what I believe keeps me young - I love my life. I'm lucky enough to enjoy my job and, because of it, I get invited to lots of events and social gatherings, so I'm always out and about.

My first job was as a secretary in 1978 when I went to work at Downtown Radio. One day they were stuck for someone to read the news and someone suggested 'that secretary upstairs has a good voice, so let's use her'.

And that's how I got started in broadcasting - I was just thrown in at the deep end.

As well as my love of presenting, I have a real passion for cars and love racing.

UTV Life, the programme which I present on a Friday night, has just been commissioned for another 48 shows, so that's great news to end the year.

Outside of work, I enjoy catching up with friends and family. At my age I much prefer to meet up for a meal and to sit with friends and have good conversation.

I am over going out for a night to stand in a pub - I need a seat!

A few friends and I always meet up over the festive season every year and we try to do the 12 pubs of Christmas.

This year though we made a point of going out early and getting good seats in the first pub. We were settled and didn't want to move, so we did the 12 drinks of Christmas instead.

I can't be bothered with all that pushing and shoving any more.

One of the things I love to do most is go to the races and I'm lucky as I get to work with both Down Royal and Downpatrick Race courses. So I really enjoy doing that.

I also love to travel and always head off for a few days away when I am off work. One of my Christmas presents was a trip to Monaco, which I'm just back from.

It was a wonderful few days away of relaxing and exploring new places. Travel is a great way to relieve the pressure and chill out.

When it comes to staying fit, I go to a Pilates class a couple of times a week and that keeps me supple and helps me to relax more, too.

I had a dreadful cold for about a month recently and I couldn't go to the class - I could feel myself stiffening up. I just didn't feel as good.

Walking is another good way to stay fit and catch up with friends, so I try to get out and walk as often as possible.

This Christmas has been different, as I lost my mum earlier this year, which was terribly difficult.

We miss her so much, particularly at Christmas-time. She always said about my work: 'It's not that you are nosy, you just want to know everything'.

My sister went to see her daughter in Australia this year, so I spent Christmas with close friends and their family. And, of course, I went to the races on Boxing Day at Down Royal, which is a huge part of the festive season for me."

Barbara McCann (59) is a video journalist and TV reporter. She is single and lives in Hillsborough. She says:

I retired from the BBC seven years ago and after the first week I thought: ‘What am I going to do now?’ Now, though, I am busier than I have been for years — and happier, too.

I bought myself a camera and started filming and now work as a video journalist. As well as being out and about filming, I also teach film and editing at workshops.

It’s my 60th birthday in August, but to me age is just a number.

Sometimes I forget what age I actually am.

With age comes freedom and you can do what you want without worrying about other people.

I am having more fun now than ever.

Most of my best friends are in their 30s and 40s and that keeps me young. My mum, who lives a few doors up from me, is the same and she has always had friends of all ages, too.

My home is an open house and my friends know they can come and go all the time.

I recently hosted a 30th birthday party for one of my best friends, yet I’m the same age as most of their parents, but they always say they never see me like that.

When I’m not working I meet my friends as often as I can. I always joke that I’m still far too young to get married.

I got a rescue dog four years ago — an eight-year-old Boxer called Bella — who drags me away from the computer. Our favourite places to go for walks are either the Mournes or a stroll through Hillsborough Forest Park.

But I truly love my work, so it’s not something I feel have to get away from.

At the minute I’m teaching myself animation, as I love learning new skills.

I have also bought a bike and intend to get out and about on it in the new year.

I did try Pilates and yoga, but I’m no good at staying still — I have to be on the move.

Golf is another hobby of mine and I taught myself how to play the guitar, too. I think I’ll buy a banjo next year.

While I love to be active, it’s hard to beat just being quiet or being at home with a good book or painting.

I don’t need a lot of sleep and sometimes I go to bed about 2am and I’m up again about 4.30am.

I also love to travel when I get the opportunity and I’m always looking out for cheap flights and deals.

Singapore is my next destination after Christmas as I want to surprise my sister who is coming home from Australia via Singapore to see my niece.”

Johnny Davis (56), who runs sports events company the Pioneer Group, is an ex-Olympic fencer who represented Great Britain in 1988 and 1992. He is married to Katie and they live in Co Antrim with their two children Christy (22) and Ella (19). He says:

I have always loved sport, which undoubtedly keeps me fit and healthy, but also feeling young. I met my wife, Katie, who is also a fencer, at an Olympic training camp in Budapest.

At the moment I train six days a week, as well as coaching young fencers about seven hours a week and travel with them to competitions.

To me, life is for living and getting on with things, and I really don’t understand people who don’t live life to the full.

I suffered a near fatal accident with a car while I was on my bike once, so after an experience like that life is especially precious.

You realise that you need to make the most of every day and every opportunity. Life is a gift and you should enjoy it.

Participating in the wider life of the community is important and I’m involved with events such as Ciclovia Belfast, as well as being on the Commonwealth Youth Games Board.

When it comes to my health I also try to eat well. I’m fortunate, too, that I love what I do. I honestly don’t feel I’ve ever worked a day in my life, as I enjoy it so much.

As well as being a fencer I worked in the music industry in London for 15 years and it was amazing. Now my life is pretty simple. When I’m not working or training I love spending time with my family and friends. It’s lovely having the kids home for Christmas.

Sport is a very social thing and I meet a lot of people that way and it’s great fun.

I love people and surrounding myself with those who have positive energy.”

Singer Peter Corry (51), lives in North Down with his fiancee Fleur Mellor. He has three grown-up children. He says:

Work keeps me young. Admittedly I’m a workaholic, but I love what I do and don’t see it as work.

The last few months have been busy for me, rehearsing for The Music Box which was at the Waterfront Hall just before Christmas.

It was very intense and involved lots of people, but I loved the run-up to it.

Singing and entertaining people is a pleasure to me. In the New Year I will have a few days off and then I’ll be in England  to direct a production of the Rat Pack.

On the rare times I’m not at work I love spending time with the kids and seeing friends and family. We will be having a few parties over the holidays to catch up with everyone.

I travel a lot with work and will be on tour to Australia and New Zealand — I’m really looking forward to that.

I’d say that it’s this level of keeping busy which keeps me young and active.”

How to feel better about yourself

1. Be positive — instead of brooding about what you don’t like about yourself, focus on your good points. Don’t obsess about wanting to lose a stone, instead celebrate the fact you still have great legs and get out for more walks ... and that way the pounds will disappear all by themselves.

2. Women should learn how to do push-ups and other exercises, to prevent osteoporosis. Find out how adjusting your diet could work as preventative measure, too — you need to make sure your diet includes enough calcium and Vitamin D.

3. Work on your wardrobe — many women opt to wear black as they get older, but this can be very ageing. Don’t underestimate the power of wearing white — it reflects light up and around the face, which can be very flattering. Remember too that fashion isn’t just for the young, so don’t be afraid to try out new trends.

4. Researchers at King’s College, London, found that mental exercises kept minds sharp and helped people with everyday skills such as shopping and cooking. Do a crossword or suduko every day, or download some brain training apps.

5. Celebrate the power of friendship — if you’re feeling lonely, then make an effort to find some new company. You’ll be surprised how many other people are also looking for new friends. Look for a book club, join a gym or walking group, or sign up for some courses at college or university.

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