Lisa Markwell: How can such smart people be so dumb?

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One in five women between 45 and 64 drink more than 14 units a

News to confuse: a Cambridge academic claims that we hit our peak during our forties and fifties. Meanwhile a study from the Office for National Statistics reveals that the same demographic is made up of heavier boozers than the teens and twenty-somethings so often associated with binge drinking.

Dr David Bainbridge's assertion that our most important stage in evolution is after 40 makes some kind of sense. Through a fog of tiredness and stress (it can't be just me), we are able to prioritise what's important and to jettison worries about less-than-crucial matter such as 'should I have queued up at H&M for that spotted Marni coat?'

Our middle age is challenging, like any other 'age' but Bainbridge is right when he says that we have better planning and coordination skills than younger folk (although when he adds that the over-40s run our business and political world it's tempting to mutter 'no sh*t, Sherlock'). We run everything because we've been around long enough to scale the greasy pole.

So, bright and brainy, experienced and strategic, the over-40s are well equipped to cope with probably the biggest challenges we have during our lifetime: that of being the 'sandwich generation' with both children and parents to look after.

That's where the second study comes in. Nothing washes down a sandwich like a large glass of red wine. Whether it's the reward for unclenching the teenage fist from around its BlackBerry and getting it to go to bed, or the emollient as one braces for the telephone call to the parent for a (very) detailed update on how their minor procedure went at the doctors...

But one in five women between 45 and 64 drink more than the recommended 14 units a week, and three million men do the same. The younger age-groups, meanwhile, are curbing their drinking.

Obviously this does nothing to assist our negotiation of the complex demands on our time. Why do we continue to do it, then? It's not as if we're unaware of the health risks. It's the one blind spot in what Bainbridge identifies as our otherwise sharp grasp of our world.

Perhaps we're misguidedly looking back to the 'glamour' of our earlier drinking days to stave off feeling middle-aged.

Personally I'd rather settle down with The Tube on Sky+ and take my calories in the form of some excellent cheese and charcuterie than hoist myself into a pair of Spanx and head out to a bar for a Malbec binge. If that makes me a less than perfect example of a brainy, boozy forty-something, then so be it.


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