Entering middle age brings many new health changes and challenges. It’s likely you’ve already read about the importance of maintaining a healthy diet and an exercise routine. It’s equally important to be aware of common health challenges specific to women in their fifties. Read on for the six most common health mistakes women make and steps you can take to prevent them.
Ignoring heart health
Cardiovascular disease is the number leading cause of death for women. A woman’s risk of heart disease rises with age, so it’s important to pay attention to heart health. Heart disease occurs as the result of lifestyle and other health factors. A 2015 report by the CDC found that women’s hearts are often biologically 5 years older than her actual age. Different health factors can also affect heart age. For example, a woman with high blood pressure may have a heart that is 18 years older than she is.
Fortunately, it‘s possible to change the habits that increase your risk of heart disease. Some damage might already be done. However, even small changes like getting exercise and eating healthier will benefit you. Quitting smoking can also have amazing benefits, as the German Cancer Research center found in a study. Among 9,000 people ages 50—74, the researchers found quitting reduces risk of heart attack and stroke by about 40% in the first 5 years.
One of the most important things anyone can do to reduce risk of heart disease is to keep up with screenings. Be sure to get regular testing for high blood pressure, blood glucose, and high cholesterol. These screenings could save a life!
Suffering through menopause symptoms
Menopause is inevitable and unfortunately many women experience severe symptoms. These can include things like hot flashes, sleeping troubles, and vaginal or urinary problems. One method of treating these symptoms is hormone replacement therapy. For women who are unable to take this medication, there are other things you can do.
According to the North American Menopause Society, behavioral recently released findings that might help women who experience hot flashes. Cognitive behavioral therapy such as trying relaxation techniques and sleep strategies can reduce the intensity and severity of hot flashes. Medications, devices, and changes in behavior may also help bladder issues.
Believing weight gain is inevitable
The risk of weight gain rises with age. It’s not inevitable, but many women have to work harder to lose or maintain their weight. Energy expenditure naturally decreases with age due to loss of muscle and hormonal changes. This means eating the same foods and portions as you used to may lead to weight gain.
Starting a new exercise routine can be challenging. A good starting point is the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. Try breaking this down into a schedule of 30 minutes of activity five times a week if a number like 150 seems unmanageable.
Additionally, eating healthier is important for women as they age. Simple changes can help prevent weight gain. Doctors recommend eating more fruits and vegetables and lean proteins such as poultry, fish, beans, and nuts.
Thinking sex is over
A common belief is that sexual activity declines with age. In reality, studies have shown that many 75- to 85-year-olds are sexually active two to three times a month. More than 20% stated they had sexual relations at least once a week.
Hormonal changes during menopause can change sex for many women. If sex is painful, your doctor may be able to recommend a solution. Sexual relationships can also improve with age. When pregnancy is no longer a concern, women experience more sexual freedom. Sex can have benefits for physical health, as well. Regular sexual activity can lead to better pelvic muscle tone, healthier vaginal tissues, and improved psychological well-being.
Avoiding new screenings
Screenings like blood pressure, cholesterol, and PAP tests, are likely part of your yearly health routine by middle age. However, other tests become important to incorporate into your regular exams after age 50.
The American Cancer Society recommends women get mammograms once a year from ages 45 to 55. After 55, the American Cancer Society recommends a mammogram every other year until age 75. It’s also important to keep up with screenings for colorectal cancer and bone density.
Losing a sense of purpose
With big changes such as retirement on the horizon, it’s possible that individuals lose a sense of purpose. This shift can bring a negative attitude. In turn, this may cause health issues and a poor sense of well-being. Purpose doesn’t have to be a grand, world-changing idea (though if that is your purpose, go for it)! Rather, a sense of purpose is typically much more personal. Being able to find meaning in day-to-day life is often enough. Simple actions like reading, volunteering, or even learning a new skill or profession can help achieve a sense of purpose.
In a study of 6,000 participants, researchers found those who had a sense of purpose and maintained social relationships lived longer than those without. Other studies have determined that “purpose” in later life slowed cognitive decline by nearly 30 percent. It also made individuals more likely to follow healthy lifestyles, and reduced risk of heart failure and Alzheimer’s disease. Living with a sense of purpose can have meaningful and positive health benefits.