For many women I see, growing older is a difficult pill to swallow. It’s not just about looks and body image; older age is a risk factor for many conditions, such as:
As a family medicine physician, I’m all too familiar with these. Yet the most common health complaints from women of all ages that I hear center around stress and depression. It’s no surprise; stress is intertwined with almost every chronic condition, and depression can develop when stress is left unchecked.
We modern women have a lot on our plates, especially in our midlives. Many of us have two full-time jobs if we are parents and workers. Some of us are also part of the “sandwich generation,” responsible for taking care of both our children and our parents. The demands from work, plus taking care of others, put a huge burden on us and create challenges to caring for our own health.
When we aren’t able to take time for ourselves, health issues mount. Sleep begins to suffer. Blood pressure and cholesterol levels creep upward. Hair thins or falls out. Sex drives shrink and weight swells.
What’s a modern woman to do to protect her health and sanity as she ages?
Watch your alcohol and caffeine consumption
As a coffee enthusiast, I have to be mindful of my own intake. Stick to no more than two cups of coffee per day. (That’s two 8-ounce cups, not two venti lattes.) If you drink more than that, you increase your risk of osteoporosis and flirt with sabotaging your sleep.
The same goes for alcohol. More than one drink per day increases your risk for heart disease and breast cancer.
Exercise regularly and vary your exercise routine
Like you balance your diet, try to incorporate a variety of different exercises.
Aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, like walking, five times a week.
Try to include some strength training and resistance training two to three times per week to maintain muscle mass, which helps protects your bones. Do some balance exercises a couple times a week to help prevent falls. Yoga and Pilates are good examples.
When you’re busy and stressed or menopausal, sex can be the last thing on your mind. But connecting with your partner sexually is one of the best stress-busters.
Get your annual wellness exams
Make sure you schedule your annual routine physical so your doctor can catch problems early, giving you the best chance for recovery if anything major emerges.
Although the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s new guidelines recommend mammograms starting at age 50, I urge all my female patients to start screening mammograms at age 40. Colon cancer screening via a colonoscopy also starts at age 50.
Keep an active social life
Relationships are vital to your emotional and mental health as you age. Studies show that people who are more socially connected to family, friends and/or their community tend to live longer and report happier, healthier lives than people without strong connections.
Quitting smoking is easier said than done, but we all know it’s worth the effort. Smoking is one of the worst things you can do to your body — it increases your risk for cancer and heart disease – and it ages you prematurely. View our reseources to help you quit ›
Take your vitamins
Vitamin D is important and many women are deficient. Low vitamin D affects your heart health, bone health and immune health. Many patients who increase their vitamin D levels report feeling better and getting sick less often.
Women also need to make sure they’re getting enough calcium because bone density declines during perimenopause, into menopause and beyond.
Maintain a healthy diet
While supporting your health with specific vitamins is important, nothing replaces the benefits of maintaining a diet filled with lots of different fruits and vegetables. Aim for a variety of colors and textures. Ditch the sugary sweet treats and highly processed foods.
Stick to a sleep schedule
Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, and avoid electronics before bed. Even as we grow older we still need at least eight hours of sleep every night to maintain mental health, memory and a healthy weight.
Keep the room dark and cool to promote the best sleeping conditions. Sleep disturbances and insufficient sleep increase cortisol. When our stress runs high and we need more energy to offset the lack of sleep, we turn to food — and usually not the best kinds for us.
Getting older is inevitable, but our choices are within our control. Do everything you can to make your long life a healthy one.