Reaching 50 is a milestone but times can be stressful. The kids are probably going to college, or are just moving out of the house, parents are aging, and you quickly find out that your body doesn’t tolerate what you put it through the same as it did a few years ago. This is the time to take a close look at your lifestyle habits and make the necessary adjustments before things get out of hand.
Midlife brings special health challenges to women, and falling estrogen levels is just one part of the complex problem. Women need to think about other hormonal changes that occur with aging. It’s also important to think about helping to keep brain and cardiovascular health in top shape.
All of these are heavily influenced by lifestyle. And none of them have to stop you from living a happy life for many years to come. You can keep yourself in the best of health, physically and mentally, but you need to avoid some common mistakes.
“This is absolutely true,” Dr. Alyson Pidich from The Ash Center says. People have been living longer and longer for decades, but now they are also heathier. A 2016 interactive poll actually shows that America’s new favorite age is 50. The question was: If you could live forever in good health at a particular age, what age would you like to be? You are still young enough to start over, and wise enough to not make many mistakes.
Women have a hard time accepting that they skin doesn’t look as good, Dr. Pidich says. But this is a fact of life, which can actually be handled. The best solution is something as boring as diet and exercise. You can put certain foods on your face for incredible skin but you also have to maintain a nutritionist diet so your skin can get all vitamins it needs to stay glowing.
Ageing comes with side effects such as big changes in body composition, including a progressive decrease in muscle mass. Lean muscle mass generally contributes up to about 50 percent of total bodyweight in young adults, but decreases with age to be about 25 percent of total bodyweight by age 75–80 years, according to National Institutes of Health.
Collagen keep the body together, basically, Dr. Pidich says. It is the main structural protein in the space in the various connective tissues in the body. Collagen is also what provides skin firmness. Collagen production naturally begins to taper off as women get older, she adds. This is another reason to eat a lot of foods that are rich in Vitamin C – it’s crucial for collagen synthesis, Dr. Pidich says.
Metabolism is the process through which the body converts what a person eats into energy. It slows down as you lose muscle mass. The two are intertwined. That’s why a common advice experts have for people who want to boost their metabolism is to do resistance training. Also, people tend to be less active, which can also mess up with their metabolic processes.
Your metabolism slows down and you lose muscle. The only way to fight these side effects of aging is by doing strength training. Later in life, bone and muscle mass tends to decrease, flexibility starts to diminish and balance and agility are sometimes compromised. Studies have found that strength training can increase strength in older adults and, as a result, enables them to live more independently.
You may have heard that older people sleep less and that’s natural, but this is a myth, Dr. Pidich says. And it can cost you your health. “People still need to sleep 7-9 hours a night. “Insomnia almost always correlates with menopause,” she adds. This is due to the fact that the ovaries gradually decrease production of estrogen and progesterone, a sleep-promoting hormone, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Pain is common as people get older but it’s not OK. The most important issue is dealing with the source of the symptoms. “A lot of pain comes from unknown inflammatory processes in the body,” Dr. Pidich says. Is it the spine, bone, or arthritis? Back pain can be due to muscle mass and/or bad posture, she adds. In that case, make sure you do exercise to fix your posture, and add light weights, Dr. Pidich says.
And losing weight is much harder, Dr. Sandra Culbertson, Chair of Women's Health at Geisinger, says. “The usual methods don’t work anymore.” The reasons can vary from increased stress levels to a slower metabolism and loss of muscle. Also, the body retains more white fat as you age. This is the kind that stores excess calories. You generate white fat by consuming too many calories and not burning them.
What women ignore the most, in Dr. Culbertson’s professional experience, is maintaining a healthy weight. “This is because they often don’t take time to take care of themselves.” Kids, family, job, and house chores - all of these things take priority, and “moms” come last, she adds. This is not sustainable; you have to find and make time to put your wellbeing first.
The abs are, unfortunately, some of the hardest muscles to tone in the body. The midsection is the first place most people, particularly women, store weight. And it gets worse as you age. It’s just the way the body works. A growing waistline is in women can be especially true after menopause, when body fat tends to move to the stomach. This is likely due to a decreasing level of estrogen, which appears to influence where fat is distributed in the body, according to the Mayo Clinic.
This is a natural decline in reproductive hormones and it doesn’t spare any woman. At some point your menstrual periods stop permanently. (Some may argue this is a good thing, because who wants to go through all that every month anymore?) While menopause does spur many (sometimes drastic) changes within the body, exercise is one of the best ways to help keep your physical and emotional well-being intact as you transition through it.
Hot flashes, vaginal dryness, sleep disturbances, anxiety – all of these often come with menopause. But you don’t have to endure the misery. You can take advantage of hormonal replacement therapies. “A lot of women suffer because of the myths about these therapies,” Dr. Culbertson says. “Some herbal medicines may help as well.”
“Nobody wants to talk about this even though it can really impact relationships,” Dr. Culbertson says. This can easily be taken care of a minimal dose of estrogen creams. “It make a huge difference,” she adds.
Bladder control is another problem women don’t like to talk about. “We see a lot of urinary problem among older women,” Dr. Culbertson says. “People normalize it because it happens often but this is not good.” Incontinence can range from the leaking of a few drops when coughing or even laughing to soaking. The cause needs to be investigated. “An easy treatment is to strengthen the pelvic floor,” she adds.
This is a realistic expectation, Dr. Pidich says. Many factors play a role in whatever aging signs a woman can experience. Slowing them down has a lot to do with maintaining a healthy lifestyle. “Change doesn’t happen overnight,” she adds. This also applies to seeing reaping the benefits from minor lifestyle improvements.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S., according to the CDC. Cardiovascular disease is often thought of as a “man’s disease,” but around the same number of women and men die each year as a result. Keep in mind that vague symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, swelling of the feet/ankles/legs/abdomen can be signs of heart failure, especially if occur simultaneously.
“Major problem in women I see is diabetes,” Dr. Pidich says. About 15 million women in the country have the condition, or about 1 in every 9 adult women, according to the Department of Health. Type 2 diabetes is more common in adults, especially in people who are 45 and older, have a family history of diabetes, or have overweight or obesity. Compared with men with diabetes, women with diabetes have a higher risk for heart disease, lower survival rates, and a higher risk for blindness and for depression.
Dr. Pidich says she sees a surprisingly high number of women with nutritional deficiencies. “It’s shocking to see that when everything is so readily available.” But what we are told is healthy may not actually be for our bodies, she adds. That’s why it’s good to test what your body can’t handle and to have a customized nutrition plan. “For example, the GI tract does not absorb vitamins equally.” Bonus: Weight loss becomes easier once you treat these deficiencies, Dr. Pidich adds.
This is one thing Dr. Pidich says she sees a lot. “Women come in with a diagnosis of acid reflux when they actually have low acid in the stomach.” The stomach can’t break down all food to absorb the nutrients; the leftover food is then rubbing against the stomach. The confusion is easily cleared with a simple test. After that patients may be given digestive enzymes and symptoms go away, she adds.
This may due to various reasons, including health issues that may have developed and medications you’re taking because some can be affected by alcohol. Because muscle mass is replaced by fat tissue as people get older, drinking the same amount as when they were younger results in a higher blood alcohol concentration. The alcohol stays longer in your river, increase its risk of damage. Blood flow to it is also decreased.
BMI doesn’t give you a realistic measure of how healthy you are, Dr. Pidich says. It's important to consider not just your height and weight, but the percentage of fat and muscle in your body. Four pounds of fat and four pounds of muscle weigh the same, but look very different. (Muscle is much smaller.) Two people might have the same BMI even if one of them looks much thinner than the other.
Not going for routine screens is one of the biggest mistakes women over 50 make, Dr. Culbertson says. “Colonoscopy is so important.” Modern screening makes it possible to detect existing cancers at a very early stage when treatment is highly successful. Yet, a third of patients die, making cancer of the large intestine the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women in the U.S., according to the Center for Menstrual Disorders. Mammograms, too, Dr. Culbertson adds. Also, “cervical screen are now made so much easier, you don’t even have to go every year.”
Skin cancer increases as people get older. A full skin exam by a dermatologist or medical professional is one of the best approaches for detecting it. This can save your life. Once a cancer has progressed and spread, it is more difficult to treat with much poorer and outcomes. A person with normal skin, with no specific issues and no family history of melanoma or other skin cancers should undergo such exam once a year.
Hormonal changes are a big factor in not being able to lose weight as fast, Dr. Pidich says. Nutritional deficiencies contribute as well because the body feels like it’s starving, she adds. But eating less does not work, especially after 50. “Starving the body does not equal weight loss.” You have to do it in a way the body can tolerate – increase muscle mass, eat heathy food a few times a day and do more aerobic activities.
One of the biggest mistakes people can make is to look to FAD diets to lose weight, especially when there’s not long to go until vacation time this time of the year, Yvonne Sanders of Slimming World, who lost 63 pounds herself. These plans are often too restrictive. Your body needs all the nutrients it can get to preserve bone density and muscle mass. You can end up being malnourished.
It can occur at any age, but it has a higher impact in women over 50, Dr. Pidich says. “We can see it in the blood work,” she adds. Thyroid glands and adrenal function, among other organs, are affected. Stress takes a higher physical toll when you’re older, she adds. Your body cells are aging and your heart fitness and lung capacity decline. Stress hormones in the brain can also contribute to short-term memory problems that are unrelated to dementia, according to Harvard Medical School.
Headaches can be a big problem as you get older, Dr. Pidich says. Most are easy to fix because they are due to dehydration, but headaches can also mean aneurysm or stroke, she adds. “An aneurysm has usually been there awhile, just not diagnosed. As you get older, the blood vessels weaken, collagen breaks down, and the wall around the aneurysm break down and it can rupture.”
“When you’re 50 and older, any abnormality is cancer until proven otherwise,” Dr. Pidich says. This is what you want to rule out first. Stomach pain is common among older patients, but it needs to be checked out, especially if it’s severe or lasting for a few days. It can mean abdominal aortic aneurysm rupture or inadequate blood flow to the small intestine.
“Only do a procedure if you will change your diet,” Dr. Pidich says. If you undergo a cosmetic procedure, you may look fabulous, but the skin will go back to what it was if you don’t make the necessary lifestyle changes, she adds. The biggest favor you can do for your skin is to feed it nutritious food. Blood flow supplies it with what it needs to glow. If you still eat poorly, the skin won’t get the healthy nutrients it needs, and will get dry and wrinkled.
Two-thirds of cancers are thought to be due to random mutations, and most ovarian cancers are in that category, according to Dr. John P. Micha, founder of the Nancy Yeary Women's Cancer Research Foundation. They are a consequence of the numerous cell divisions the bodies go through daily. Ovarian cancer is often diagnosed in its advanced stages because there are no reliable screening methods and women often assume that symptoms like severe bloating, abdominal pain and bleeding are only related to minor issues.
If there is one thing women over 50 should do absolutely every day, it would be exercise or some form of physical activity, Dr. Culbertson says. Leading a sedentary life is incredibly unhealthy; “most people have no idea,” she adds. Most people spend about half the day sitting. The body is not primed to be in one position for too long. “You have got to get up and move.”
Flexibility is one of the most important goals in fitness. It’s just as crucial as being strong and fit. The ability to easily move around is crucial for preventing injuries, falls and back pain, increasing blood supply and nutrients to the muscles, decreasing soreness, and improving posture. Muscles tissues and ligaments becomes less elastic with time – just another reason to take time and stretch.
You have probably heard of the latest study on alcohol’s effect on a person’s health. The bottom line, according to it, is that no amount of booze is safe. Doctors, however, are not in a rush to sound the alarm. If you break down the numbers and really read into how they did the study, as The New York Times did, you’ll see that there is no need to freak out. “Everything in moderation,” Dr. Pidich says.
It may be more than just a muscle strain; it could be deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot in your veins. It can be very dangerous if left untreated. Blood clots in your veins can break loose, travel through your bloodstream and lodge in your lungs, blocking blood flow (pulmonary embolism), according to Mayo Clinic. Red or discolored skin on the leg is another symptom.
While most hearing loss occurs in the elderly, women in their middle age can experience it, too. Noises become muted when the hair cells in your inner ear are damaged or die. They don’t grow back, so the loss is permanent. Exposure to loud noises, family history, smoking, diabetes, and chemotherapy drugs can also play a role in hearing loss.
You should take supplements not to promote weight, but rather to detoxify the body, and give it a nutrient that it is deficient in, Dr. Daryl Gioffre, celebrity nutritionist and author of GET OFF YOUR ACID, says. “For example, if a plant wilts, you give it water because it needs water, and our bodies are no different.” There are a few supplements that we are all deficient in, even children, but you still need to run these by your health care practitioner, he adds.
Your vision begins to deteriorate after you hit 40. Your eyes lose elasticity and they become unable to focus. A white ring or arc around the iris could be a signal of high cholesterol. In older adults, the ring is caused by fat and cholesterol deposits and is totally normal, but in people younger than 60, it could indicate high cholesterol and higher risk of heart attack and stroke.
Don’t be afraid from the word “fats.” Dietary fats are essential to give your body energy and to support cell growth, according to the American Heart Association. They help protect your organs, the body absorb some nutrients and produce important hormones. Fish, nuts, seeds, and olive oil are fantastic sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids.
A 2009 study has suggested that women whose calves are 13 inches or less, have a greater chance of developing carotid plaque, a condition where plaque builds up inside the arteries. This can lead to a stroke. But regardless of the size of your calves, heart diseases are easy to prevent with a healthy diet and a steady workout plan.
The pigment cells in your hair follicles will start to perish, and the strands won’t be able to maintain as much melanin. This is why hair turns gray, silver, or white. As women get older, their estrogen levels decline. Sufficient levels of estrogen account for a thick head of hair, so without much of it, strands can become thin, dry, brittle, or fall out altogether.
A growing body of research shows that the condition of the digestive system actually plays a significant role in one’s overall health. Researchers are finding a strong link between digestive health and the brain. By influencing the balance and types of bacteria present, studies show that it may be possible to lower stress, affect cognition/brain processes and mood. What can you do to enhance your digestive health? Certain foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha and coconut keifer can help maintain the “good” bacteria needed to keep your gut running smoothly.
You shouldn’t be able to detect a smell after you pee. Urine that contains a lot of water and few waste products has little to no odor, according to Mayo Clinic. “If urine becomes highly concentrated — a high level of waste products with little water — your urine may have a strong ammonia odor. Smelly urine can be a sign of uncontrolled diabetes, a metabolic disorder, UTI, and bladder inflammation.
Sad, but true. And the boring answer is that weight loss and exercise can help improve the appearance of cellulite. Having more muscle makes your skin look smoother and firmer. Replacing fat with muscle can also make cellulite less noticeable, according to American Academy of Dermatology. There are different therapies that treat cellulite, but results vary and, in many cases, repeated sessions are needed.
How you walk is important for which muscles in your body are working and for overall energy efficiency. Walking heel to toe is, for humans, the most efficient way. It takes nearly twice as much energy to walk on your toes than it does to land on your heel. In addition to that, if you walk in the toes-to-heels way, then you’re reducing the amount your Achilles tendon stretches, and your soleus muscles (under the knee to the heel) don’t work as much.
Saliva acts like a cleaning agent; it gets rid of bad bacteria in your mouth. When saliva production is reduced, sometimes as a result of dehydration, you get bad breath. But the reasons can be much more serious. You may have an infection (this usually happens after tooth removal) or your teeth may be decaying. Some cancers, and conditions such as metabolic disorders, can cause a distinctive breath odor as a result of chemicals they produce, according to Mayo Clinic.
Undiagnosed food intolerances can be the reason why you’re tired all the time, even if you get enough sleep. Any food – whether dairy, grains or even chocolate – that a person is allergic to causes a great deal of extra stress on the body. Naturally, the body’s immune system will try to fight it, resulting in inflammation that can range from joint pain to headaches to a swelling in the small intestine.
A 2007 study that involved adult women concluded that the average person will consume less food and fewer calories when sitting down to eat, Dr. Gioffre says. “When you look at this from a common-sense stand point, people who stand when they eat are usually doing so because they are stressed or in a hurry, and usually a combination of the two.” When you are emotionally stressed, your body will produce less hydrochloric acid (HCL) which is necessary for proper digestion of food. When you sit down to eat, you're more likely to eat slowly. “It takes about 15-20 minutes for your digestive system to let your brain know that it is full, so when you eat too fast, you tend to eat much more than your body actually needs.”
Studies in family practice and general medicine clinics indicate that 11 to 33 percent of older patients have at least some symptoms of depression, according to AAFP. Depression at a later stage in life is commonly confused with possible side effects of other illnesses and medications people take for them.