50 Things Every Woman Over 50 Should Know About Her Health

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Heart disease is your biggest risk from 50 Things Every Woman Over 50 Should Know About Her Health

50 Things Every Woman Over 50 Should Know About Her Health

Your best years may still lie ahead
50 Things Every Woman Over 50 Should Know About Her Health

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Turning 50 is both an exciting and intimidating milestone. If you have kids, they may have left the nest. If you’re working full time, you may be looking ahead to retirement. Fifty is a time when your friendship dynamics might change and social expectations shift. While there are plenty of aspects of getting older that might feel truly great, there are some that certainly don’t. Your body changes a lot during this phase of life — and that can be really frightening. But knowing what to expect and remaining as informed as possible can help make these transitions easier. Here are 50 things every woman over 50 should know about her health.

Heart disease is your biggest risk

Heart disease is your biggest risk

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Though men are at greater risk for heart disease than women, women over 50 still need to be cognizant of the most common signs of heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the number one cause of death for women in the United States, responsible for about one in every five female deaths.

Symptoms of a heart attack differ between women and men

Symptoms of a heart attack differ between women and men

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Heart symptoms, particularly those that occur during the onset of a heart attack, differ between women and men, and some women miss early signs of heart trouble because they aren’t aware of this fact. For instance, women are more likely to experience symptoms such as back pain and nausea instead of the more-expected sudden chest pain.

Findings suggest women are more likely to survive a heart attack if their doctor is a woman

Findings suggest women are more likely to survive a heart attack if their doctor is a woman

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There are a number of things you might consider when looking for a quality doctor, but do you consider your doctor’s gender? According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, women are more likely to die after a heart attack if their doctor is a man. Researchers say this might be due to male physicians having a more difficult time building a rapport with female patients, leading to “reduced adherence to preventative care protocols, and weaker patient–physician communication.”

You’re at a greater risk for cancer

You’re at a greater risk for cancer

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Though cancer can strike at any age, your risk skyrockets after you enter middle age. According to the National Cancer Institute, 91% of new cancer diagnoses happen in people over age 45. Cancer prevention differs for each person but often involves changes in diet and lifestyle. Talk to your doctor about your cancer risk and what you can do to prevent tumor growth.

Alzheimer’s is a huge risk

Alzheimer’s is a huge risk

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Alzheimer’s is a disease that affects millions of men and women, but women are especially at risk. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, nearly two thirds of those living with Alzheimer’s are women. In fact, the risk of Alzheimer’s for women over 60 is twice as large as the risk of breast cancer in the same population.

Exercising can prevent dementia

Exercising can prevent dementia

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Neurologists have advised that if you’re going to do one thing to protect your brain every day, it should be exercising. A study published in the journal Neurology also supports this recommendation, showing that women who were physically fit in middle age had a lower risk of dementia later in life.

Collagen production slows down

Collagen production slows down

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As you age, you might notice that you have more wrinkles and thinner skin. This is in part because of a lack of collagen, a protein that keeps your skin looking firm and elastic. When you get older, your body produces less collagen. As a result, you’re likely to have thinner, weaker skin.

Skin gets drier

Skin gets drier

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Dry skin can be a problem for people at any age, but the older you get, the more likely you are to experience it. According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), dry skin patches become more common in older populations. Make sure to drink enough water and moisturize your skin regularly to combat this effect.

You lose sweat glands

You lose sweat glands

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Hydration certainly plays a role in whether or not you experience dry skin, but it’s not the only factor. According to the NIA, you lose sweat and oil glands on your skin as you age. Your sweat also might start to smell differently as you age — one of the many unexpected ways your body changes after 50.

You will bruise more easily

You will bruise more easily

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Older folks are likely to bruise more easily than they did when they were younger. There are a few potential causes of bruising easily, most of which are benign but some of which include dangerous diseases. So if you do notice this symptom, be sure to mention it to your doctor.

You may see more age spots

You may see more age spots

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Formerly known as liver spots, age spots are flat, brown spots on the skin that show up on some people when they get older. After 50, you’re more likely to start seeing age spots show up. According to the Mayo Clinic, they are more common in people who spent more time in the sun without proper skin protection, and are one of the many reasons you always need to wear sunscreen — even on the days you’re not spending time outside.

You could get skin tags

You could get skin tags

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In addition to age spots, you may notice skin tags appear on your body. According to the NIA, these small growths of skin are more common in women than men. Though they can appear anywhere, you’re most likely to find them on the eyelids, neck and folds of skin such as your armpits. Skin tags are benign, but should you have a cosmetic issue with them, you can ask your doctor about getting them removed.

You have a higher risk of osteoporosis

You have a higher risk of osteoporosis

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Osteoporosis is often overlooked as a risk, despite it being one of the most common diseases to affect women over 50. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 24.5% of women over 65 are diagnosed with osteoporosis, which weakens bones and increases the likelihood of a fracture. While some fractures may not be so destructive, others can put you in a wheelchair and could even be life-threatening. A rib fracture, for instance, could puncture an organ and cause serious complications. As you age, your risk for osteoporosis increases. Talk to your doctor about steps you can take toward prevention.

You will experience menopause

You will experience menopause

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Age 50 is approximately when women should expect to experience menopause, according to the North American Menopause Society (NAMS). Every woman experiences menopause at a different time and reacts to the changes differently.

You may experience perimenopause

You may experience perimenopause

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Perimenopause — the menopause transitional phase defined by a drop in estrogen — occurs directly before menopause. Though perimenopause often happens when a woman is in her mid-40s, symptoms associated with perimenopause can persist at this later stage in life if menopause has not yet occurred.,. Perimenopause could have no side effects at all, but according to the NAMS, it could cause symptoms such as hot flashes and difficulty sleeping.

Your hormones will shift

Your hormones will shift

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When you hit menopause, your hormones undergo some changes. Women’s ovaries begin to produce lower amounts of estrogen and progesterone, according to the NAMS. The symptoms of these hormonal changes vary from person to person, but many women experience side effects such as insomnia, hot flashes, decreased sex drive, depression and mood swings.

You may have vaginal dryness

You may have vaginal dryness

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According to the Mayo Clinic, vaginal dryness is most common in older women after menopause. Vaginal dryness can interfere with your sex life and cause pain. However, the condition can be treated, and it’s one of the things that you should always tell your doctor, despite the fact that it may be uncomfortable to discuss.

You could lose muscle tone

You could lose muscle tone

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When you were younger, you may have noticed changes in your muscle tone after just a few weeks of exercising, but it’s not likely you’ll see those same changes after age 50. According to a study published in the journal Aging Cell, estrogen helps maintain muscle tone. When perimenopause and menopause cause a decline in estrogen production, your muscle tone may also decline.

Your breasts could get smaller

Your breasts could get smaller

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The decline in estrogen that comes with menopause also affects women’s breasts, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). This hormonal change causes a loss of fat, tissue and mammary glands. Breasts are likely to appear smaller and less full, and may sag.

You should check often for breast lumps

You should check often for breast lumps

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The NLM also states that breast lumps are more likely to occur as you get older. Not every breast lump is cancerous — many are benign. But the risk of breast cancer is severe, so it is important to mention any changes you notice to your doctor as soon as you can. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, you should perform a breast self-exam at least once per month.

Breast cancer is more common

Breast cancer is more common

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Breast cancer is a risk no matter your age, but women over 50 should be especially wary. According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, the average age of a woman diagnosed with breast cancer is 62. And while skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis for women overall, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women between the ages of 55 and 64. Women with a BRCA gene are at an even higher risk. Here’s what women who found they had the gene shared about their experience with breast cancer.

You should get your skin checked

You should get your skin checked

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Your risk of skin cancer increases as you get older. A full skin exam by a dermatologist or medical professional is one of the best approaches for detecting it, according to the NLA. The exam is risk-free and could save your life. The earlier you catch skin cancer, the better chances you have at successful treatment.

Your immune system will get weaker

Your immune system will get weaker

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According to a review in Gynecological Endocrinology, your immune system weakens with age. This might make you more likely to get sick from a virus or bacterium, and could make recovery from illness take longer. It is more important now than ever to do what you can to protect yourself from pathogens, perhaps starting with these habits of people who never get sick.

You could experience dry mouth

You could experience dry mouth

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Dry mouth occurs when less saliva is produced. According to the NLM, risk increases with age, and the condition can cause other health complications. For instance, someone with dry mouth may have trouble chewing or swallowing, may develop mouth sores or could even experience tooth decay.

You may have receding gums

You may have receding gums

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According to the NLM, receding gums are somewhat common in older adults. You might think this is purely a cosmetic concern, but receding gums can actually cause some health problems. The extra exposed tooth can make it easier for bacteria to accumulate. Your risk of tooth decay increases if you don’t brush and floss often enough, if you smoke cigarettes or if you have dry mouth.

Your hair will get thinner

Your hair will get thinner

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In addition to turning gray, hair may become thinner and more brittle. Hair pigment cells are not as efficiently produced after you turn 50 as they were when you were younger, and neither is collagen (one of the proteins used to build hair, nail and skin cells). To try to slow this effect, ensure your diet is filled with nutrient-rich foods.

Your heart rate decreases

Your heart rate decreases

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Your maximum heart rate is the fastest your heart is able to beat (for example, while you exercise intensely). According to a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology, both your maximum heart rate and your average heart rate decrease with age. This may play a role in your ability to work out and perform cardio exercises as effectively.

You may have decreased bladder control

You may have decreased bladder control

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Remember how estrogen affects your muscle tone? That includes more than just the muscles you use working out at the gym. The muscles in your pelvis may weaken as well, including those that restrain your bladder. This may cause urinary incontinence. Decreased bladder control is especially common in women and can be socially inhibitive. However, the good news is that there are ways to prevent and treat this condition. Talk to your doctor if you experience bladder leaks.

You may get shorter

You may get shorter

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This isn’t a popular aging myth — you really do shrink as you get older. Starting at age 40, the discs between the vertebrae of your spine begin to dry and thin out. This results in compression of your spine and some very real shrinkage. According to a study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, a drastic height change may have negative health effects such as an increased risk of hip fracture.

Your vision will decline

Your vision will decline

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Be prepared to change your eyeglass prescription. According to the American Optometric Association, as you age, it becomes more difficult to see in darkness and to read things up close. Other shifts might include changes in color perception and problems handling a glare.

You may get dry eyes

You may get dry eyes

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The American Optometric Association also warns that dry eyes may become more common as you age. This is in part because of decreased tear production. Your tear glands produce fewer tears, which can cause dryness, itchiness and irritation. Women are especially likely to experience this effect of aging, largely due to hormonal changes.

You could experience hair loss

You could experience hair loss

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Yet another side effect of hormonal changes associated with menopause is hair loss. The NAMS says that about 50% of women experience excessive hair loss before age 50. While hair loss and bald spots are sometimes genetic, they can also be due to estrogen levels. Talk to your doctor if you notice large amounts of hair loss suddenly.

Your taste buds will dull

Your taste buds will dull

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You might not ever have as sharp a sense of taste as you do right now. According to the NIA, your taste buds will dull over time. However, this has less to do with your actual taste buds and more to do with your sense of smell. The more your sense of smell diminishes, the weaker your sense of taste will be. So if there’s any time to enjoy America’s best slices of pizza, it’s the present.

You will probably gain weight

You will probably gain weight

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Around menopause, women often experience weight gain. According to the Mayo Clinic, this may be due to hormonal changes, or it could simply be a natural result of aging or genetic factors. However, this may not be all bad. According to a study published in the JAMA Network, older adults considered overweight by the BMI scale actually live longer than thinner adults. The extra pounds may be protective against age-related disease.

You need to focus more on nutrition

You need to focus more on nutrition

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According to the NLA, many older adults begin to eat less as they age due to the fact that they do not need as many calories. However, older adults still need the same amount, or maybe an even larger amount of nutrients. Therefore, it is crucial that older adults focus on eating nutrient-dense foods to protect against common nutrient deficiencies. That means eating the proper amount of protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables and healthy fats, among other things.

You need to focus more on hydration

You need to focus more on hydration

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According to the NLA, you may lose your sense of thirst as you age. As a result, you need to pay extra attention to making sure you’re hydrated. If you don’t drink enough water, it can affect your body in more ways than you might think. How much water should you really be drinking? Here’s what nutritionists have to say.

Stress poses a risk to your health

Stress poses a risk to your health

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Stress can pile up easily, so take steps to mitigate it when possible. Stress can have scary effects on your health, including increased risk of heart disease and stroke. It can be beneficial to incorporate stress management into your routine to combat these effects. Consider incorporating mindfulness or talking with a mental health professional about techniques.

You may have difficulty sleeping

You may have difficulty sleeping

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If you just don’t sleep as soundly as you used to, know that you’re not alone. According to the National Sleep Foundation, changes in sleep patterns are a natural part of the aging process. After 50, you’re likely to sleep less soundly and less consistently. Many older adults report having difficulty falling asleep and waking up multiple times throughout the night.

You could lose your hearing

You could lose your hearing

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According to the NIH, age-related hearing loss occurs in most adults as they get older, with one in three people ages 65 to 74 experiencing hearing loss on average. You may not notice hearing loss if it is gradual or subtle, but it can still be dangerous. Make sure to visit your doctor regularly to get your ears checked.

Sleep is very important

Sleep is very important

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Though it may be more difficult to get the sleep you need, you should make it a priority to do so. Sleep deprivation has both long-term and short-term effects, ranging in severity from headaches to an increased risk for conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. Make sure you get the hours of sleep doctors say you need to stay healthy.

It’s never too late to quit smoking

It’s never too late to quit smoking

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Smoking cigarettes poses innumerable risks to your health. Not only does smoking increase your likelihood of cosmetic changes such as gum decay and an increase in wrinkles, it also increases your risk of cancer and premature death. But it’s important to note that if you are a smoker, it’s never too late to quit. According to the CDC, your risk of heart disease drops drastically just one year after quitting, and your risk of certain cancers can lower by half in five years.

It’s never too late to start exercising

It’s never too late to start exercising

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Exercise is a major part of healthy aging, and it’s never too late to start exercising, even if you’ve never worked out before. Exercising, as long as you do it safely, has benefits no matter your exercise history. These benefits include everything from a lower risk of heart problems to better coordination.

You can benefit from low-impact exercise

You can benefit from low-impact exercise

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When you work out over 50, there are a few adjustments to your routine you should consider. One of these is to transition to low-impact exercise. Low-impact exercise is exercise that doesn’t put sudden impact or pressure on your bones and joints. This can be useful for older adults who may have pain or weakness in their joints and bones. Examples of low-impact exercise include things like kayaking, walking, swimming and weightlifting. A common misconception is that these exercises are less beneficial or otherwise less effective than a high-impact workout such as running or jogging. However, this is a myth — there are many low-impact workouts that still break a sweat.

Eating meals with others can improve your health

Eating meals with others can improve your health

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According to a report from the research firm NPD, Americans eat about half of their meals alone. However, this may not be as innocent of a habit as it seems. A study published in the Nutrition Journal showed that those who eat meals alone ted to eat food with less nutritional value, which could lead to serious health problems. Additionally, loneliness in general has been shown to cause health problems, according to research published in the JAMA Network. Try to schedule meals with others, for your mental and physical health.

Eating fruits and vegetables can help preserve your bone health

Eating fruits and vegetables can help preserve your bone health

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Now more than ever, getting your daily servings of fruits and vegetables is important. According to a study in the Journals of Gerontology, low fruit and vegetable intake could lead to low carotenoid concentration. This is associated with a higher risk of skeletal decline in older adults, according to the NIH. This is just one of the many consequences that can occur if you don’t get the vitamins you need from these foods.

Your body handles alcohol differently

Your body handles alcohol differently

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Though you may have figured out your alcohol tolerance when you were younger, it’s possible that you need to reevaluate your drinking habits as you age. According to the NIA, your body starts to handle alcohol differently as you get older. This may affect your balance and your risk from drinking alcohol. The NIA says that alcohol affects women more severely than men. Drinking excess alcohol can contribute to your risk of dozens of health problems including liver damage, cancer, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s. It’s also one of the worst things you can do for your heart, according to cardiologists.

You have a higher risk of arthritis

You have a higher risk of arthritis

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Arthritis, a condition characterized by joint pain and inflammation, can happen at any age, and is the leading cause of disability in America, according to the Arthritis Foundation. However, arthritis becomes increasingly likely as you get older and affects more women than men.

You should be getting tested for diabetes

You should be getting tested for diabetes

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Your risk of diabetes increases as you age, especially if you have other risk factors such as a family history of diabetes or high blood pressure. This is part of why the NIH recommends everyone get regularly tested for diabetes after age 45. If you have not started these tests already, it’s time to ask your doctor.

Depression looks different in older adults

Depression looks different in older adults

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Depression is a serious health condition that can inhibit a person from fully living their life. In older adults, depression may be more difficult to spot, considering the symptoms differ with age. Sadness as a symptom is not as common, and other lesser-known symptoms of depression may take center stage. These can include irritability, difficulty sleeping and confusion.

Having fun is important, too

Having fun is important, too

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Looking after your physical health isn’t just about the medical stuff. It’s also about your level of happiness and enjoyment of life. According to the NIH, participating in activities that you enjoy, such as hobbies, social activities and leisure time can work wonders for your health. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that people who practiced hobbies had lower risks of dementia, and a study in the Journal of Gerontology posited that participating in volunteer work and social activities extended the lifespan of adults. If you are in search of new, fun and health-promoting ways to spend your free time, here are 50 things every woman should do in her lifetime.

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