This article was previously published on Atrium Health's Daily Dose
Middle-aged women have specific health challenges to face. Here are 8 ways to decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, obesity and more.
Wondering how to protect your mind and body as you age? Ariel C. Haddad, DO, an OB-GYN and NAMS Certified Menopause Practitioner at Atrium Health NorthEast Women's Health & Obstetrics - Davidson, weighs in on how women can stay on top of their health as they enter midlife.
Menopause, mammograms and massive hormonal shifts. As women approach midlife (commonly described as between 40 and 65 years of age), there comes with it a new set of unique challenges. At an age where many women are active caregivers and at the peak of their career, this can be a difficult time to be going through the emotional and physical changes that come with menopause. But for most women, getting older doesn't mean their health has to take a downward spiral. In fact, I see it as the perfect time to become more self-aware and prioritize your own needs.
I find that many women in midlife dedicate so much of their time to taking care of loved ones, that their own health takes a backseat during a time when they are experiencing significant physical and emotional changes. And while I emphasize to patients that prevention is better than a cure, it's never too late to adopt healthier habits. Women can decrease their risks for many age-related health outcomes such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension and obesity by simply making small changes over time.
Not sure where to begin? Let's break it down into eight actionable steps.
- Know your numbers. Knowledge is power. That's why knowing your numbers – blood pressure, BMI, triglycerides and cholesterol, just to name a few – is a valuable insight into the current state of your health. If it's been a while since you've had these tests, reach out to your doctor to get started.
- Brush up on family health history. Family health history is important in helping your doctor to determine your own health needs, especially as you enter midlife. If a first-degree relative has battled breast cancer, for example, your risk doubles. Other health problems including cardiovascular disease, thyroid problems and issues with the colon may be genetic, so now is a good time to reassess your family history and share it with your doctor.
- Kick bad habits to the curb. If you haven't already, take steps to let go of poor habits that can be detrimental to your health as you age. This includes smoking, excessive alcohol use, recreational drug use and a sedentary lifestyle. Drinking even small amounts of alcohol is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer in women. Stuck in a habit of a nightly glass of wine to unwind? Try replacing it with a cup of herbal tea.
- Fine-tune your diet. While the right diet for you may depend on your specific restrictions or health needs, most people benefit from a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits and vegetables, plant-based or lean animal protein, heart-healthy fats and fiber-rich grains. Moderation is key when it comes to a balanced diet. Your doctor will be able to recommend a plan that is right for you based on your current health status.
- Take a vitamin. Nothing replaces a healthy, well-balanced diet. But a daily multivitamin can help fill in the gaps in the areas where your diet may be lacking. Note that many supplements you see advertised today with seemingly magical health claims are simply passing trends. Talk to your doctor about vitamins or supplements that may be right for you and ask for blood work if you have specific concerns about deficiencies.
- Get moving . A body in motion stays in motion. If you've led a fairly sedentary lifestyle, now is a great time to find an activity that you enjoy. Taking small steps toward a more active lifestyle, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking further from an entrance to get in more steps in the parking lot will benefit your body. Aim for at least 30 minutes per day and work your way up. Even those who have health- or age-related limitations, such as arthritis or osteoporosis, can benefit from modified, low-impact exercise—so talk to your doctor about activities that are appropriate for you.
- Have regular checkups and get screened. Prior to midlife, you should attend annual checkups during which routine blood work and a pelvic exam are standard procedure. As you enter midlife, additional health screenings like mammograms, colonoscopies and bone density screenings might be on your radar. Your doctor can recommend when and how often you'll need them based on your personal medical and family history.
- Manage stress levels. Chronic stress wreaks havoc on a person's physical and emotional well-being. Take time for yourself to relax and unwind, whether that means indulging in a good book, enjoying a workout or meditating. A good night's rest is important for stress management, and sleep disturbances are a common complaint in midlife, so be sure to mention this to your doctor to discuss management options. If you are experiencing stress not managed with lifestyle changes don't be afraid to reach out for professional help if you need it.
Prioritizing your health should be at the top of your to-do list. If you're ready to get back on track, call your primary care provider or OB-GYN to schedule an appointment. If you need a provider, visit online or call 704-468-8884. and we'll help you find the right doctor for you and schedule any needed appointments.