Turning 50 (or more) is the time to put all of your hard-earned, healthy-living knowledge to work.
You know when you should get screened. You know the importance of exercise and good nutrition. You probably feel and look amazing.
But midlife will bring some special health challenges to women. The good news is that none of those challenges have to stop you from living a vibrant and productive life — for decades to come. To keep yourself in the best of health, avoid these six common health mistakes at midlife and beyond.
4. You believe weight gain is inevitable.
Here’s the real story: The risk of weight gain rises due to advancing age, but it does not mean extra pounds are inevitable. But you do have to work harder to maintain your weight and to lose weight, says Rush Medical Center’s Soltes.
That’s because so-called energy expenditures decrease during menopause due to loss of muscle and hormonal changes. “If you eat the same things and exercise the same amount as you did in your thirties, you could potentially still gain weight,” says Soltes. “Women don’t want to hear that, but it is biology.”
A good starting point is the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week, broken into 30 minutes, five times a week, or smaller increments such as 15 minutes twice a day, says Cho, of the Cleveland Clinic.
While exercise is great, you have to eat a little smarter, too. A study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion followed nearly 200 middle-aged women for three years, tracking eating patterns, overall health and lifestyle. The researchers found women who did not change their eating habits as they aged were 138 percent more likely to put on 6.6 pounds or more during midlife.
The fix is to eat more fruits, vegetables and lean proteins, and be aware of what you are putting on your plate, says Soltes.
5. You lose your sense of “purpose.”
“Purpose” provides structure to our lives, says psychiatrist Niranjan Karnik, M.D. of Rush University Medical Center. And when retirement or other age-related challenges loom, some individuals may lose their sense of “purpose” and positivity, leading to poor health and poorer sense of well-being, he adds.
Having “purpose” in midlife and beyond doesn’t mean you have to strive to change the world — although if you think you can, why not try? Rather, “. . . it’s simply finding meaning in the day to day,” whether that’s gardening, learning a new language, volunteering at a local pet shelter, or even starting a new career if you want, says Karnik.
It’s these small things that can pay some big dividends. A study of some 6,000 people, who were a part of the Midlife in the United States study, found a lower risk of mortality during the study’s 14-year-follow-up among participants who had a sense of purpose in life and maintained good social relationships.
A study at Rush University showed having “purpose” later in life slowed cognitive decline by about 30 percent. Other studies show “purpose” reduces your risk of heart failure, Alzheimer’s disease, and may even make an individual more likely to follow a healthy lifestyle.
6. You skip those new screenings.
By now, certain screening tests — think PAP, blood pressure, cholesterol — are part of your healthy living routine. But once you hit 50 (and beyond), your doctor will recommend others, such as colorectal cancer screening (starting at age 50) and bone density screening (at age 65). If you decided not to have a mammogram in your forties, start now. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends women ages 50 to 74 have a mammograms biennially starting at age 50. The American Cancer Society recommends women start mammograms at age 45 and and have them every year until age 55, and then start having them every other year.