Ever dream you could go back in time to give your younger self the advice you wish you’d had all along? Here’s the next best thing: tips from medical professionals for women in their 40s and 50s who want to be proactive about staying healthier longer. Do these things now so future you will say “Thanks!”
Get off your butt. It’s not just about fitting into your favorite jeggings. Do it for your heart, lungs, joints, and blood pressure. “A sedentary lifestyle is dangerous and can lead to heart disease and blood clots in the lungs,” warns Jeffrey Lorin, a New York University cardiologist. Don’t have the time or the energy to make a commitment to the gym? “Walking 10,000 steps a day can significantly reduce your risk for heart disease,” he says. Some phones come with an app that will track the number of steps you take per day, but you can also download apps like Google Fit for Android or Pedometer++ for iPhone. Staying active also helps maintain a healthy body weight, which is good for preserving your joints and fighting off high blood pressure and diabetes.
Avoid the wear and tear. Just like the soles of our shoes, the cartilage that protects our joints can wear out over time, resulting in a type of arthritis called osteoarthritis. Two things that can trigger the condition, which occurs more often in women than men, are age and repetitive motions. Areas most affected by osteoarthritis are the thumbs, big toes, knees, and spine. “If it hurts, do it in a different way,” says Brian Peck, a rheumatologist and medical director of the Arthritis Center of Connecticut. If you feel a twinge at the base of your thumb every time you pick up a book or a full dish, use your whole hand instead of a pinch-grip. The next time you climb a flight of stairs, try squeezing your glutes or using the railing, rather than asking your knees to do all of the work. If wearing heels gives your big toe pain, try traveling to work in sneakers and changing when you get there.
Get those eyes checked. Having trouble reading the ingredients list on your gluten-free muffins? Welcome to presbyopia, a special gift for people over 40 from the muscles inside our eyes, which are beginning to lose their ability to change the focus from distance to near. “In our middle age years, our eyes, like the rest of our bodies, begin to experience some significant changes,” says Michael J Borodkin, an ophthalmologist with Cataract and Corneal Associates in New York City. Annual visits to your eye doctor can catch conditions including glaucoma (a gradual reduction in peripheral vision) and cataracts (a clouding of our eye’s natural lens that produces blurry vision), and “ensure a lifetime of clear vision.”
Preempt pre-menopause. Ah yes, the hot flashes, the sleeplessness and everyone’s fave, vaginal dryness. Mary Zozulin, an OB/GYN with Westwood Women’s Health in Waterbury, CT., recommends trying natural remedies first: “Eating or drinking natural phytoestrogens like soy and yam can help with menopausal symptoms and promote well-being. Adding a daily 50 mg DHEAS supplement can also help adrenals produce hormones as the ovaries stop their production of hormones. And weekly vitamin E vaginal suppositories can help the vaginal dryness and promote elasticity of the tissues, so sex is not painful.” But above all, Zozulin reminds us to keep up that maintenance with regular doctor visits. “My mantra to every woman is to come for her yearly pelvic and breast exams and pap smears.”
Take care of your skin.
Corinne Horn, a facial plastic surgeon at Weill Cornell Medical Center, offers these five pillars for keeping your face firm. First off, stay out of the sun, and be religious about using an SPF of 50 or higher and wearing a hat. “This is not just a beauty recommendation,” says Horn. “Sun exposure is the major risk factor for skin cancer.” Next: Hydrate. Eight glasses of water a day keep skin cells appearing healthy, and proper hydration is key for cardiovascular and joint health while keeping you and your kidneys properly detoxed. Third: Don’t smoke. “Smoking contributes to those little fine lines everywhere, especially around the mouth,” says Horn. “Your skin appears sallow and dull.” Fourth: Botox as soon as you start developing noticeable lines. “Some lines you make now just can’t be erased in the future if they are too deeply etched in,” she says, “so best to avoid them in the first place with a light and consistent dose of Botox.” And finally: Use Retin A for healthy, glowing skin, smaller pores, and improved pigment. “This is a topical miracle cream!” raves Horn. Be aware it makes your skin more sun-sensitive. (But you’re already following Pillar #1, right?)
Go easy on your kidneys. Proactively protecting the nephrons in your kidneys also means keeping cardiovascular disease at bay. Keep up regular exercise, follow a sensible diet with lots of fiber and not a lot of salt, learn to relax under stress, and maintain your weight in a normal range. “In that order!” says Anthony J. Cusano, a nephrologist with Connecticut Kidney and Hypertension Specialists. “That’s right: Weight is less important than diet, exercise, and good stress management. If you’re eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, and not gaining weight, then you’re not overeating.”
Be vigilant about your teeth. You’ve got lots to smile about, so stay on top of regular dental visits and daily flossing and brushing. “Keeping gum inflammation down and gum/bone issues under control at this point is super important, because this is the age when these issues can start to affect teeth in a real way,” says Victoria Veytsman, DDS, of Cosmetic Dental Studios in New York City. Cosmetic dental treatments like whitening or veneers can increase self-confidence, but even more importantly, “The mouth is the gateway to the body, so overall health is super important for oral health and vice versa,” says Veytsman. “Everything is related.”
Everyone needs a girlfriend!
Sign up to receive our free weekly newsletter every Thursday.