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What Women Over 40 Are Ignoring About Their Health

These four mistakes can be serious.

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Ted + Chelsea Cavanaugh
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When it comes to my health, I think I’m pretty mindful. I eat (relatively) well, considering my busy days as a single mom. I work out, take a multivitamin and see my doctor on schedule. I feel pretty good, even if it’s getting harder to fall asleep and easier to get injured at the gym, and I’m definitely drinking less than I did when I was in my 30s. (The late-40s’ version of me can’t seem to function while hungover, but I still get points for the effort!) A recent convo with some doctor friends and a little bit of research showed me that I might not be paying attention to some pretty important health matters, and, as it turns out, most American women aren’t, either. Here are some health mistakes you may be making, and what you can do about it.

Ignoring heart health

I don’t know why I think that heart attacks are reserved for older men with big bellies who get red-faced while yelling at their assistants in old-timey offices. The truth is that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American women, and most of us between the ages of 40 and 60 have at least one risk factor. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most women have hearts that act five years older than their chronological age. (So thanks heart, for making sure I’m never the oldest in the room.) Most of the things we should be doing for heart health are obvious: Don’t smoke, stay active and eat healthy food. But it’s also important to carve out time for doctor visits and regular screenings, including blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol. The bottom line when it comes to heart health is that you need a doctor to help you stay on top of things. Some things we just can’t do alone. (Sigh.) TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR ABOUT YOUR CHOLESTEROL every year at your annual physical. Some people are at a higher risk than others, and your doctor will know if you are due for a blood test. Don’t leave the office until you’ve asked if it’s time to check your cholesterol.

Forgetting about bone density

Strong women need strong bones, and midlife is when we start to lose bone density. That means a higher risk for fractures or osteoporosis, a bone disease causing weak or brittle bones that break easily. We all can combat the risks of developing low bone density by getting enough calcium, vitamin D and exercise. And since it’s pretty much impossible to get enough vitamin D from food alone, a calcium supplement containing vitamin D is probably a good idea. It’s also important to GET A BONE DENSITY SCAN to see how your bones are doing. The official recommendation is to get a scan at age 65, but if you have any of the risk factors that make it more likely for you to suffer from osteoporosis, you should talk to your doctor about getting one sooner. The wide-ranging risk factors include being petite, having passed menopause, having a family history of osteoporosis, being Mexican American or Caucasian, and being a smoker. So that covers about 80 percent of the women I know. Bone Density Scan party, anyone?

Neglecting mental well-being

Most of us are so busy taking care of other people, we barely have enough time to take care of our physical health, let alone the emotional. But I can promise you that a stressed-out or depressed mom/wife/friend isn’t doing any of the people she loves any favors. It’s no surprise that women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression as men, and of course it’s usually up to women to address the problem on their own. For some of us it’s as simple as taking “me” time on a regular basis. I’m talking about a weekly or daily ritual that gives you a moment to breathe and focus on what you need to feel happy, calm and in control. For some, regular therapy is the best way to nurture the soul. The research group Barna estimates that 42 percent of Americans have seen a counselor at some point, and the numbers spike higher for us Gen Xers. So go ahead and TALK IT OUT with someone who’s paid to keep their judgments to themselves. You’ll be in good company!

Eating like you did in your 20s

Hey, here’s some brand-new information that I’ll bet you never heard before: It’s harder to maintain a healthy weight after age 40! Who knew? (Note sarcasm.) All kidding aside, the reality is that just exercising more and eating less isn’t going to help as much as it might have when you were trying to lose those extra four pounds to fit into your wedding dress 20 years ago. You’re also going to have to START EATING SMARTER. Don’t get me wrong. Calorie control and a regular fitness routine are key for heart health, bone health, emotional well-being and more. And that slowly expanding tire that may have appeared around your waist as estrogen levels decrease is doing more than forcing you into a one-piece on the beach. Extra weight, especially around the middle, can increase your risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Remember, the definition of “healthy diet” changes as we age. It’s now more important than ever to eat calories that count, thanks to a decrease in the ability to efficiently absorb nutrients. It’s harder to get enough important nutrients from food, so try to make every bite count and talk to your doctor about taking a multivitamin along with a calcium supplement that contains vitamin D. And whatever you do, don’t forget the fiber! Fiber reduces bloat, makes you feel fuller longer, helps lower cholesterol and reduces your risk of colon cancer. So yes, we need to eat a little less. Think about 100 daily calories less for every decade we age. But it’s more important to eat smart.

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