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Feature Article Seven Keys to Health That Deserve Your Attention

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With Mother’s Day around the corner, you’re probably reflecting on the many superpowers of motherhood — creating life, feeding it, teaching it manners and other seemingly impossible tasks. But as you think about all the amazing things you’ve accomplished, have YOU made the to-do list?

"Women in their 40s, 50s and 60s are often taking care of children as well as aging parents,” said Nicole Forth, DO, an internal medicine resident at Samaritan Internal Medicine in Albany. “But these are critical years for taking care of yourself as well.”

Staying focused on these seven key aspects of your health can help make middle age some of your best years, and looking forward to many more.

Take Care of Your Mind

According to Forth, middle age women often experience depression or fatigue. An empty nest, stress and hormonal swings can all have an effect. Talk to your doctor if you are feeling “down” for more than two weeks or have unexplained fatigue that keeps you from doing activities you enjoy. Volunteering, taking a class and reconnecting with friends can all help stimulate your mind and give purpose to your days. If you feel stressed and are having trouble sleeping, consider a meditation class to calm your mind or cognitive behavioral therapy to help identify and address stressors in your life.

Strengthen Your Muscles

As you age, your muscles can become weaker if you don’t keep them active. Forth notes that women gradually lose muscle strength beginning in their 30s but by their 50s muscle weakening becomes much more pronounced. She encourages women to maintain daily cardio exercise like walking or swimming, which are good for your heart and your weight. Add strengthening exercises like weights or resistance bands to keep your muscles strong enough to do the things you enjoy.

Fight Weight Gain

Women may notice that it becomes harder to lose weight, or even maintain their weight as they age even if they eat healthy and exercise regularly. Blame lower metabolism, loss of muscle mass and a less active lifestyle. Forth notes that it’s important to keep off excess weight, but people require fewer calories as they age so maintaining your same diet and exercise regime probably won’t be as effective. Examine what you eat and make sure you’re including plenty of fiber-rich fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which will help you feel full without excess calories. Adding weight training will also help build muscle and keep your metabolism high.

Help Your Heart

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S. The American Heart Association estimates that 80 percent of heart and stroke events could be prevented by lifestyle changes and education. To keep your heart healthy, Forth recommends a Mediterranean-style diet, daily exercise, and to “know your numbers.” Aim for a Body Mass Index of less than 25, blood pressure less than 120/80 mm HG, total cholesterol less than 200 mg/dL, HDL cholesterol 50 mg/dL or higher, LDL cholesterol less than 100 mg/dL and triglycerides less than 150 mg/dL. Talk to you primary care provider if you need help getting within the recommended ranges. 

Manage Menopause Symptoms

Hot flashes, poor sleep, irritability and brain fog can all make the transition through menopause a pain. According to Forth, severe symptoms should lessen after about a year although some symptoms may linger for as long as 10 years as your hormones settle. But that doesn’t mean you have to suffer in silence. If symptoms are bothersome to you, talk to your provider. He or she can help you determine the right treatment options like supplements or hormone replacement therapy.

Have Better Sex

You’re never too old for sex and quality sex can even be good for your health. A study in the British Medical Journal found that sex was positively associated with health. The study also found two-thirds of women reported a good quality sex life during middle age, as did half of women in their later years. Forth reports that the main sex complaints of women during middle age are vaginal dryness and unsatisfying intercourse. Over-the-counter lubricants can help with dryness and botanical oils like Zestra can help with arousal, or talk to your provider about prescription treatments that can help with arousal and the ability to climax.

Get Preventive Health Screenings

Additional health screenings will be recommended by your provider as you age. Colon cancer screening, mammogram, osteoporosis screening and a skin exam may start to appear in your health recommendations. Forth notes that even if you are generally healthy, you should always follow your provider’s advice for preventive screenings which can find a problem early, when it’s most treatable. You may also be offered vaccinations for shingles and the flu, and a tetanus booster, which are important for keeping you healthy.

For all the supermoms out there, add “aging gracefully” to your list of superpowers and don’t forget to pamper yourself this Mother’s Day.

Get tips for starting a fitness program and recommended health screenings for women from our online health library.

Learn about Women’s Health Services at Samaritan Health Services.