Getting older brings a lot of new challenges for both men and women. Is that occasional pain in your chest the sign of something bigger? Is feeling tired more often cause for concern? Are those digestive issues a reason to call your doctor?
Women in particular have unique issues to worry about. Diseases like breast cancer affect women predominantly, and somewhere around their 50s, women may experience a wide range of menopause-related symptoms that can negatively impact their quality of life. Through regular checkups, screening exams, and healthy lifestyle choices though, you can give yourself a better chance your “golden years” live up to their name.
Diet and exercise
As you’ve grown older, you may have noticed that your metabolism has slowed down quite a bit. Obesity, or even being overweight, can lead to all sorts of complications, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. To reduce your risk of health problems, you’ll need to engage in regular exercise and eat well.
If you’ve never been much of a workout fanatic, you may be overwhelmed by the world of fitness. To make matters worse, you might not feel as energetic and motivated as you did in your youth. So why not start out with something you can work into, like walking, light jogging, Pilates, yoga, or swimming? For best results, work out for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Staying in shape is crucial to combat age-related health conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and osteoarthritis.
As for diet, avoid foods high in fat, sugar, and salt, and try to get plenty of healthy options such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Enjoy sources of protein like lean meats, salmon, and eggs as part of a well-rounded diet. To combat changes in metabolism, take a conservative approach to portion size. Make sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated–avoid soft drinks and excessive caffeine, and drink alcohol in moderation.
Screening tests and checkups
Screenings vary based on age, but some exams are essential starting from age 40. These include:
- Breast cancer screening. Most breast cancers are diagnosed after age 50, and early detection is crucial to preventing serious outcomes. The American Cancer Society guidelines for women with average risk (no personal or strong family history of breast cancer, no genetic mutation such as BRCA gene that increases risk, and no history of chest radiation prior to age 30) are as follows: 1) screening mammogram between ages 40-44 is optional, 2) women ages 45-54 should get mammograms every year, and 3) women 55 and older can continue annual mammograms or switch to every other year assuming prior mammograms normal.
- Cervical cancer screening. For cervical cancer, Pap smear and possible co-testing should be completed until age 65.
- Blood pressure screening. To prevent heart disease and other problems, get your blood pressure checked once every year.
- Cholesterol screening. Starting at age 45, you should get your cholesterol levels tested (possibly earlier if any pre-existing conditions or known high risk family history). High cholesterol levels can raise your risk for heart attack and stroke.
- Diabetes screening. Diabetes testing should start at least around your 40s but may be earlier depending on risk factors such as obesity or hypertension.
- Colorectal cancer screening. Starting at age 45, regular screening for colorectal cancer should be done (may be earlier depending on family history). This includes tests such as colonoscopy, fecal occult blood and stool DNA testing and several others.
There may be other screening tests that are recommended for your age group. For peace of mind, make an appointment with your doctor and ask them about the various exams you should have done at your age and based on your family history.
Physical health is important, but don’t neglect your mind. Twenty percent of people aged 55 and older live with some type of mental health condition, and older females are at a higher risk for depression than males. Menopause can play a significant role in the development of depressive symptoms, in addition to insomnia and mood changes.
So what’s a good way to deal with loneliness, depression, and anxiety in your golden years? Community support, for one, is essential. If you’re feeling down, try reconnecting with an old friend or spending some quality time with your family. Don’t be afraid to try something different, like going to a new restaurant, hiking in nature, or even enjoying a weekend getaway.
If you feel like you have nothing to occupy your time–maybe you’re newly retired–try picking up a hobby or volunteering at a community center. If you’re willing to make the commitment, caring for a pet can greatly improve your mental health–and if you’ve been putting off that morning walk, getting a dog can help your motivation. If things continue to worsen, contact a medical professional and/or therapist.
By taking the right steps and making the right choices to care for yourself both mentally and physically, the years to come will be some of your best.
- Bette Davis quotes
- Diabetes and cancer: two diseases with obesity as a common risk factor
- What are the risk factors for breast cancer?
- Breast self exam
- PAP and HIV tests
- Screening for high blood pressure in adults: Recommendation Statement
- Health screenings for women ages 40 to 64
- New Wisdom About High Cholesterol Treatment For Adults Aged 80 And Older
- Blood Glucose Test
- What is colorectal cancer screening?
- Senior women: Depression
- 6 Ways to Improve Mental Health in Seniors
- Can Menopause Cause Depression?