When it comes to beauty, 40-somethings are giving women in their 20s a run for their money. With Esquire naming 42-year-old Halle Berry “Sexiest Woman Alive” and national magazine covers showing off bikini-clad actresses Julia Louis Dreyfus and Valerie Bertinelli (both 48 years old!), these women are redefining sexiness and what the new 40-something lady looks like. However, experts warn that appearing healthy and beautiful on the outside doesn’t make women immune to age-related health issues, says New York-based Ob/Gyn Dr Shari Brasner, assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Heart disease, osteoporosis and cancer are common concerns for aging women, but did you know that unintended pregnancy is a top health concern, too? If you are nearing or over 40, keep the following health issues in mind.
Dr Brasner stresses the importance of regular mammograms. “Breast self exams are recommended for women of all ages; however, mammograms should be a part of a yearly preventative health schedule for women over 40,” she says. “Early detection of breast cancer means more conservative treatment options.” The National Cancer Institute estimates that just over 13 percent of women (one in seven) will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some time in their lives. In addition to regular checkups, understanding your risk factors can help you make changes in your lifestyle to reduce your chances of becoming a statistic and developing this potentially fatal disease.
This potentially debilitating bone disease has become more of a health concern for all women, not just older ladies. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, woman are four times more likely than men to develop osteoporosis, and it can strike at any age. If you have a family history of osteoporosis or broken bones, are thin and small framed, have irregular periods or are entering early menopause, and are Caucasian, Asian or Latino, talk to your doctor about a bone density test or DEXA scan. Diet changes, weight-bearing exercise and early detection of weak bones can prevent fractures and the progression of the disease.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women in the US, eclipsing other health threats such as cancer. Dr Brasner advises, “Women should discuss blood pressure and cholesterol testing at their annual physical, especially if there is a history of heart disease within their families.”
According to Dr Brasner, women over 40 have the highest rate of unintended pregnancy and abortion next to teenagers, yet nearly 25 percent opt out of birth control altogether. The women’s health expert says, “It’s important that women understand they still need birth control. They should be made aware of newer, unique options. For instance, after 25-plus years of having a period, these women may be interested in extended-regimen products like Seasonique that offer fewer periods. Those who are done having children may want long-term methods like ParaGard, an IUD that lasts for up to 10 years, is reversible and requires no daily routine.” There is no reason for women over 40 to stop having sex; they just need to reassess their birth control options to determine which method suits them best.
Health tips for women over 40
Diet and exercise are important in every stage of life, but even more after 40, says Dr Brasner. Here are the doctor’s quick tips for optimal health.
1. Reassess your diet to maintain a healthy weight. “Women should reassess their calorie intake after 40 and should make adjustments to their diets based on their activity levels.” (The single best way to lose weight)2. Bone up on calcium. Women over 40 need to increase their focus on calcium intake. “Without real effort, most women fall short of the recommended daily allowance for calcium and would benefit from a supplement,” Dr Brasner says. (The health benefits of milk)
3. Do weight-bearing activity. “Exercise can help keep leading factors of heart disease at bay, and keep bones and muscles strong — which is extremely important as women enter perimenopause,” says Dr Brasner. In addition to cardio exercise, she suggests weight-bearing activities that improve bone strength. (Get pumped with BodyPump)
4. Rally your friends and family. Dr Brasner suggests that women starting an exercise program should try a buddy system for motivation and fun. (Why a fitness support system works)
5. Don’t be last in line. Dr Brasner stresses, “Women tend to place the needs of their family ahead of their own, but when it comes to health, women need to make themselves a priority.”
6. Quit smoking. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the US, with one in five deaths related to the hard-to-quit habit. Dr Brasner says, “Smoking affects women both inside and out — it is linked to aging and increased risk of heart disease and many types of cancer.” (Even more reasons to quit smoking)
7. Don’t skip doctor’s visits. In addition to an annual physical and gynecological checkup, Dr Brasner recommends being savvy on health screenings. She says, “Women should know what screenings are recommended for their age group. This information can be provided by their physician or found online.” The medical specialist also advises that women prepare a list of questions for their healthcare providers and get answers for all of their health concerns. (Medical tests you need)
8. Keeps tabs on everyone. Dr Brasner explains, “A family health record is a good way for women and their families to stay on track with their health. Keeping a tabbed binder with physician contact lists, an appointment schedule, allergies, medications and a list of past medical procedures can be helpful.” (Easy ways to organize your family’s medical records)
Taking steps to better your health will help you be your most radiant and beautiful regardless of your age.