It's inevitable. Our bodies change as we age. It's important for women to know both the types of changes that can occur and the actions we can take to stay healthy and fit for years and years to come.
Diet and Exercise:
Regular exercise, both cardiovascular and strength-building, is important throughout your life. Exercise can strengthen your heart, improve your muscle tone, help you maintain or lose weight, provide you with extra energy, aid your sleep, relieve feelings of depression and improve your mood. Set a goal to exercise at least three times per week -- and follow through. (If you are out of the exercise habit, make sure to get your physician's okay before starting up.)
What you eat can affect how you feel as well. While our bodies need fewer calories in our senior years than they did when we were young, it's still important to make sure we are eating both enough food and the right food. Older women should eat at least 1,500 calories each day, and everyone should make sure to include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables in their daily diet. Whole grain breads and cereals and other high fiber foods are important choices as well, as are calcium-providing dairy products.
Your food choices can either help you or harm you. A diet high in saturated fats and trans fats can hurt your heart, as well as your waistline, by boosting blood cholesterol levels. Salty foods can contribute to high blood pressure. Make sure you know your cholesterol levels, your blood pressure, your blood sugar levels. Find out the foods you need to eat, and those you need to avoid, to stay healthy for life.
Do you know your bone mass? Women are at particular risk of osteoporosis, which most often begins after menopause. Osteoporosis is a quiet disease that slowly weakens your bones until they become excessively fragile and break easily. A simple, painless test, known as a bone mineral density test, can quickly show whether, or to what degree, you are suffering from osteoporosis. Depending on the findings, your physician may discuss some of the medications used to treat osteoporosis, as well as the risks and benefits related to each.
Medications aside, there are a number of ways to improve your bone health:
- Exercise: Weight-bearing exercise, like walking, dancing, tennis, stair machines and moderate weight lifting, builds bone mass as well as overall health. As always, check with your physician before beginning a new exercise program.
- Nutrition: Calcium and vitamin D are essential for bone health. Dairy products -- like cheese, yogurt, milk and even ice cream - are great natural sources, although calcium supplements can be helpful as well. Be sure to get the recommended daily allowance of calcium and vitamin D every day.
- Vices: Smoking and excessive alcohol intake harm your bones. Don't smoke, and, if you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
Aging & Alzheimer's disease:
It is natural to lose some mental acuity as you age. Think of your brain as a computer, with megabytes of information added each year, year after year. Unlike a computer, however, we can't delete useless information. So our minds can at times experience something that feels like overload, and it's easy to forget some of life's details.
Serious memory loss, however, is more rare. Dementia is characterized significant loss of intellectual abilities severe enough to interfere with social or occupational functioning. Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia in older people.
While there is no definitive test for Alzheimer's Disease, if you are concerned that you or a loved one might be affected, it is important to meet with a health provider to review symptoms. Memory tests can help assess the level of impairment, and the physician can help explain what the findings mean and how the disease often progresses. There may be medications to help slow the progress or lessen the symptoms, and considerable research is underway to identify additional therapies to help fight this devastating disease.
Aging brings changes that can weaken your eyes, making reading, in particular, more difficult. It is important for women and men alike to have regular eye exams to identify whether any difficulties are simply related to "aging eyes" or are symptoms of more serious disorders.
Virtually everyone over the age of 50 notices that reading small print has become more difficult. For many people, non prescription glasses that magnify close-in vision are the easiest first solution. You also may want to add brighter lights in work areas and favorite reading places. If you already have eyeglasses, you might need a stronger prescription.
Sometimes, there are problems more serious than aging eyes. Cataracts are common among older people. Cataracts are cloudy areas in part or all of the eye lens. The lens is usually clear and lets light through. Cataracts keep light from easily passing through the lens, and this causes loss of eyesight. Cataracts often form slowly and cause no pain, redness, or tearing in the eye. If a cataract becomes large or thick, it usually can be removed by surgery.
Glaucoma is another common eye disease. This is the result of too much fluid pressure inside the eye. It can lead to vision loss and blindness. The cause of glaucoma is unknown. African-American women over the age of 40 are at particular risk for glaucoma, as are all women over 60. If treated early, glaucoma often can be controlled and blindness prevented. To find glaucoma, the eye doctor will look at your eyes through dilated pupils. Treatment may be prescription eye drops, oral medications, or surgery. Most people with glaucoma have no early symptoms or pain from increased pressure.
As always, it is important to see your doctor regularly to check on your eye sight and other related problems.
About one-third of Americans between 65 and 74 -- and half of those 85 and older -- have hearing problems, ranging from annoying ringing in the ears to total or partial deafness. It is important to consult with a hearing specialist if you are having difficulty hearing music or conversation, if you notice ongoing ringing or "whooshing" in one or both ears, or you notice any other hearing-related change. There are treatments available for many hearing problems, and, like most difficulties, the sooner you seek help, the better the chances are for success.
Healthy Sex Life:
Women can enjoy sex well into their senior years. That said, it is important to acknowledge that women do experience a number of changes after menopause that may, unless addressed, affect their sexual desire or pleasure.
Sexuality is a delicate balance of the emotional and the physical. Among the physical effects of aging affecting women are a decrease vaginal lubrication and changes in the shape and flexibility of the vagina. Many women find over-the-counter vaginal lubricants helpful to counteract these changes. Some medications also can have a physiological effect on a woman's sex drive. While it may be difficult to bring up the topic, it is important to let your physician know that you are experiencing a decrease in desire and that you want to make sure your medication is not to blame. In many cases, an alternative medication can provide the same therapeutic effects without the negative side effects.
How we feel emotionally also may affect what we are able to do, or are interested in doing, physically. As a woman ages, she may become more anxious about her appearance. This emphasis on youthful physical beauty or sexual powers can interfere with the ability to enjoy sex.
Older couples may have the same problems that affect people at any age. But they may also have added concerns of age, retirement and other lifestyle changes, and chronic illness. These problems can cause sexual difficulties. It is important to discuss these issues with your mate and, if appropriate with a health professional or therapist.
As we age, we face many changes mentally, physically, and emotionally. Many of these changes offer women new opportunities in life and a new outlook. By maintaining an optimistic outlook and a healthy active lifestyle, you will ensure that your golden years truly shine.
Source: National Institute on Aging