It’s Women’s Health Week. Women in your 40s, get healthier with one, or all, of the following steps. Start the conversation at your next well-woman visit with the checklist below.
Your 40s are milestone years. Your children may be leaving the nest, but you might also add the title of caregiver to your resume. You will also start the transition toward menopause. Your yearly well-woman visit is a good time to check in with your doctor about how you’re doing, how you’d like to be doing and what changes you can make to reach your health goals. In addition to talking with your doctor or nurse about your health, you may also need certain vaccines and medical tests. Don’t worry. You won’t need every test every year.
Right now a yearly well-woman visit won’t cost you anything extra if you already have health insurance. (This could change if the new administration is successful in its attempts to repeal and replace all aspects of the Affordable Care Act.) Most private health plans cover certain preventive care benefits, including a yearly well-woman visit, without charging a copay, coinsurance or making you meet your deductible. If you don’t have insurance, you can still see a doctor or nurse for free or low-cost at a local health center.
It’s easy to say you’re going to eat healthy, quit smoking or start exercising, but it’s much harder to do it. Get started with the personalized recommendations at myhealthfinder.
- Eat healthy. Go to ChooseMyPlate.gov tips to get you started
- Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity
- Get at least seven to eight hours of sleep
- Reach and maintain a healthy weight
- Get help to quit or don’t start smoking
- Limit alcohol use to one drink or less each day
- Don’t use illegal drugs or misuse prescription drugs
- Wear a helmet when riding a bike and wear protective gear for other sports
- Wear a seatbelt in cars
- Don’t text while driving
- Take 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid (premenopausal women)
Talk to the doctor about:
- You family planning and whether you need to continue taking birth control
- Your weight, diet and physical activity level
- Your tobacco and alcohol use
- Any violence in your life
- Depression and any other mental health concerns
- Your family health history, especially of cancer
- Tests for blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes
- Vaccines for flu, hepatitis B and hepatitis C
- Pap and HPV
- Sexually transmitted infections (Screening for STIs is not a regular part of your well-woman visit. Ask for it.)
The average age for menopause in the United States is 51, though women can hit this milestone anywhere between 41 and 55. You can consider the whole process complete when you haven’t had your period for 12 consecutive months (if you have a period during month 10, you have to start the count over again). The journey to menopause, however, can take a full decade, with a number of changes along the way. As your body starts to produce less estrogen, you may notice:
- Hot flashes, irritability, trouble sleeping and a sluggish sex drive
- Menstrual irregularity—longer or shorter periods, heavier or lighter bleeding, and missed periods followed by regular ones
You may find these changes make you anxious or depressed. Talk to your health-care professional if these feelings start to linger or overwhelm you. Sometimes an exercise regimen and a healthy diet can boost your mood; sometimes you may need a therapy regimen.
Fight gray hair with hair color. But talk to your stylist. You’ll need a different formulation to cover the gray strands. You may also notice your hair is thinner. How much you lose depends largely on genetics. As your hair’s outer protective cuticle becomes more fragile, your hair will break easier when pulled or stretched. Turn down the heat! Use styling tools on their lowest heat setting. And turn up the deep conditioning treatments; once a week should help with wear and tear.
Your skin is losing collagen and elasticity. And it no longer retains moisture well, so your youthful glow may diminish. especially around your eyes and mouth. Supplement your broad-spectrum moisturizer (yes, it still needs SPF 15 or 20) with creams, lotions or serums containing at least two antioxidants, such as green tea, soy or lycopene. Your moisturizing cream should contain shea butter, hyaluronic acid or petrolatum to combat dryness. Have any suspicious growths or skin changes checked by a dermatologist.
A slowed metabolism will make your weight shift from your hips and thighs to your abdomen, shoulders and chest, giving your once-girlish figure a thicker look. This is the time to kick up that regular aerobic regimen and strength-training program. Talk with your doctor about designing a workout that takes into account your age and health status.
Bone loss may worsen, as you stop producing estrogen. Make sure your diet includes daily calcium, and talk to your health-care provider about additional supplements or medications for your calcium needs.
Your risk for heart disease and diabetes will increase as you start to lose estrogen’s protective properties. Keep your family medical history up to date. Nearing the age when a relative developed a health condition isn’t a guarantee you’ll get the same ailment at that same age, but a complete family medical history is crucial for your doctor to help you stay on top of your health.
You may notice your vision changing. Many people in their 40s discover they need bifocals for reading and distance vision. Your sense of smell may start to decline by your mid-40s. For some reason this scent deficit affects black folks more than people of other races.