40 Worst Health Mistakes Women Make Over 40
You can have it all. That's what they tell you, right ladies? What they don't mention is that "all" can also include perimenopause, breast cancer and a decade of unrelenting stress. To ensure you live your best decade ever—and not in the doctor's office—read these essential doctors' tips.
Move it or lose it. "Physical activity builds bone density, increases metabolism, builds strength, improves posture, reduces the risk of musculoskeletal injury, and promotes emotional well-being," points out Seema Sarin, MD, of EHE Health.
The Rx: Dr. Sarin encourages all women over 40 to regularly work out. "Start a full exercise regimen, including at least 150 minutes of cardiorespiratory exercise per week," she suggests. "Also try to include strength training, balance, and flexibility."
Eating Like You Are Still in Your 20s or 30s
You know what you ate in your younger years isn't going to fly in your 40s—but do you know why? "Our resting metabolic rate decreases as we age," explains Anita Skariah, DO, UNC Healthcare. "You may have been able to eat anything you wanted when you were younger without gaining weight, but this is not quite the same as we age." Part of the reason? Decreased muscle mass since muscle burns more calories at rest than fat.
The Rx: Dr. Skariah encourages paying close attention to portion sizes, making sure to balance the ratio of protein/carbohydrates/vegetables you consume. Additionally, minimize the number of refined carbs, like white bread and pasta, saving those items for a treat once per week.
As we age, we may think that we have built up our immune system enough that we no longer require vaccinations. We may believe that we received all the vaccines we will need as children. But this isn't true, as immunity wanes for some conditions.
The Rx: "In addition to annual influenza vaccinations, you may need a tetanus booster every ten years, or pneumonia vaccine (depending on whether you have chronic conditions like asthma, lung diseases, heart disease, diabetes or are a smoker)," she points out. Also, the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine is now recommended for women up to age 45. See your primary care provider to determine which vaccines you need a booster for based on your current health.
Falling Behind on Screening Pap Smears
Cervical pap smears are the only way to detect cervical cancer (caused by HPV) in women early, says Dr. Skariah. This requires a vaginal exam and a swab from the cervix to detect precancerous or cancerous cells under the microscope.
The Rx: Visit your health provider to obtain this test. For women over 30, it only needs to be done on average every 3-5 years.
Neglecting to Explore Breast Cancer Screening
This is a hot topic in medicine right now. There is much debate as to the acceptable age for annual screening for breast cancer, especially for women in their 40s. "The mammogram is not a perfect test but has saved lives by early detection," says Dr. Skariah. "Health providers are now evaluating individualized risks for breast cancer for patients based on numerous factors including family history, age of the first period, and whether they have been pregnant to decide how often to pursue a mammogram during a patient's 40s."
The Rx: Have a discussion with your health provider and see if the timing is right for you and which modality to pursue.
Not Taking the Right Vitamins
The vitamins you took in your younger years may not be helping you as you enter into the next decade of life. "Women over 40 have specific vitamin needs that may not be met by off the shelf vitamins," explains Arielle Levitan, MD, co-founder Vous Vitamin LLC. For example, they may benefit from more vitamin D, magnesium, iron, and other vital nutrients. "Their vitamin needs often focus on prevention of osteoporosis, heart disease and treatment of menopausal and perimenopausal symptoms," she continues.
The Rx: Take the right combination and doses of vitamins created by doctors to get the best benefits from your vitamins.
Being Embarrassed About Incontinence
Don't feel ashamed. "About 25% to 45% of women suffer from urinary incontinence, defined as leakage at least once in the past year," reports WebMD. "The rates of urinary incontinence increase with age: 20%-30% of young women, 30%-40% of middle-aged women, and up to 50% of older women suffer from urinary incontinence."
The Rx: If you find yourself going more often, or not being able to hold it, visit a urologist to ensure everything is OK.
Neglecting Brain Health
So many women take care of their bodies but forget about their brains. "As we age, our brains shrink in volume, particularly the frontal cortex and hippocampus, areas involved in higher cognitive function and encoding new memories. Myelin (a conduit sheath around nerves) is also thought to shrink with age resulting in slow processing and reduced cognitive function," Peterson Pierre, MD, board-certified dermatologist, and founder of the Pierre Skin Care Institute, explains.
The Rx: Dr. Pierre points out studies show that regular physical exercise can reverse the signs of aging in the brain with dancing having the most profound effect. "It's also important to keep the mind stimulated," he explains. "No matter your age or skill level, just a few minutes a day can help your mind stay sharp and can even help you improve in certain areas. You exercise your body regularly; don't neglect your brain!"
Opting Out of Weight Training
We all know that cardiovascular training is good for the heart and helps to keep the weight off. Weight training is just as important—maybe even more so—according to Dr. Pierre. "Weight training has been shown to have great cardiovascular benefits and can actually reverse age-related muscle loss," he explains. The more muscle you have, the higher your basal metabolic rate, which means you burn more calories at rest, a distinct advantage in weight control. It also is key to strengthening your bones, minimizing your chances of fractures and osteoporosis. It burns fat, exercises all your muscles, including your heart, lowers blood pressure, and improves blood flow to the brain.
The Rx: Make weight training a part of your exercise habits. "With all these benefits and more, there is no reason not to make it a regular part of your weekly schedule," Dr. Pierre states.
Allowing Yourself to Be Overweight
So many women use their age as an excuse to pack on the pounds. However, keep in mind that being overweight can be hazardous to your health. "It increases cancer risk, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease," points out Adrienne Simone, MD, board-certified gynecologist and co-author of The New Rules of Pregnancy.
The Rx: Make an appointment with your doctor and determine what your ideal weight should be. If you need to lose weight to get to that goal, ask them for advice on how to do it.
Not Undergoing Recommended Health Screenings
Many of us are incredibly busy, and can simply forget to take care of our health. However, not doing recommended screening tests can cost you your life. "For example, a colonoscopy reveals and removes polyps, which undetected, can turn into cancer," Dr. Simone points out.
The Rx: Stay on top of all your recommended health screenings. If you have to, call your doctor and schedule your appointments months ahead of time.
Screentime at Bedtime
You likely spend more time on your phone than your spouse—even in bed. Dr. Simone points to research that has shown that using your phone in bed can harm sleep. And, sleep patterns and habits can cause mental health issues and heart disease.
The Rx: Practice screen hygiene, and put your phone down for the night no later than 10 pm, she urges. "If you have trouble sticking to this, put your phone in another room—and sleep without it next to you." It's also a good idea to use a blue-light filter on your phone or computer, which stops the melatonin suppression in the evenings
Not Buckling Up
Seat belts aren't just for kids, folks! "Driving with a seatbelt decreases the risk of fatal accidents by 45 percent," Dr. Simone points out.
The Rx: The solution is obvious —always wear a seat belt! Even if you are just driving down the street.
Overdoing it at the Gym
Dr. Simone points out that over-exercising increases the risk of orthopedic injuries and arthritis—which can cause mobility issues and chronic pain.
The Rx: Pace yourself when it comes to your workout. Don't think of your health goals as a sprint, but instead a marathon.
Many of us have a "grin and bear it" approach to pain. However, not paying attention to pain that doesn't go away can seriously complicate your health. "If you don't listen to your body, you risk damaging something permanently which, if caught earlier, could be fixed or diagnosed," points out Dr. Simone.
The Rx: If you feel pain, call your physician. It could be nothing, but it's better to be safe than sorry!
Life can be complicated, busy, and demanding, which can take a toll on our mental health. Meditation is an incredibly easy practice that can help ease the stress of life, and improve our mental well-being, explains Dr. Simone. "It also promotes better sleep quality, and encourages your breathing control, which is crucial when dealing with everyday stressors," she adds. "Transcendental meditation can also decrease heart disease and calm the body's nervous system."
The Rx: If you don't meditate daily, then start now! There are various apps available online to guide you through the meditation process. Also, there are many classes available, both online and in the flesh. To find one near you, you can always contact your local yoga studio, as most of them host weekly or daily meditation sessions.
Drinking Too Much Alcohol
In addition to mental health complications, drinking too much is incredibly bad for your physical health. "It increases risks of cancer, high blood pressure, liver damage, osteoporosis, and decreases immunity," says Dr. Simone.
The Rx: Cut back on your alcohol consumption. While an occasional drink may boast health benefits, drinking too much is going to hurt your health more than help it. If you are having trouble cutting back or think you may have a drinking problem, contact a medical expert immediately, and discuss your options.
Not Taking Care of Yourself
So many women in their 40s end up being caregivers—whether to their children or their parents. Dr. Simone points out that taking care of others instead of yourself can increase your risk of anxiety and depression from burnout.
The Rx: Make self-care a part of your routine.
Poor Hand Hygiene
When we are children, we have our parents and teachers continually reminding us to wash our hands. Keep in mind that the same harmful bacteria and viruses back then are still around, points out Dr. Simone.
The Rx: Wash your hands! Especially after touching things, being around a sick person, or out in public. Or, carry around antibacterial wipes and use them when needed.
Slipping Up with SPF
How often are you using sunscreen? Failing to use proper sun protection increases our risk of melanoma and other skin cancers, and causes wrinkles, reminds Dr. Simone.
The Rx: Use sunscreen daily and reapply as needed—even on a cloudy day or in the winter. It's always a good idea to keep a bottle handy—whether in your car or purse—in case you forget it.
Having Unprotected Sex
You can still get STDs in your 40s, reminds Dr. Simone. If you are sexually active with partners with unknown health status, you are making yourself susceptible to all sorts of diseases and infections.
The Rx: Use protection and request that your sexual partners get tested for sexually transmitted infections—no matter their age!
Not Protecting Yourself From Ticks
Many women in their 40s love spending time outdoors. However, it is crucial to be aware of ticks—especially if you are in a woodsy area. "Gardening or being outdoors and not attentive to ticks can expose you to Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses," Dr. Simone says.
The Rx: If you are in an area known to attract ticks, make sure to take necessary precautions, using chemical repellents, and making sure to check yourself regularly.
Not Hydrating Enough
Failing to drink enough water may lead to dehydration, which can complicate your health in many ways. Some of them include an increased risk of infections like UTIs, overheating, and injury during vigorous exercise, and increased risk of blood clots.
The Rx: Stay hydrated, but don't drink your daily dose of water all at once. "Our bodies aren't designed to process huge amounts of water at once, so keep a glass by your desk, by your bed, in the kitchen — and take sips whenever you pass it," Dr. Simone suggests.
Isolating yourself can have a seriously negative impact on your health—both mental and physical. "Loneliness causes mental health issues like depression, and increases stress hormones—which can increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes," points out Dr. Simone.
The Rx: No matter what your situation is, don't isolate. Make sure to keep friends and family close by, join a new club, or move into a community where you can forge new friendships. Life is too short to go it alone.
Eating Too Much Sugar
We all love sugar, but the older we get, the worse it is for us. "Sugar increases inflammation and leads to insulin resistance in the body, which can result in chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, acne, and depression," says Dr. Simone.
The Rx: Try and get your sugar fix from natural sources—such as fruit.
Neglecting Gum Health
Going to the dentist is a drag, but dental health is crucial in terms of your physical health. "Poor gums have an association with diabetes heart and kidney disease, Alzheimer's, and osteoporosis," points out Dr. Simone. "The cause and effect of these diseases are still unclear, but there is a correlation."
The Rx: Stay up-to-date with your teeth cleanings and dental check-ups.
The leading cause of death isn't cancer or heart disease—it is unintentional injury. And, one of the most common methods is motor vehicle accidents. "You are more likely to have a fatal or catastrophic accident (especially head trauma) while driving at high speeds," points out Dr. Simone.
The Rx: It's simple: don't speed!
Even the best of us have experienced a moment of rage on the road. However, just one second of anger could result in a significant car accident. "Road rage can be the cause of injury and death from either an accident or a weapon-yielding driver," Dr. Simone reveals.
The Rx: Do whatever you need to keep your cool behind the wheel. If you find yourself getting agitated, try listening to soothing music or a meditation program. Road rage is just not worth it!
Not Wearing Helmets
No, helmets are not just for kids. "Cycling or skiing without a helmet may cause head injuries such as concussions or worse (i.e., TBI), and can be fatal," says Dr. Simone.
The Rx: Buy a helmet and wear it! It could save your life.
Staying In An Abusive Relationship
So many people remain in toxic relationships, which can be incredibly dangerous in more ways than one. "Staying in an abusive relationship increases depression and anxiety, increases risk for addictions, and increases the risk for domestic violence," says Dr. Simone.
The Rx: If you think your relationship could be abusive, speak with a mental health expert immediately.
Not Getting The Flu Vaccine
Many adults don't think the flu shot is that important—but it could save your life. "People die from the flu every year, and we can unwittingly infect vulnerable people around us, especially the elderly or children," points out Dr. Simone.
The Rx: Getting a flu shot is inexpensive (sometimes free) and easy. Either call up your physician or find a local walk-in clinic or pharmacy that offers it.
Living In A City
Did you know that living in a city increases the risk of exposure to air pollution, which has been linked to lung disease and perhaps a shorter life span? "Also, the noise may disrupt sleep," points out Dr. Simone.
The Rx: While moving out of the city may not be an option for you, try to avoid going outside when there are clean air warnings in place and following any recommended procedures.
Drinking and Driving
According to the United States Department of Transportation, every day, 30 people in America lost their lives in a drunk driving accident. A Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) over .08 grams of alcohol per deciliter (g/dL) of blood, exponentially increases your crash risk.
The Rx: No matter how old you are, never drink and get behind the wheel of a car, reminds Dr. Simone. "Drinking and driving can kill or maim yourself or others which will cause mental health issues as well as physical damage like paralysis," she says.
Having Unnecessary Procedures or Surgery
Sometimes surgery is needed and other times elective. "Besides the risks of the surgery itself, recovery issues as well as chronic issues in the body related to the surgery such as chronic pain," points out Dr. Simone.
The Rx: If you don't need to go under the knife—just don't.
Drinking Too Much Caffeine
According to the Mayo Clinic, up to 400 milligrams of caffeine—about four cups of coffee—is the recommended amount for most adults. Consuming too much of the pick-me-up can negatively impact your health to the tune of migraine headaches, insomnia, nervousness, irritability, restlessness, frequent urination or inability to control urination, stomach upset, fast heartbeat, or muscle tremors.
The Rx: Dr. Simone suggests decreasing your caffeine intake by a switch to decaf, teas, and sparkling water.
Not Getting Enough Sunshine
Vitamin D is crucial to our overall health, and one of the main ways to absorb it is via the sun. Dr. Simone maintains that many people aren't getting enough of it—which can negatively impact their mood and even have negative repercussions on their physical health.
The Rx: Let there be light, encourages Dr. Bourke. Ways to do this are to take your workouts al fresco, eat lunch outside, or even by opening your sunroof while driving. Just remember to lather yourself up in SPF before you step out.
Fueling Up with Carbs
Children need to consume lots of carbohydrates to fuel their bodies. However, as we age, carbs—especially the processed kind—tend to accumulate around our waistline.
The Rx: Dr. Bourke suggests replacing carbohydrates with more protein, "which helps with lean muscle and improves metabolism."
Not Getting Enough Sleep
According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being in a variety of ways, including your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety. And getting enough of it is just as important in your 40s as it was in your younger years, reminds Sean Bourke, MD, JumpStartMD co-founder, and Chief Medical Officer.
The Rx: If you are having trouble getting enough sleep, you need to make some changes. In addition to improving sleep hygiene and keeping devices out of the bedroom, Dr. Bourke suggests getting evaluated for hormonal changes.
While it should be obvious, Dr. Simone points out that smoking is one of the worst things you can do for your health, no matter your age. "Smoking increases the risk of heart and lung disease like COPD," she explains.
The Rx: Don't start smoking in your 40s! If you are already a smoker, then there is no better time to quit than the present.
While the long-term health repercussions of vaping are still being researched, Dr. Simone points out that it may cause lung disease and raise your blood pressure and heart rate.
The Rx: To be on the safe side, simply refrain from vaping.
And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don't miss these 100 Ways Your Home Could Be Making You Sick.