OPINION: Women’s Midlife Checklist: 8 tips to be healthier

Published 4:49 pm Tuesday, May 7, 2019

As women approach midlife (40 to 65 years old), there comes with it a new set of unique challenges.

But for most women, getting older doesn’t mean their health has to take a downward spiral. In fact, I see it as the perfect time to become more self-aware and prioritize needs.

Dr. Thomas J. McDonald

I find many women dedicate so much of their time to taking care of loved ones, that their own health takes a backseat. While I emphasize to patients prevention is better than a cure, it’s never too late to adopt healthier habits. Women can decrease risks for many age-related health outcomes such as cardiovascular illness, hypertension and obesity by making small changes over time.

Not sure where to begin? Let’s break it down into eight actionable steps.

1. Know your numbers. Knowledge is power. That’s why knowing your numbers — blood pressure, BMI, triglycerides and cholesterol, just to name a few — is a valuable insight into the current state of your health. If it’s been awhile since you’ve had these tests, reach out to your doctor to get started.

2. Brush up on family health history. Family health history is important in helping your doctor determine your own health needs, especially as you enter midlife. If a first-degree relative has battled breast cancer, for example, your risk doubles. Other health problems including cardiovascular disease, thyroid problems and issues with the colon may be genetic, so now is a good time to reassess your family history and share it with your doctor.

3. Kick bad habits to the curb. If you haven’t already, take steps to let go of poor habits that can be detrimental to your health as you age. This includes smoking, excessive alcohol use, recreational drug use and a sedentary lifestyle.

4. Fine-tune your diet. While the right diet for you may depend on your specific restrictions or health needs, most people benefit from a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean sources of protein, heart-healthy fats and fiber-rich grains. Moderation is key when it comes to a balanced diet. Your doctor will be able to recommend a plan that is right for you based on your current health status.

5. Take a vitamin. Nothing replaces a healthy, well-balanced diet. But a daily multivitamin can help fill in the gaps in the areas where your diet may be lacking. Note many supplements you see advertised today with seemingly magical health claims are simply passing trends. Talk to your doctor about vitamins or supplements that may be right for you, and ask for blood work if you have specific concerns about deficiencies.

6. Get moving. A body in motion stays in motion. If you’ve led a sedentary lifestyle, now is a time to find an activity you enjoy. Taking small steps toward a more active lifestyle, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, will benefit your body. Aim for at least 30 minutes per day and work your way up. Even those who have health- or age-related limitations, such as arthritis or osteoporosis, can benefit from modified, low-impact exercise — so talk to your doctor.

7. Have regular checkups and get screened. Prior to midlife, you should attend annual checkups during which routine blood work and a pelvic exam are standard procedure. As you enter midlife, additional health screenings like mammograms, colonoscopies and bone density screenings might be on your radar. Your doctor can recommend when and how often you’ll need them based on your personal medical history.

8. Manage stress levels. Chronic stress wreaks havoc on a person’s physical and emotional wellbeing. Take time to relax and unwind, whether that means indulging in a book, enjoying a workout or getting a good night’s rest. And don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it.

Dr. Thomas J. McDonald, MD is an OB/GYN at Atrium Health Stanly Women’s Services.