7 top health risks for women over 40Leading causes of death for women over age 40 stem from risks that can be lessened. Learn to how handle the health risks for middle-aged women.
If you hope to avoid the leading causes of death in women after 40 -- such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, respiratory disease, and diabetes -- you'd do well to work on the roots of these problems.
Start with the following behaviors. Each feeds into the leading killers of women in midlife and beyond:
Dieting -- and, um, not dieting
You are what you eat. Unfortunately, many American women don't eat the right things, and their unbalanced diets backfire into obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, anorexia, heart disease, and other health problems. At one extreme, more women than men exclude even nutritious foods in pursuit of a diet that emphasizes one goal (usually calorie restriction or fat restriction). Others go the other way -- ignoring all sense of food planning, which leads them to over-consume processed foods, animal fats, and sugars.
Oops: More than 60 percent of American women are overweight, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. More than one-third are obese.
Silver lining: The middle ground -- a healthful diet that doesn't skimp on nutrition or overdo empty calories -- doesn't require much planning or thinking and helps stabilize a healthy weight. Nutritionists emphasize focusing on a mainly plant-based diet featuring whole grains, whole fruits and vegetables, healthy oils, and fish -- what's become known as the "Mediterranean diet." Its anti-inflammatory, high-antioxidant benefits include a 33 percent reduced risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
The average caregiver in the U.S. is a woman in her late 40s. Many are "sandwichers," looking after both children and aging parents. With little time or opportunity for adequate self-care, they're prone to "caregiving stress syndrome," a condition linked to a medical chart full of health woes, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, dementia, and back strain. More than 70 percent of family caregivers show signs of depression.
Men care for loved ones, too, of course. But women tend to have more negative experiences as caregivers than men, who focus more on problem-solving and less on emotional nuances, says I-Fen Lin, a sociologist at Bowling Green State University. Wives caring for husbands report the highest stress load, her research shows.
Oops: Caregivers are twice as likely to manage stress by smoking, according to the American Psychological Foundation's 2012 Stress in America report. And they're 25 times more likely to binge drink. Emotional eating is another common coping strategy that backfires on health.
Silver lining: When stress is managed with good self-care and time off, many caregivers report a deeply enriching experience. Some caregivers even show improved longevity, better memory, and better physical strength, as well as a sense of meaning and purpose, say Boston University researchers.
Lousy sleep -- or just not enough of it
Women have more trouble falling asleep than men and get less sleep overall, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Women also suffer more insomnia, more restless legs syndrome, and the sleep disruptions due to menopausal changes. Sleep apnea, which is more common in men, begins increasing in women after age 50; by age 65, it affects one in four women.
Those zzzs matter: Insufficient sleep doubles the risk of hypertension in women, according to a 2007 University of Warwick study, upping the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. (Men's levels of inflammatory markers didn't change with less sleep.)
Oops: Older women with sleep apnea have an 85 percent greater risk of developing dementia, according to a 2011 JAMA report.
Silver lining: The sweet spot for adding years to your life through sleep is more than 5 hours a night but less than 8.5, according to an analysis of Women's Health Initiative data done at the University of California, San Diego, in 2010.
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