The health concerns of older women are in the spotlight today due in part to their statistically longer lifespans and higher rates of specific health problems. Where medicine once treated the health needs of men and women the same, it has now been scientifically proven that women’s experiences with and treatments for gender-common conditions often differ significantly from those of men. (1)
Here are six health concerns of older women that you need to know for a better life.
Among the health concerns of older women, heart disease is a biggie.
Heart disease is a blanket term referring to several conditions affecting the heart’s structure and function. It is the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S. (2) However, women are more likely to die or become disabled. For example, according to the American Heart Association, 26% of women will die within a year of having a heart attack compared with 19% of men. Further, within five years of having a heart attack, 50% of women will die, have a stroke, or develop heart failure. (3) Additionally, the risk of having a heart attack increases in older women about ten years after menopause, partially due to decreased estrogen levels. (4)
A heart attack can be more disabling or deadly to women because they tend to have vague, “atypical” symptoms like jaw pain, chest discomfort, and stomach pain, leading to a delay in treatment or medical misdiagnosis.
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a condition in which the blood pressure against your artery walls is consistently too high, which can eventually lead to heart disease or stroke. Hypertension is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Though more men have hypertension, it is potentially more dangerous for women. For example, in a 2014 study published in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Cardiovascular Disease, researchers examined 100 older women and men with untreated high blood pressure and made a startling discovery. Namely, they found that “Compared with men who had the same level of high blood pressure, women had 30-40% more vascular disease.” (5)
Vascular diseases affect your circulatory system, which can restrict blood flow to your heart, brain, extremities, and other areas depending upon where the blockage develops. Thus, this may be a factor in women’s higher death rates or disability from heart disease.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint condition characterized by pain and stiffness. The risk of OA increases with age and can cause considerable pain and disability. According to the CDC, “Arthritis is more common in women (23.5%) compared with men (18.1%).” (6)
There are a few reasons why women are more prone to OA. One of the most significant risk factors for this condition is obesity, which puts excess strain on the joints. As women often gain weight during menopause, this could help explain why rates of arthritis in women rise after age 55. Experts also theorize that the reduction in female hormones at menopause may play a role in OA development.
An autoimmune disease is when the body’s immune system attacks its tissues and organs. There are more than 80 known autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis. Autoimmune diseases are difficult to diagnose, and most of them have no cures.
Statistics show an apparent gender bias with autoimmune diseases, with a “greater prevalence among women, occurring at a rate of 2 to 1.” (7) Put another way, women are twice as likely to get an autoimmune disease than men. However, in some cases, females are at even greater risk. For example, nine out of 10 of those with lupus are women. (8)
The reasons why women are more prone to autoimmune diseases are not known. However, research suggests it is due to variations in the sex chromosomes and hormonal changes and can be triggered by various environmental and lifestyle factors. (9)
Osteoporosis is a condition where the bones become weak and brittle, leading to bone fractures. Osteoporosis is one of the prime health concerns of older women, as “one in four women 65 or older” in the United States is affected by this disease. (10)
This bone disease is prevalent among older women because of reduced estrogen levels. Estrogen protects bone density, but after menopause, the ovaries produce little of this hormone…and there indeed appears to be a link between menopause and bone loss. For example, studies show that “Women lose about 50% of their trabecular bone and 30% of their cortical bone during their lifetime, about half of which is lost during the first 10 yr after the menopause.” (11)
Other factors that increase the risk of osteoporosis include lack of weight-bearing exercise, poor nutrition (mainly calcium and vitamin D), cigarette smoking, and family history of the disease.
To prevent osteoporosis, you may want to consume higher amounts of calcium foods, such as sardines, kale, cheese, and spinach. Milk is not advisable because it contains 2.4 teaspoons of sugar per eight-ounce glass. You can also take daily calcium and vitamin-D supplements.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that gradually destroys memory and other cognitive skills leading to the inability to perform rudimentary tasks. It is the most common form of dementia in older adults.
Older women are at a significantly higher risk of Alzheimer’s than men. Statistics show that two-thirds of those with Alzheimer’s are women, and according to AARP, “A woman’s lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (after age 45) is approximately 1 in 5; for men, it’s 1 in 10.” (12)
Why is Alzheimer’s so prevalent among women? Experts believe that women’s higher stress levels and a significant drop in estrogen after menopause significantly increase their risk. In addition, there may be a genetic component.
Depression is characterized by persistent sadness and a lack of enjoyment in activities that usually bring pleasure. It is the leading cause of disability globally. (12a)
It is one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States and is particularly prevalent among women. After all, women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression as men. (13) Of course, this gender discrepancy in diagnosis could be due to the male’s reluctance to discuss their feelings of sadness with their health care provider.
But research suggests a few factors that make women more prone to depression, such as higher stress levels and hormonal fluctuations.
Health Tips for Older Women
Though women show a higher prevalence for the conditions listed above, there are things you can do to reduce your risk and make you feel better. Here are just a few of them.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Getting proper nutrition is crucial for supporting overall health and defending against disease. A healthy diet includes lots of fiber, primarily from nonstarchy vegetables, a moderate amount of high-quality lean protein, and a small amount of healthy fat. These foods fill you up and help stabilize your blood glucose levels.
In addition, you should significantly reduce or eliminate the following foods from your diet:
- Ultra-processed foods, i.e., potato chips, white bread, sweetened breakfast cereals.
- Processed meats, i.e., bologna, hot dogs, bacon
- Fast foods, i.e., almost anything served in fast food restaurants
- Sugar, i.e., white granulated sugar, brown sugar, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup
A well-balanced diet typically includes the nutrients you need for your health. Eating nutritious whole foods can also help you obtain and maintain a healthy weight, helping to prevent many health issues.
Get Regular Exercise
Research suggests that regular exercise can prevent or manage many health issues, including:
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia
- Some cancers
Increasing your physical activity, in general, can help prevent or lessen the severity of chronic conditions. But it would help if you also took time to participate in a planned exercise program.
So, what type of exercise should you do? An exercise program for healthy adults should include a combination of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise and resistance training.
The CDC recommends that healthy adults get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week, which should be spread out during the week. (You may also perform a combination of high- and moderate-intensity aerobic activity.) However, if losing weight is your goal, experts recommend increasing it to 300 minutes a week.
You should also do resistance training targeting all muscle groups at least twice a week. You can either use your body weight — i.e., squats or pushups–or lift weights.
Research shows that chronic stress may significantly increase the risk for many chronic conditions. For example, studies show that stress may contribute to obesity, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and other conditions.
But you may be able to defend against these health problems by regularly practicing one or more of the stress-lowering activities below:
- Tai Chi
- Breathing exercise
- Progressive muscle relaxation exercises
- Snuggle with your dog
Discover how these four little-known nutrients can have a powerful, transformative effect on a leaky brain, helping support the vibrant physical and mental health you deserve here!
12a – https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression#:~:text=Globally%2C%20it%20is%20estimated%20that%205.0%25%20of%20adults,depression%20than%20men.%20Depression%20can%20lead%20to%20suicide