When we were younger, it was easier to convince ourselves that we were invincible. Some of us could push ourselves hard and feel like we could make up for lost sleep on the weekends. We could gorge on holiday foods and then drop extra weight by increasing our exercise and dieting for a short period. We could even enjoy a second glass of wine and handle it without question. But then, something changed.
Aging and Gender
As we are all aware, our bodies (and our metabolism) start changing after fifty. As we move into middle age and beyond, we also become more vulnerable to chronic diseases.
By the time most of us reach 55, the CDC reports that over 75% of men will have at least one chronic condition and nearly 42% will have two or more chronic conditions. For women, the odds are even higher; by 55, over 80% of women will have at least one chronic condition and over 51% will have two or more chronic conditions. Some of the more common chronic conditions include heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. In addition, one especially frightening risk all of us have is cognitive decline.
According to neuroscientist Lisa Mosconi who is the director of the Women’s Brain Initiative at Weill Cornell Medical College and author of The XX Brain (2020), one in ten men will likely develop Alzheimer’s Disease but one in five women will likely develop this mind-robbing condition.
Mosconi says that certain chronic conditions including diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease put us at greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease as does poor sleep and stress. In fact, some of our poor habits from our youth could adversely affect us later in life. However, we can decrease our risk with lifestyle changes.
To help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, Mosconi recommends a Mediterranean diet and lifestyle along with social engagement, sufficient sleep, and intellectual stimulation (among other suggestions). A Mediterranean diet tends to be plant-based (fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, etc.) but also includes fish. She also encourages drinking a sufficient amount of water.
If you are familiar with the Blue Zones research, you may have read that one of the five regions on the planet with greater longevity is Ikaria, Greece. It is common for people in this region to enjoy a Mediterranean diet and to stay physically and socially active. Depression, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes are rare. But even more significant is that dementia among people over 85 is rare—over 75% less common than in the United States.
Our bodies are more vulnerable to various health conditions as we age. We can no longer afford to live as though we are invincible; I’m not and neither are you. However, we can make course corrections as needed. And hopefully, we can mitigate some potentially serious problems that could plague us later in life.