Women tend to live longer than men. According to the Social Security Administration, about one out of every three adults who are already sixty-five or older will live into their nineties. What women need to know is that how we live and plan before we reach our final decades will have a lot to do with how we experience them.
Your BalanceAt about fifty, most women start experiencing menopause. Yes, this can mean hot flashes and other changes as our hormones fluctuate. It can also mean that our bones become more fragile. A 2018 Science Daily article reports that women start experiencing a sharp increase in falls after about the age of forty. This means that as our bones become more fragile, we are more likely to seriously injure ourselves if we fall. This new reality means that we need to seize the opportunity before it is too late to start working on our balance. Yoga, Tai Chi, and other balance exercises may be your cup of tea. I prefer to simply balance on one foot and then the other as I wait for my dog to take care of his morning business. My daughter-in-law has a doctorate in physical therapy and suggested that a safe way to start working on balance is to stand in a corner where you have two walls to use for support and then start practicing. Don’t wait until it is too late (after you’ve seriously injured yourself) to start working on your balance.
Your BladderAs we age, our pelvic floor muscles weaken. If we’ve had children, we are even more likely to experience weakened muscles, overactive bladders, and possible bladder leakage. I remember my mother needing adult diapers. I don’t know if anyone had ever talked to her about routinely doing Kegel exercises, but this practice can make a difference for many women. Again, it is better to develop this practice earlier than later. It is certainly something you should be able to discuss with your healthcare provider. Some research suggests that as we age, we are also more vulnerable than men to the adverse cognitive effects of stress. Constant stress can affect our memories. It is important for all of us to manage our stress by taking time out for ourselves. Even walking for just 20 minutes in nature might be sufficient to help us reduce some stress.
Your BrainResearch suggests that about 50% of adults over 85 ends up with some sort of dementia. Women have a slightly higher risk of Alzheimer’s than do men, but we can do something to mitigate the likelihood of such diseases by practicing good habits before we reach our last decades. Although there is not sure-proof formula yet, regular, vigorous exercise is often cited as one of the most important things we can do for brain health. Some research has also emphasized the value of high-intensity interval training for brain health. Interestingly, the Blue Zones research project that examined regions where people in the world lived the longest, healthiest lives found that a plant-slanted diet was also associated with a lower incidence of dementia. People on one Greek island in the study had a 75% lower incidence of dementia than in the U.S., and this was associated with lifestyle and diet. If you aren’t already practicing a healthy lifestyle, now is the time to start focusing on what you can do to increase not just your lifespan but your healthspan.
Your BeautyAs estrogen drops during menopause, our faces begin to age a bit more rapidly than do men’s faces. (Stress also accelerates aging.) At around fifty or before, women are often subject to age discrimination in the workplace and in hiring. Historically, women have been valued for their appearance. A 2017 Pew Research Center poll looked at how Americans valued women and men differently. The study revealed that women were most often valued for appearance while men were valued for honesty and morals. Advertisers will try to tell you that you’ve got to purchase more anti-aging products or services to be acceptable. Many of these products do little to turn back the clock but instead perpetuate a myth that our value is based on our looks. It is important for all of us to recognize that our real strength as women is much deeper than the skin we’re in. Starting in our fifties, we can explore our talents and strengths in new ways. For some, that means taking classes to update skills. For others, it might be a great time to explore starting a new business. Some women may get pushed out of the workplace early because they no longer ‘look’ youthful. It happens more than you might realize. Age discrimination is often hard to prove. Nonetheless, be aware. And in the meantime, plan realistically for the future – a future that will depend on your real strengths and abilities. If you need to find work after fifty and keep running into brick walls, AARP has a job board of older adults, and a new job board for 50+ workers called JobSearch50.com may also be of help.
Your Balance SheetHere’s a big reality for all of us. Women typically earn about 80% of what men earn. We are also traditionally the ones who take time off of work to care for children or ailing family members. This not only means that women have a harder time advancing in their careers, but they are also less likely to draw as much money in Social Security benefits. On average, women earn about $4000 less in Social Security benefits than do men. If you don’t have a good handle on your finances, it is important that you review what you have, what you might need, and how you are going to support yourself in the future. Working with a qualified financial adviser can help you anticipate the kind of income you will need in the future.
Seize the Moment!Take time to assess your current habits and practices. If you aren’t already living your best life and starting to prepare for your best future life, now is the time to take action.