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Women and Midlife Health: What Is Going On?

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women's health changing as they age

You may not feel different now than when you were in your 30s, but we know our bodies continue to change. In fact, for women, our disease risks and health challenges shift considerably every decade. Certainly, heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer deserve attention, but a common frustration is simply weight gain and fatigue. While Cooper Clinic dietitians always recommend an action plan that is tailored to the individual, here are some “midlife” considerations.

Weight Gain and Hormones
According to data collected from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the biggest increase for women who became overweight or obese happened between the ages of 40 and 59 (68.1%). Why? Research shows that hormonal changes result in increases in body fat, especially around the waistline. Estrogen is one hormone that begins to decline during perimenopause which usually begins in a woman’s 40s, but can begin as early as the mid-30s.

Start With Your Heart
To keep yourself on track for a long and healthy life, take special care of your heart with diet and exercise. Prioritize the most important health risk which is heart disease – still the leading cause of death among women according to the National Institutes of Health. Heart smart food choices include:

  • Decreasing your intake of unhealthy saturated fats (often found in high fat red meats, full-fat dairy, baked goods and fried foods) and highly processed foods.
  • Consuming more omega-3 fatty acids, found especially in fatty, cold-water fish, such as salmon, sardines and trout.
  • Increasing intake of plant-based omega-3s, found in flaxseeds and walnuts.
  • Including healthy carbohydrates (in portion appropriate amounts), such as whole grains and vegetables, which are high in fiber. 

Fiber is Fabulous and Calories are KING
Extra weight can affect hormone levels so achieving and maintaining a reasonable weight with an intentional diet and consistent physical activity is critical. After 40, it’s time to reassess your diet and your overall calorie intake. Often an RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate) test is recommended to assess a person’s precise calorie needs and then figure out a meal plan best suited for them. We know that adding more fiber is an effective tool and it can be easy and delicious. Here are some ideas:

  • In the morning, try a high-fiber cereal or oatmeal/oat bran with berries.
  • For lunch, enjoy a salad sprinkled with chickpeas or kidney beans and some nuts (almonds, peanuts, walnuts, or pecans).
  • Make a stir-fry for dinner using a variety of vegetables, and top with pumpkin or sunflower seeds.

Sleep Support
Nothing feels better than a good night of sleep, but sleep is also important for regulating ghrelin and leptin, the two hormones responsible for regulating hunger/appetite. Sleep also plays a role in how well your cells use insulin, a hormone that affects blood sugar. Unfortunately, hormonal imbalances can negatively affect that goal of 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Before starting a medication try these sleep strategies:

  • Make your room dark and quiet or add white noise.
  • Keep your room as cool as you can (67 degrees has been tested).
  • Keep a small towel in a bucket of ice near your bed so you can cool yourself quickly.
  • Try “wicking” pajamas.
  • Skip alcohol and tobacco.

Finally, women tend to put others needs ahead of their own, but when it comes to battling health changes in midlife and beyond, women need to make themselves a priority.

For more information on Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services, visit or call 972.560.2655.

Article provided by Meridan Zerner, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD and Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services.