Interestingly, experts agree that there are a set number of behaviors that are more common in women over 40 that are increasing their risks of certain diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, respiratory disease, and diabetes.
So what are some of the top diseases that you might be able to avoid with simple behavior changes?
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Although young adult women are most vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), rates are rising in their mothers’ generation as midlife women reenter the dating scene after divorce or widowhood. In fact, the most common STD, trichomoniasis, is more common in women in their 40s and 50s than in younger women, a 2011 Johns Hopkins study found. Untreated, trichomoniasis can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease. Rates of syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and herpes are up in 45-plussers, too.
Between 6 and 10 percent of HIV infections are in women over age 50, according to estimates, and the number rises to 28 percent of HIV cases in women over age 65. Normal changes due to aging, such as a thinning of vaginal walls and less lubrication, raise the risk of HIV infection, according to the Center for Age Prevention Studies.
Health Note: Barrier-method contraceptives and regular testing dramatically lower the risk of disease for those reentering the sex scene after a long, monogamous, trustworthy relationship.
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.
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.)
Health Note: 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.
Sitting Too Much
Women are less likely than men to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, according to a 2012 study in Preventive Medicine. Yet those who do move their bodies for half an hour a day showed a reduced risk of depression, metabolic syndrome, high cholesterol and obesity. Exercise at midlife also helps protect against osteoporosis, depression, cancer and, of course, being overweight.