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Healthy Women, Healthy Aging: Take charge for active senior years

by on August 31, 2017 11:47 AM

Thanks to advances in medicine and changes in lifestyle, many women today are as active in their “senior years” as they were in their younger years. “You’re as young as you feel” is the new mantra.

Still, every woman’s body changes with the passing decades — menopause occurs, skin ages and joints start to ache. With each year, annual visits with medical providers become more important than ever to maintain wellness and catch serious illnesses early, while they are more easily treated.

MEDICAL SCREENINGS

Many proactive measures begin when a woman is in her 50s or 60s. Annual medical exams might include:

Immunizations — At age 60, adults should receive the shingles vaccine, regardless of whether they ever had chickenpox or shingles. At age 65, the pneumococcal vaccine is recommended with a booster at age 66. Every senior should discuss with her physician whether she needs booster vaccines against tetanus or whooping cough. And, of course, everyone should get a flu shot every year.

Hepatitis C screening — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recently began recommending that anyone born between 1945 and 1965 have a one-time test for hepatitis C, a virus that can cause serious liver disease, even when no symptoms are shown. People born during that time period are five times more likely than other adults to be infected with hepatitis C.

Pelvic exam — Postmenopausal women still need pelvic exams if their ovaries are intact. Typically, Pap smears can be discontinued after age 65.

Osteoporosis screening — Women are at greater risk for osteoporosis than men due to having smaller bones and going through hormonal changes at menopause. A bone density test is recommended for women who are age 65 and over, as well as for women 60 to 64 who weigh less than 154 pounds and do not take estrogen.

Mammogram — Guidelines for mammograms differ from one organization to another, so every woman should discuss her individual needs with her physician. Mammogram screening for breast cancer needs to begin by age 50, if not earlier.

Lung cancer screening — Anyone ages 55 to 80 who smoked for at least 30 years or who quit smoking within the past year should have a low-dose CT scan to screen for lung cancer.

WHAT’S NOT NORMAL?

Women should discuss with their doctor any unusual physical or mental changes that concern them. Weight gain often occurs as a woman’s metabolism slows, but belly-centered weight gain could be a sign of more serious conditions. Women going through menopause often experience random vaginal bleeding, but any bleeding more than a year after a woman’s last period should be reported to a physician. Forgetting where the car keys are is part of everyday life, but getting lost in a familiar neighborhood or not recognizing a close friend or family member is cause for concern.

Women can take many steps on their own to maintain — and even improve — their health with each passing birthday.

Stay active. Daily exercise can build muscle, increase cardiovascular health, improve mental outlook, slow bone loss, and improve balance. Women of any age can find appropriate physical activities, from individual sessions with a personal trainer to senior yoga classes or a new hobby such as walking or swimming.

Stop smoking. Even a woman who has smoked for decades improves her health by quitting. Almost immediately, heart rate and blood pressure drop. According to the American Cancer Society, life expectancy for smokers having quit for 15 years is at least 10 years shorter than that of non-smokers. Quitting smoking before the age of 40 reduces the risk of dying from smoking-related diseases by 90 percent.

Eat a healthy diet. Foods rich in calcium and vitamin D help keep bones strong. Switch to a low-salt diet to improve cardiovascular health. Eat fiber-rich, whole-grain foods to aid digestion. A healthy diet can lessen the age-related risk of diseases such as diabetes.  Most importantly, every woman should listen to her own body so she can give it the nourishment and care it needs. With this focus, and the support of a primary care provider, a woman can live a comfortable, active lifestyle for many years to come.

Kristen Grine, DO, is a family medicine physician with Penn State Medical Group, located at 476 Rolling Ridge Drive, Suite 101, in State College. Natalia Hanson, MD, is a third-year resident in the Penn State Health Family and Community Medicine Residency at Mount Nittany Medical Center.

 

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