Have you asked yourself lately, “What’s going on? Is this normal?”
If so, you’re not alone. Many women go through changes as they age that are a little confusing. We expect the fine lines and wrinkles. We know that menopausal symptoms could show up at any time. But some of the other stuff? Enough to leave you scratching your head, and feeling a little anxious. After all, what if some of those symptoms you’re experiencing are serious?
We’ve got five of the most common ways women’s bodies change after the age of 40 listed below. We’re hoping that after you read through them, you’ll realize that yes, you’re normal, and everything is okay!
- Hair Loss
If you thought only men had to worry about hair loss, think again. Women are affected by hair loss as they age, too. Only a small percentage will actually lose enough hair to experience bald spots, but most women will notice hair thinning that begins in the forties.
The American Hair Loss Associations states that women actually make up 40 percent of American hair-loss sufferers. And the North American Hair Research Society says that half of women experience at least some hair loss by the time they reach 50. You may notice that your part looks a little wider than it did, or that your ponytail is thinner. Your hair may lose volume, or the strands themselves may thin, creating a more fine-hair appearance.
Scientists believe that our changing hormones are to blame, as we start to take the long journey into menopause. Estrogen has a big role to play in hair growth, so as it dwindles with age, you may notice some differences.
What to do: If you haven’t already, it’s time to start babying your hair. Try to skip shampoo days so the natural oils in your scalp can better condition the strands. Use fewer heat-based styling tools if you can, and look for more nourishing hair-care products with real oils and other healthy ingredients in them. Moisturize more often—treat your hair to a moisturizing mask at least once a week. Limit chemical treatments like coloring and straightening—try to go for longer between appointments. Avoid tight ponytails and other styles that pull and stress hair, and finally, consider a fresh, new style that will help you rock your new head of hair.
- Bladder Changes
As you go past the age of 40, you may find that a) you’re using more pads even when you’re period is over, and b) you’re having to go to the doctor more often for urinary tract infections (UTIs). Again, it’s those hormones that are to blame. As your body produces less estrogen, the muscles in the bladder and urethra tend to weaken, which can make it more likely that you’ll experience leaking, particularly when you cough, sneeze, or laugh.
A lower estrogen level can also leave you more at risk for a UTI. Estrogen helps fight those nasty bacteria that cause them, so with less of that protection, you’re move vulnerable.
What to do: If you’re overweight, try to lose a few pounds, as that will take some pressure off your bladder. Eliminate drinks that make leaks more likely, including caffeinated beverages and alcohol. Perform a few more Kegel exercises to strengthen those muscles. (Squeeze to stop urine flow in the middle of the urine stream, then release. Once you get the feeling, you can do them anywhere.) If these methods don’t help, talk to your doctor about medications.
Next, if you’ve having frequent UTIs, drink more water to help flush out the bad bacteria, and talk to your doctor about potentially trying a topical estrogen cream. If you’re in perimenopause or if you’re postmenopausal, it may help your urethra to act more normally, and decrease your risk of infections.
- Slowing Metabolism
You’re not imagining it—the older you get, the harder it is to lose weight, and the easier it is to gain it. That’s because your overall metabolism—the rate at which your body burns calories for energy—slows down. That gives new life to the old saying, “A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.”
The bad news is that this change increases your risk of weight gain, which isn’t good for your overall health. According to a 2017 study, weight gain—particularly around the middle, where the fat is most dangerous—is “common among women in midlife.” Scientists blame it on hormone and lifestyle changes (we often become less active as we age,) but caution that because abdominal fat is linked to cardiovascular disease, “the importance of weight management in midlife cannot be overemphasized.”
What to do: We have an entire article devoted to “7 Simple Ways Women Can Fight the Middle-Aged Spread.” Meanwhile, it’s important to realize two things: at midlife, both your diet and your exercise must change. You need to exercise more (change it from 30 minutes to an hour a day), and eat fewer calories. One of the ways you can manage the latter is to choose more water-based foods, like soups, melons, celery, stews, and the like.
- Brain Fog
We’ve all had that experience where we walk into the kitchen or the living room and then stand there thinking, “What did I come in here for?”
Don’t worry—it’s probably not Alzheimer’s disease. Some memory loss is common at midlife, particularly around menopause. Studies have found that women experience a significant decline in memory between perimenopause and postmenopause. So if you’re experiencing some forgetfulness, it’s probably normal, but that doesn’t mean you have to just accept it.
What to do: We have an article devoted to this subject, too: “6 Ways Women Can Preserve Memory as they Age.” For now, remember that anything that’s good for your heart is good for your brain. That includes eating a healthy diet, exercising, and finding ways to manage stress. Then, consider coffee—it’s been found to have a protective effect against memory loss—and mindfulness-based therapies like meditation and hypnosis. All can help you relax and have been found to help delay cognitive decline.
- Depression and Anxiety
You’ve always been a happy person. What’s happened?
You can blame hormones or lifestyle factors, but the truth is that more women experience both depression and anxiety at midlife than at other times in their lives. Menopausal symptoms are likely to have something to do with it.
Studies show that during perimenopause, women are more likely to experience symptoms of depression, while during postmenopause, they’re more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety. And this was true even in women who had never had experienced these two problems before.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you’ll experience these symptoms, but the point is that if you do, you can rest assured that you’re perfectly normal. In addition to hormonal changes, there can be other contributing factors too, such as caring for aging parents, financial strains, and empty nest syndrome.
What to do: First of all, don’t hesitate to get help. Just because these types of experiences are normal doesn’t mean they can’t be serious. If you’re losing interest in things you normally enjoyed or having thoughts about harming yourself, be sure to talk to a therapist immediately. In a 2014 study, for instance, researchers found that though anxiety symptoms were common at midlife, higher anxiety test scores were associated with a higher risk of developing a major depressive disorder later on. So be cautious, and take care of yourself.
Next, take some time to evaluate your life and where you are right now. See midlife as an opportunity to make some changes that will help you enjoy many more healthy years to come. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your schedule, your diet, your exercise, and even your occupation. Find new hobbies and meet new people that can relate to the things you’re going through. Maybe you’d even like to go back to school, or try chasing some of those dreams you left behind.
Meanwhile, implement some anti-anxiety and anti-depression habits in your life. Try a yoga or tai chi class, start journaling, get a new pet to take care of, or spend more time with friends. Make sure that each day you’re doing at least one thing that makes you happy. Most of all, remember to put self-care first on your list.
American Hair Loss Association – Women’s Hair Loss. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.americanhairloss.org/women_hair_loss/
DiSanto, J. (2018, January 22). Depression and Anxiety Symptoms in Midlife Women Vary with Menopausal Status. Retrieved from http://www.mdmag.com/medical-news/depression-and-anxiety-symptoms-in-midlife-women-vary-with-menopausal-status
Kapoor, E., Collazo-Clavell, M. L., & Faubion, S. S. (2017). Weight Gain in Women at Midlife: A Concise Review of the Pathophysiology and Strategies for Management. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 92(10), 1552-1558. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2017.08.004
Kravitz, H. M., Schott, L. L., Joffe, H., Cyranowski, J. M., & Bromberger, J. T. (2014). Do anxiety symptoms predict major depressive disorder in midlife women? The Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) Mental Health Study (MHS). Psychological Medicine, 44(12), 2593-2602. doi:10.1017/s0033291714000075