All Woman

Coping with midlife challenges

Monday, August 13, 2012    

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WHILE not exactly the period some would describe as the prime of their lives, being a middle-aged woman does not have to be as dreary as many people make it out to be — though you may be presented with some new health challenges.

President of the Jamaica Midlife Health Society Dr Fay Whitbourne said that while middle age occurs between 50 and 65 in men, it usually falls between age 45 and 65 for women. After that age, you are considered to be an elderly person.

"It differs in a remarkable way in that women have a thing called menopause; that means they have the cessation of their periods and that usually comes on around age 51," she said.

This time/phase usually results in hot flashes, frequent breakout of sweat and mood swings, among other things.

"One minute they are quite stable and the next minute, they are crying and they don't know why," she explained.

As menopause progresses, some women experience urinary problems and vaginal dryness, which contribute to a low libido. However, not all menopausal women will experience these symptoms. In fact, Dr Whitbourne explained that only about 25 per cent of those going through menopause usually experience these symptoms to the point where they need medical treatment.

"Menopause is not an illness, it's just another phase in a woman's life. Just as how when you are born and you reach 11 and you start having your period. It's an important event, but it's not a crisis," she explained.

Apart from menopause, other health issues facing middle-age women include diabetes, hypertension and osteoarthritis due to the wear and tear on the joints. This particular condition usually results in pain and stiffness.

"You need to be aware of the importance of bone health, because after menopause, women tend to lose bone and if they don't do something about it, then their bones can become so thin that they break and there are severe consequences if a woman fractures her spine or her hips," said Whitbourne.

To ensure good health during middleage, the doctor warns that women will need to start practising a healthy lifestyle from early. This means exercising regularly and eating right. The doctor suggests that women eat foods with a high calcium content, such as diary products, green vegetables and tin products, such as sardines, salmon and mackerel.

"It is true that when you are young and are raising a family and working, it is very hard to fit in exercise. But the woman needs to do so as soon as she can. Even if she can't do it four times per week, she should try to fit it in. You can even do three 10-minute sessions [per day], which is as good as doing a 30-minute session," she said.

Apart from maintaining physical health, the doctor points out that middle-aged women will need to also safeguard their mental health by thinking positive thoughts. She believes an attitude of gratitude is always better than living with regrets and negative thoughts.

One of the spill-off from approaching middle age is having to deal with a midlife crisis. This brief period does not affect everyone, but for those affected, it manifests itself in various ways.

"There are some women, I would say, who just soar at midlife. They have got rid of this miserable period; that's how some think. They can't have any more children and so this frees them up to enjoy sex more. Some of them get promotions, they are heads of their organisation and they just feel really great about life," she said.

On the other hand, Whitbourne said: "The woman who perhaps never worked and got all her satisfaction from her children and her husband, develops the empty-nest syndrome. There is nobody asking her opinion on anything and she feels quite useless. Many times, they have neglected themselves so they are out of shape physically and look at themselves in the mirror and feel they look awful."

She noted that preparation is, therefore, critical to having a fulfilling middle-age life. Women, Whitbourne said, also need to spend time planning for life after retirement, so they can still feel useful after exiting the job market.

"Usually people think, 'this is wonderful, I have time on my hands'. But after six months, they are not so happy so they need to start planning," she said.

Whitbourne believes it is important for women to volunteer or get involved in activities such as gardening, painting or sewing while in retirement.

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