As I stepped on the scale at the doctor’s office, I winced. There’s no way that number could be right. It had only been a few months since I’d given birth to my second child, but I knew that was a number I couldn’t live with.
Shame-faced, I timidly asked the doctor for help with reducing my weight and getting healthier. Even though I’m still considered young, I knew that if I didn’t get on track now, I could be on a path to heart disease, diabetes or one of the many illnesses that have plagued my family members.
Scott & White OB/Gyn, Karen M. Patterson, MD, said that many women wait until they’ve reached 40 or after to start getting serious about their health. But the best time to get healthy is before reaching the big 4-0.
Here are a few suggestions from Dr. Patterson that can help preserve your health and reduce the effects of aging on your body.
1. Maintain Your Muscle Mass
Women are born with less muscle mass than men, and with normal aging, your muscles tend to atrophy or get smaller. As a result, you burn fewer calories because you have less muscle and less bodily tissues to keep alive and nourished.
To combat this, Dr. Patterson suggests building and strengthening muscles through regular exercise and strength training. This will help you burn more calories at sleep and at rest.
And because your muscles pull against your bones when you’re strength training, it will also help to prevent bone loss and osteoporosis.
2. Start Exercise First
Starting an exercise regimen will not only help you to feel more energized and strengthen your muscles, but it will also help you to be more respectful of the calories you take in.
“You’ll do a hard workout, and then later in the day, you’ll decide, oh, I just did that workout, I am not going to eat that 500-calorie piece of chocolate cake. You make your calories count,” Dr. Patterson said.
3. Reduce Caloric Intake Gradually
In our society, people want to lose 25 pounds in 30 days, but that’s just not realistic, the obstetrician said.
“Weight loss that’s not difficult and is lasting is gradual,” she said. “A pound or two a week is a really good goal and you can do that without feeling deprived.”
4. Track It and Log It
Whether you’re counting calories or the number of miles you’ve run, tracking your progress will not only help you keep track of what you’re doing, but it will give you motivation to keep going.
And with a little help from technology, you can track your progress through a number of apps and other electronic devices.
5. Know Your Family History
When you know what you’re up against, you can make a plan to improve your health and help you avoid becoming another part of the disease history in your family.
“[Those diseases] don’t have to be your legacy, but they are a good motivator,” Dr. Patterson said. “Knowing your history affects how we manage and monitor ourselves to avoid the heart attacks and the diabetes.”
6. Know Your Numbers
If you do have a family history of heart disease and diabetes, then you’re going to want to know what your average blood pressure and lipids are.
High blood pressures and lipids can be an indicator of poor health in your future. If you reverse these issues before you reach the 40 mark, then you will have a better chance of preventing serious illness.
Most doctor’s offices take your blood pressure at each visit, and you can request a lipid screening.
7. Educate Yourself About Food
“I have women that come in and say, I really don’t understand why I’m gaining weight. I don’t eat that much,” Dr. Patterson said.
The problem is that most people don’t know what a portion or serving size looks like or how much fat and calories are in the food they eat.
“When you know what you’re eating, it’s really eye opening,” she said. “They’ll say, oh my gosh, I had no idea I was eating all of those extra calories.”
8. Eat Like Royalty
A good rule of thumb for women who are trying to maintain good health and boost their metabolism is to eat like a queen at breakfast, a princess at lunch and a pauper at dinner.
“That is hard to do because our society is not set up that way,” Dr. Patterson said. “We usually grab something on the go or don’t each much breakfast, don’t eat much at lunch and then when we get home for dinner, we’re ravenous. That’s when we consume all of our calories.”
The doctor suggests making meals ahead of time so that you can feed yourself throughout the day, and not over indulge on snack foods at the end of the day.
9. Protect Your Skin
Dr. Patterson said one of the best things to do for your skin as you age is to protect it from the sun.
“Tanning beds and too much sun exposure are one of the biggest reasons that women look older as they age,” she said. “You will be very sad about this exposure when you get lots of wrinkles.”
The doctor said besides skin cancer, it’s the number one thing that she wishes people would take more seriously and try to avoid as they age.
10. Make Sure You Feel Fulfilled
One way to feel fulfilled is to feed yourself spiritually, Dr. Patterson said.
“You don’t have to embrace a religious doctrine, but maybe think about meditating,” she said.
And if you’re not feeling fulfilled in your career, then find something that makes you feel like you’re making a difference in the world.
“Often times women put themselves last and really don’t take care of themselves,” the doctor said. “But it’s important to do so not only to improve your overall health, but because kids are watching and you want to set a good example.”
What are you doing to get fit by 40? Share your healthy tips.