One of four articles in a series about what to expect at different stages of womanhood.
As we continue our women’s health series, it’s time to take a look at women in their 40s. These women are no longer portrayed as old maids out of their prime, but now the 40s may be the new 20s. A woman in her 40s can be self-assured, healthy and put years of experience into practice. Dr. Kimberly A. Pilkinton is an OB/Gyn at the Scott & White Temple Clinic and enjoys helping women of all ages and stages. She speaks specifically to women in their 40s.“It is important for a woman in her 40s to take control of her healthcare because all women are important to their families, their children, their parents, their jobs, their church and society,” says Dr. Pilkinton. “You cannot help keep others healthy and happy if you lose your own health.”
Snapshot of a Woman in Her 40s
If you’re a woman in your 40s…
- You may be adjusting to changes in your life and managing stress
- Your role may be changing in raising your children as they leave the house
- You may be suffering from unhealthy habits or increasing weight gain
- You may be plagued with depression, divorce or other major life factors
- You may feel a sense of freedom from raising children or a strenuous career
- You may have questions about menopause or hormone changes
Basic Health Habits Are of Upmost Importance
If you’ve come to age 40 and escaped the words nutrition and exercise, then you may not have been listening. These two essential parts of health are of major importance to your general well being in your 20s, 30s, 40s and on. No matter how often we hear it, it can still be difficult.
“Women who tend to be the primary caregivers in their household need to remember to keep themselves healthy as well,” says Dr. Pilkinton. “Diet and exercise may become even more important in the 40s as women tend to gain weight each decade of life.”
Beginning of Bone Health
An important part of your diet as a 40-year-old is getting enough Vitamin D.
“Vitamin D is important for bone health as we have realized more over the years,” says Dr. Pilkinton. “Women get their peak bone mineral density in their late 20s and early 30s. We need to keep our bones strong before menopause occurs.”
Recently, providers have realized that many women are Vitamin D deficient. All women should intake a minimum of 800 IU daily of Vitamin D to help support their bone health. If you smoke, consider quitting as tobacco users tend to have a higher risk of osteoporosis and go through menopause earlier.
Get Ready for Menopause
As a woman gears up for menopause, it can feel like stepping into the unknown. It is not abnormal to transition into menopause in the 40s, although the average age is 51. Remember, menopause does not happen overnight.
During the transition phase, women can experience various issues, such as:
- Hot flashes or night sweats
- Decreased libido and vaginal dryness
- Menstrual or bleeding changes with either periods closer together or further apart
- If you’re experiencing bleeding for more than 10 days or have more than three months between cycles, see your provider to avoid precancerous cells.
“Our goal is to help women get through this perimenopausal transition without increasing their risk of other health concerns as well,” says Dr. Pilkinton.
If you are exercising and maintaining a healthy body weight that will help with the transition, but there are other options like hormone replacement therapy to help as well. If you see your healthcare provider they discuss what options are safe for you.
Stay on Top of Screenings despite Big Changes
If your child is graduating from school or you see your parent declining in health, it doesn’t mean you should take a back seat.
This decade it’s important to remember:
- Keep yearly exams with a healthcare provider
- Get a Pap smear every three years
- The 40s is a common time to develop cervical cancer, so routine screening is important which includes a pap smear (every three years) or pap smear with hpv testing (every five years).
- Keep moving with regular exercise
- See a provider if there are signs of stressors in life that are causing anxiety or depression
- A yearly breast exam by a healthcare provider is important and a baseline mammogram.
- “Remember one in eight women will develop breast cancer so we want early detection,” says Dr. Pilkinton.