• Family and career: “Metabolism in the 30s is not the same as in the 20s,” Roca says. “As the decades come we get more involved with our careers, and have families that need our time, and it becomes tougher to stay active. Some women fall into that pitfall where they neglect themselves and focus all of their attention on families and careers and care for everyone else and these type of things can lead to weight gain.”
Women start losing bone mass in this decade. Make sure you are consuming calcium, preferably from food sources like cheese, dried herbs such as celery seed, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, along with sesame and flax seeds, almonds, yogurt and milk and green leafy vegetables.
Check the thyroid at annual exams.
• Dental hygiene: You already should have a routine of twice-yearly cleanings and regular dental exams. If not, begin now. The American Dental Association identifies an association between maternal periodontal disease and preterm delivery, preeclampsia and low birth weight infants. Later, periodontal disease can lead to cardiovascular disease.
• Is it hot in here? The perimenopausal period can lead to irregularities as menopause approaches. Hot flashes, mood swings and difficulty sleeping may occur for some women.
Estrogen levels start to drop and, thus, fat storage builds around the abdomen.
“There’s a rapid drop in bone density in the perimenopausal [period] because of the loss of estrogen,” says Dr. Erin N. Marcus, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Miami. Thus, exercise becomes even more important, especially strength training to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Work on the abdominals, too.
• Begin annual mammograms: If there is a family history of breast cancer, begin these tests in the preceding decade.
Birnbaum recommends a BRCA test to check for the gene mutation that can predispose a woman to breast or ovarian cancer if a first-degree family member (mother, sister or blood aunt) had breast or ovarian cancer.
Have a heart-to-heart with your physician: “As women start to lose the protective effects of estrogen, they are more susceptible to heart disease in this decade and in future decades,” Roca says.
“Cardiac risk starts to go up around 55,” Marcus says, “and we see more women developing hypertension. Lifestyle modification for prevention is important. Maintain a normal body weight which means activity and diets rich in fruits and vegetables. Avoid sodium. If you have to use canned food, rinse the can’s contents to get rid of some of the sodium.”
Cardiovascular disease causes one death per minute among women in the United States, more than cancer, respiratory disease, Alzheimer’s and accidents combined.
While some women get the classic symptoms such as chest pain or numbness on the left side, a pending heart attack in a woman can reveal itself through neck and back pain, nausea, and feelings of fatigue.
• Have your first colonoscopy. Depending on the results and family history, the test will be repeated every five to 10 years, more frequently if polyps are found.
• Screen for diabetes.
• Seek balance: Women should incorporate yoga or tai chi into their fitness routines to promote balance and reduce the risk of falls.