As a woman, what health changes can I expect as I get older?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Many women gain weight and feel more tired as they age. Many women suffer from night sweats when they reach menopause, which can interfere with their sleep. But there are ways to fight back. Learn more about fighting fatigue and losing weight as Dr. Oz discusses products that can help in this video.

Prof. Kathy Snider
Neonatal Nursing Specialist

A favorite saying I once heard (and sadly don't know who said it) is that "Experience is the comb that life gives us when we're bald." This leads us to conclude that growing older means growing wiser. Wisdom is a positive thing. Knowledge is power, and empowerment for women is energizing. Knowledge about life experiences, as well as knowledge about health and aging, can provide women with strength, both physically and emotionally. Comfort in knowing you did the best you could....can bring a sense of contentment and joy, which are both very fulfilling.

Arianna Huffington
Health Education Specialist

In order to become fearless about growing older, we should know what to expect as time changes our bodies. This preparation can help us adjust to the changes with less apprehension.

And it’s not all bad. Most of us know to anticipate hot flashes and drier skin with menopause. But there are other changes—in the female brain in particular—that we should look forward to. Louann Brizendine’s book The Female Brain explains how, beginning in midlife, due to changes in our hormone levels and brain chemistry, women start to care less about others’ opinions and more about what matters to them. This is also the time when more women than men initiate divorce. According to Brizendine, during childbearing years, a woman’s brain is “programmed with a delicate interplay of hormones, physical touch, emotions and brain circuits to care for, fix, and otherwise help those around her. Societally, she has always been reinforced to please others.”

However, starting at perimenopause and continuing into menopause, women experience “a new constancy in the flow of impulses through their brain circuits. This replaces the massive surges and plunges of estrogen and progesterone caused by the menstrual cycle.” The change also relieves “the urge to avoid conflict at all costs.” We are witnessing what Brizendine calls “the Mommy Brain beginning to unplug.” The happy consequence is that a lot more energy becomes available to us. These hormonal and brain chemistry changes also coincide with a drop in testosterone (yes, we have it), which regulates our sex drive. For some women this means less interest in sex, but for others it prompts what anthropologist Margaret Mead called “postmenopausal zest”—and a greater desire for adventure and new beginnings. Not a bad trade-off for drier skin and hot flashes.

It’s not just our emotions and our sex drive that change as our brain ages. Although our basic intellectual capacity doesn’t change, our style of thinking does. “Older adults move toward a simpler and more direct style of writing or painting, for example, that is easier for other people to understand,” according to Professor Carolyn Adams-Price, a member of the Gerontology Committee at Mississippi State University. It’s good to know that we are wired for greater simplicity as we mature.

On Becoming Love, Work, and Life

More About this Book

On Becoming Love, Work, and Life

Observing that her own teenage daughters were beginning to experience some of the same fears that had once burdened her--how attractive am I? do people like me? do I dare speak up?--Arianna...

Menopause is likely to give you a new perspective on life and health as a woman. Premenstrual syndrome, menstrual discomforts and reproductive issues are no longer a concern. Hot flashes and other perimenopausal symptoms are gradually disappearing. As you move into the sixth decade of life, you may be feeling the burst of energy and optimism anthropologist Margaret Mead famously termed "postmenopausal zest."

In the next decades, your health focus will continue to shift. Initially, you are likely to be most concerned with preventing or managing the conditions that become more prevalent as your body's supply of estrogen declines, like osteoporosis, heart disease, sexual dysfunction, skin changes and bladder control. You'll be concerned with maintaining a screening schedule and reducing your risk factors. Once you have reached your eighth or ninth decade, you may be more focused on staying strong enough to live independently, pursue the hobbies that give you pleasure and enjoy your family and friends.

If you are in midlife or later, you've probably already experienced some signs of aging: your joints may ache, your skin may feel dry and you may not sleep as well as you used to. Midlife is also a time when the risk of degenerative disease starts to climb. Many of the chronic conditions that begin to plague women in midlife are due, in part, to declining levels of estrogen, which helps to maintain tissues in the body's reproductive organs, and also in the breasts, brain, bones, bladder and cardiovascular system. Genetic makeup is also complicit, as are the cumulative effects of normal aging, environmental forces and lifestyle choices.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.