What factors affect a woman's health as she ages?

It's impossible to envision the second half of life without thinking about your health, especially your risk of developing debilitating or life-threatening diseases in the future. Your health risks as a woman are, for the most part, a result of your genes, your habits and your age.

Your genes. Although you can't exchange the genes you inherited, you can, increasingly, use the information they contain to develop your health strategy. Family history, especially when close relatives develop a disease early in life, can indicate an increased risk. Genetic testing, which is available for some forms of breast cancer and some other inherited disorders, can give a more precise indication of risk.

Your habits. Smoking, sun exposure, alcohol consumption, diet, and physical activity also play a major role in determining your disease risk. While you can't entirely undo the effects of past practices, you can arrest, and even reverse, much of the damage.

Your age. Aging—the result of gradual physical changes that occur naturally over time—is caused in large part by cell damage and cell loss. The damage may be inflicted from outside the body, for example by toxic chemicals or radiation. It can also be a consequence of normal body processes, like metabolism, that produce harmful oxygen-free radicals. Mistakes can also occur when DNA is copied during cell division. Although the body has systems to to fix various types of cell damage, the repairs aren't always complete, and as the years pass, the damage accumulates.

Moreover, even undamaged cells aren't immortal. Each cell has a predetermined lifespan, which varies by tissue type. With age, cell numbers decline as cell death outpaces cell division. As the number of undamaged body cells diminishes, bodily functions—including digestion and metabolism—slow. It takes longer for nerves to respond to stimuli. Hormone levels fall as endocrine gland function declines. That said, however, the effects of aging vary significantly among body systems and from woman to woman.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Forty is a magical number for women's health. Your career, friendships and relationships all may be flourishing. Yet turning 40 also means your chance of developing illnesses like cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis or a thyroid condition increases significantly. You might not even be aware of the risks associated with these diseases. For instance, according to the American Heart Association, 23 percent of women ages 40 and above die within one year of having a heart attack compared to 18 percent of men.

Many diseases simply become more common as we grow older. Certain lifestyle habits, such as smoking or poor diet, begin to take their toll by age 40. You can't turn back the clock, but you can learn how to protect yourself from the health problems that could destroy your quality of life. Along with the help of your physician, you need to focus not only on prevention but on early detection of certain medical conditions.

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Dr. Deborah Raines, MSN
Nursing Specialist

Three factors that you can’t control, but that can impact a woman’s health as she ages are:

  • Your genes: genetics and family history can provide some insight. Looking at how one’s mother, grandmothers and other blood-related relatives age may provide some clues. If close relative had an early onset disease or an inherited disorder, that information should be shared with the healthcare provider and early screen considered.
  • Your age: from the moment of birth the body is constantly changing as cells are loss and produced, damaged and replaced. Over time this process can be altered or disrupted by exposure to external toxins, mistakes during the process of cell division and consequences of normal body processes like metabolism.
  • Your hormones: Specific to women are changes in the hormone secretion of the female reproductive cycle. As the woman ages, the ovaries become less responsive to the effects of hormones secreted from the anterior pituitary gland. As a result the circulating levels of estrogen and progesterone are altered and can lead to physical and psychosocial changes.

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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.