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Ridiculously easy health hacks for the over 40 crowd
Why are we ignoring the low hanging fruit?
I’m amazed at what we ask of midlife women today. Revamp your diet. Fast for hours. Give up carbs. Take my 16-week course for more than a grand.
Yet what I’ve found on my research journey is simple things can greatly enhance health. It’s the low-hanging fruit. I think all the noise of doing big things, is inching out the effective simple things.
So, for this week I’ve gathered easy things women can do that go a long way health wise.
1. Get annual physicals
My annual physical is coming up this week. I used to go every 2-3 years until my late 40s. Now I go every year.
Making an appointment is simple enough, yet mentally it can feel tough, especially if you don't want to find out if anything is wrong. But one of the best things you can do is to get checked out, including those labs, to track and monitor.
This is especially true as women transition through because we may not feel different, yet our labs may show changes.
All my subscribers get my free biomarker guide to help you have a conversation with your healthcare provider.
2. Supplement Smart
I don’t believe that diet alone can supply all the micronutrients women need. Taking supplements is one of the easiest ways to prevent or improve micronutrient deficiencies that increase at midlife.
But knowing what to take–or having a strategy–is not so easy.
In case you missed it, last week I wrote a post on the 10 Dietitian-Approved Supplements for Midlife Women.
3. Take walk breaks
A review of seven controlled studies in the journal of Sports Medicine shows that light-intensity walking–as little as two minutes–helps lower blood sugar and insulin levels after meals compared to prolonged sitting.
Sitting, broken up with standing, helped lower blood sugars too but had less of an effect on insulin.
The researchers state:
“The meta-analytical component of this review found both standing and light-intensity walking improve postprandial glucose metabolism compared to prolonged sitting….However, we found light -intensity walking elicited a significantly greater attenuation in postprandial glucose compared to prolonged sitting and standing breaks, which supports the findings of previous studies.”
I started this almost 10 years ago when I realized that I did very little moving besides my workouts. I started doing a few loops around my condo complex every couple of hours. And now my husband and I take a walk almost every night after dinner.
4. Get a little sun every day
A good thing about taking walk breaks is you get some sun. This is important in the morning to set your circadian rhythm. But there are other benefits to sun exposure.
A growing body of research shows sunlight exposure can reduce blood pressure and boost heart health. In fact, those with habitual low sun exposure have twice the risk of cardiovascular mortality than those with regular sun exposure.
In addition to vitamin D, sun exposure increases nitric oxide production in the skin. Researchers have also found sun exposure decreases hot flashes in shift workers.
Although too much sun exposure increases the risk of skin cancer, getting between 10-15 minutes a day without sunscreen while protecting your face and eyes can be beneficial.
5. Breath through your nose during sleep
It may seem like taping your mouth during sleep is new and trendy. But the benefits of nasal breathing during sleep have been a popular subject since the sixteenth century.
In the late 1800s, there was a book written called Shut Your Mouth and Save Your Life. In it, famous painter George Catlin argues that nasal breathing during sleep was behind Native Americans' robust health and longer lifespans.
At midlife, we may not realize that our breathing is not what it used to be, especially at night. As airway muscles become weaker with age and hormonal changes, we may wake with a dry mouth, headache, or being told we snore. These are all signs we are breathing out of our mouth part of the night.
In fact, people over 40 are six times more likely to spend >50% of their sleep using a combination of mouth and nasal breathing, according to a 2004 study.
This matters because our noses better filter air, prevent over breathing, help sync breathing with the brain, result in less snoring, and help keep oxygen levels up during sleep. Our sinuses are lined with nitric oxide, that magical midlife molecule that helps us sleep better.
You can consider mouth tape at night. My husband and I have been using myotape from Oxygen Advantage. It doesn’t tape your mouth but is an adhesive that goes around your mouth to help it stay closed.
Check with your doctor if you have sleep apnea or an obstructed nose, which may contraindicate mouth tape.
6. Eat during the daylight hours
When I finally dug into the research on intermittent fasting and health outcomes, my biggest takeaway was the high cost to benefit ratio. Intermittent fasting is challenging, and the benefits are not as straightforward as we’ve been led to believe.
But there was one part of the research that had clear benefits and less cost - eating in line with your circadian rhythm. This is moving eating earlier in the day and eating less at night. In fact, closing the eating window to a doable 11-12 hours from 14 hours positively affects health.
In short, this is getting your master clock, which is regulated by light and dark, in sync with your peripheral clock, which is regulated by eating. This maximizes metabolic health.
Of course, we all have times when we are out of sync, but this goal is much easier than going long periods without eating.
7. Drink with meals (If you choose to drink)
Below is an excerpt from my big review on alcohol at midlife:
A 2016 review in Food and Function, shares evidence that drinking wine with meals provides additional benefits then drinking alone.
For starters, when alcohol is taken with food, its metabolism starts in the stomach with the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). This puts less of a burden on the liver, allowing a gradual rise in blood alcohol levels.
Drinking wine with meals may lower the risk of food borne illness as it helps kill pathogenic bacteria.
Other benefits may be maximized too. A study with 312,388 adults from the UK Biobank without type 2 diabetes were followed for over 10 years. Consuming alcohol with meals was associated with 12% lower risk of developing diabetes, but drinking outside meals wasn’t.
And last is the Mediterranean diet, which includes red wine with meals. Research from the PREDIMED trial shows the Mediterranean diet with nuts or olive oil decreased the risk of cardiovascular disease and breast cancer, compared to a low-fat diet.
So, enjoying wine, or another alcoholic beverage, with a meal may be a superior pattern of drinking.
8. Have a salad (or two) a day
Greens are an excellent source of nitrates. Nitrates are an alternate way for the body to make nitric oxide, as described here.
In one study, midlife women who had two salads a day had increases in flow mediated dilation, which is a marker of endothelial health.
So have that midlife power salad at lunch and find ways to add greens to other meals–eggs, stir-fry, sandwich, a dinner salad, or a smoothie.
And when I eat out, I always get a side salad!
9. Take a warm bath or hit the sauna or hot tub
Regular sauna use has established heart health benefits. Upon looking into it, I found raising your body temperature increases the release of nitric oxide.
A Finnish pilot study showed that women who had a series of sauna sessions had significantly fewer symptoms, including night sweats, palpitations, sleep problems and irritability.
And a 2011 intervention showed post-menopausal women who had local thermal therapy (two-20-minute sessions per week) with far-infrared light had significant reductions of menopause-related symptoms.
Don’t have a sauna? Immersing yourself in warm water like taking a bath may have similar benefits, according to a 2019 review:
“The physiological changes induced by warm water immersion, such as vasodilation, increased blood flow, reduction in arterial stiffness, vascular endothelial function, oxygenation, and decreased sleep-related stress, may result in improvements in the cardiovascular function.”
10. Monitor your blood pressure at home
I detail my story of developing blood pressure phobia in this post. I mentioned that the blood pressure taken at the office is wrong 6 out of 10 times. It is the least reliable way to measure blood pressure.
Blood pressure is an important health indicator, so we need an accurate measurement. Consider investing in a home monitor and taking it periodically or a month before your physical.
If you get nervous, don’t look at the number until you have several (and buy one that takes several in a row and averages them).
A study in JAMA showed that those with hypertension who monitored their blood pressure at home for six months had blood pressures 10 points lower than those who didn’t.
I’ll be talking about ways to lower blood pressure soon, but understanding your blood pressure at rest is helpful.
11. Regularly connect with your girlfriends
I have two good friends I run with during the week, and we call it running therapy. That’s because we spend that time talking, sometimes venting, but most of all, connecting.
A study published in the Journal of General Psychiatry followed 7,694 Australian women over a 20-year period, starting when they were 45-50. The women with higher social relationship satisfaction had a lower risk of developing multiple chronic conditions.
Staying connected with others socially is good for our health.
It’s the little things
The problem with starting with the big things is they produce fear, which is why there is so much resistance. Just the thought of all the energy and time it will take causes people to put off change for years or even decades.
In One Small Step Will Change Your Life Robert Maurer says, “Low key change helps the human mind circumnavigate the fear that blocks success and creativity.”
What are some of the little things you’ve tried that have made a big difference?
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