When you think about the health of women as they age, the first things that come to mind are menopause and breast cancer. This is of course what greatly differentiates the aging of men and women. We will not repeat the explanations on menopause (which are part of a previous article), but we will focus, in this month of breast cancer awareness, on the health of women in general and the risks of breast cancer and cardiovascular illnesses.

The more you store it, the more difficult it is to use fat as an energy source

What best characterizes aging is that the body repairs itself less and less and the decrease in efficiency of the different systems can become cumulative. Thus, the more time advances, the more difficult it is to correct a bad established trend, but it is never too late.

The ketogenic diet (rich in good fat) has attracted a lot of attention lately, bringing in the talk and recommendations on fat. In doing so, we forget that the most important recommendation of this “eating mode” is to reduce the calorie intake from carbohydrates (sugars and starchy foods). For women, but also for you gentlemen, this is one of the most important health recommendation. Women’s health is particularly sensitive to weight gain as they age.

Let’s take a fictional example who we’ll call Carole. Carole, who was in her forties, began to have hot flashes that interfered with her sleep. Poor sleep, supported by low estrogen, led to gradual weight gain. At 55, as the increase in weight, led to an increase in mild inflammation throughout her body, Carole was then affected by knee pain (beginning of osteoarthritis). The lack of sleep and the increase in body weight favoring the development of osteoarthritis, at 60 Carole also developed back pain. Hypertension and depressive tendencies then appeared, also fueled by lack of sleep and weight gain. Carole then decided to improve her diet and do more exercise. She will have to convince her body to use fat as an energy source instead of storing it as it has been for 20 years.

It’s time to act

It must be understood that this is a vicious cycle which must be addressed as soon as possible. The body quickly gets into the habit of storing, in the form of fat, sugar and starchy foods instead of using them as an energy source. It is for this reason that it is a good idea to reduce their consumption in order to force the body to use fat as an energy source, as proposed by the ketogenic diet.

Unfortunately, the fictional case of Carole is common and all too often leads to the development of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. For many women, it is very difficult not to gain weight. The best solution lies in the healthiest lifestyle possible:

  • Physical activity improves sleep and reduces symptoms of menopause.
  • Deep sleep provides better hormonal balances.
  • A diet rich in vegetables (50%) and low in sugar allows the body to get used to using fat instead of storing it. Cut all refined sugars and starchy foods (all); whole grain products are very beneficial.
  • Beware of lack of protein and vitamin B12 deficiency.
  • Beware of vitamin D and calcium deficiencies (risk of osteoporosis).
  • Eating legumes, including soy and soy milk, reduces menopausal symptoms and the risk of breast cancer.

Two well-known risks

Two major health problems whose risks specifically increase more rapidly for women after menopause are cardiovascular disease and breast cancer. For the risks of cardiovascular diseases, a recent study mentions that overall, a healthy diet and lifestyle that can reduce the risk of heart attack by 81 to 94%, that is to say, practically eliminate it , while drugs can only reduce the risk by 20-30% (Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, May 2018: Vegetarian Dietary Patterns and Cardiovascular Disease).

For breast cancer, know that if several women in your family have it, especially between 25 and 45 years old, the Centre Rose in Quebec (CHU of Quebec) can offer you genetic screening for risks. Like for many cancers, eating meat, cold meats and alcohol increases your risks. Healthy lifestyle habits decrease them.

Don’t be told that you are too old

Deirdre Larkin is a very interesting example. This interesting woman was a former British concert pianist who arrived in South Africa in 1970. She was diagnosed with osteoporosis at the age of 70. She decided to devote herself to running at the age of 78. She is now able, at the of 85, to complete a half-marathon in just two hours.

She never ran after college and even mentioned that she was a very poor runner at the time. In 2010, she decided to start running to accompany her son who ran three times a week. At first, she only took a few strides, followed by a few steps, then a few strides again… Her abilities were very limited.

After seven years of effort and exemplary life discipline, she now wins medals all over the world. Last year she completed 65 races including several half-marathons. She holds a world record in the over 80 years category for a 21 kilometer race in 2 hours 5 minutes.

It is a safe bet that some people would have advised her not to start running at the age of 78; 8 years after being diagnosed with osteoporosis.

Time to think about yourself

Aging causes a lot of changes, but it is possible to age well and maintain your ability to enjoy life for much longer. It is never too late, but for you ladies, the first signs of menopause (pre-menopause), which can last from 2 to 10 years, should be a signal: ”it is now even more important to pay attention to my healthy lifestyle and think about myself.”

This October dedicated to breast cancer, visit the Canadian Cancer Society website to learn more and to make a donation.