Are you falling for myths that are actually keeping perfect health out of your grasp? w&h sorts the facts from the fiction:
1.I’m a woman, so I don’t have to worry about my heart
Around 13 per cent of women aged 45 to 67 suffer, compared to 16 per cent of men. And if a heart attack hits, a woman under 60 is up to three times more likely to die from it than a man of the same age.
Need to know: Less than 30 per cent of women get the typical crushing pain in the middle of the chest. Instead, the most common symptoms of heart attack in women are breathlessness, feeling weak and fatigue. If pain does occur it’s often in the jaw or upper stomach. If these ever sound like anything you’re experiencing then visit your GP or casualty, fast.
2.I’ve smoked for years – there’s no point stopping now
Smokers who quit in their fifties cut their risk of lung cancer by up to 64 per cent and lose brain cells five times slower than their smoking peers.
Need to know: You may find it easier to give up now – not only are there more methods to help than ever before but research has shown that 84 per cent of mid-life quitters succeed, compared to only 55 per cent of younger ones.
3.Three meals a day is best
The older we get, the less likely this is to be true – for starters, post-50 women actually burn fewer calories when digesting a large (950 calorie) meal, than when digesting one half the size – something researchers say could contribute to an overall weight gain of 10lb a year.
Need to know: Signs you are eating too large a portion are sluggishness, bloating or indigestion after meals, or weight issues. Try swapping three meals a day for five or six small meals instead.
4. I can’t sleep, but you don’t sleep as much when you age
We sleep differently with age, but this snooze-shift doesn’t occur until our sixties, so in mid-life it’s more likely to be lifestyle that’s sapping your sleep, with issues like snoring partners, worries and menopausal symptoms being primary culprits.
Need to know: If you do wake up and can’t get back to sleep, get out of bed and do something else. Professor Horne’s tip? Try finishing a jigsaw in fairly dim light. “It distracts the mind, plus, after about 20 minutes your eyes start to feel heavy – and that’s a great time to head back to bed.”
5. I’m drinking to help my health
Until the age of 44, women can only drink one unit of alcohol a day before risks outweigh the benefits – after 44, it’s two units. A unit is an incredibly small glass of wine.
Need to know: The key to “healthy” drinking is to know your units – one is 125ml of wine, half a lager or a 25ml measure of spirits – then cut down accordingly.
6.It’s probably just the menopause – it will go away
While the average British woman hits menopause at 51, hormonal fluctuations start up to eight years before so it’s no wonder many of us blame odd symptoms in our middle years on hormones.
Need to know: Don’t assume anything is normal – it’s best to report it so you can make sure everything is okay.
7.I’m not worried about cancer – it doesn’t run in my family
Some cancers do have a family history link – but, for example, only five per cent of breast cancers fall into this group, and the other 95 per cent are likely to be down to lifestyle factors. Add this to the fact that cancers such as mouth, lung and skin have no obvious genetic link and you can’t be complacent.
Need to know: Whatever your genes, follow the advice from the World Cancer Research Fund – it recently announced the top ways to reduce cancer risk, which include watching your weight, regular exercise and avoiding processed meats.
8.It’s too late to change my bone strength
It’s true that at 40-plus you’re unlikely to increase bone density over your baseline – but you can limit the breakdown of what you have. Weight-bearing exercise, and healthy calcium and vitamin D levels are vital, and increase levels of hormone-like compounds called isoflavones in your diet.
9.Middle-age spread is inevitable
The reason we gain weight as we get older is that we lose muscle mass – muscle burns calories so we simply can’t eat as much to stay slim. While biological changes can be hard to counteract, lifestyle factors are completely within your control.
Need to know: You don’t necessarily have to book into the gym – just consciously think about how to increase your level of day-to-day activity. Look for ways to walk more often, and add flights of stairs instead of lifts or escalators.
DISCLAIMER: You must not rely on the information on this website/newsletter as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.