It used to be that the average lifespan of a woman in North America only extended into the early 60s. Now that women are living into their 70s, 80s and beyond, this brings a whole new dimension to women's health.
The main health concerns after menopause are osteoporosis, heart disease and breast cancer. We've been told that hormone replacement can help lessen the risk of osteoporosis, but if you're one of the women who can't take the drugs or have decided not to, there are other ways to help protect yourself. These measures benefit all women – whether they're on hormone replacement or not.
To protect against osteoporosis
- Osteoporosis Canada recommends taking 1,200 mg of calcium per day, along with 800 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily if you are over 50 years old. Be sure to mention if you're taking any kind of supplement to your doctor.
- Stay active. If you haven't already and can do so, begin a weight-bearing exercise program. Studies have shown that weight-bearing exercises encourage healthy bones and prevent bone mass loss. If you can't participate in a regular program, simple walking routines or gardening also help. If you're one of the many women with joint pain, perhaps swimming would be a good option for you.
- Stop smoking, avoid caffeine and eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of calcium and vitamins.
There are also medications specifically designed to treat bone loss, so you may want to discuss this with your doctor if needed. As well, you may want to go for a bone-density measurement test to get a baseline measurement. This way, you and your doctor will know where you stand and if you'll need regular monitoring.
In the past, hormone replacement therapy was also used to protect against heart disease. However, a major clinical study, the Women's Health Institute (WHI) study, has found that instead of preventing heart disease, long-term use of hormone replacement therapy actually increases the risk. For this reason, it is no longer recommended that women take hormone replacement therapy for the sole purpose of preventing heart disease. Therefore, it's more important than ever for women to find other ways to reduce their risk of heart disease.
To protect against heart disease
- Stop smoking. Yes, you've heard it before, but here's yet another good reason to quit. Cigarettes increase your risk of stroke and heart disease.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet that is low in saturated fats.
- Watch your blood pressure. Have it checked regularly and follow your doctor's recommendations for lowering it, including medication if needed.
- Watch your weight. Obesity contributes to heart disease.
- Get physical. Move around to keep your heart healthy.
- Try to limit your stress levels.
If you're in perimenopause, or have already entered menopause, it's important to take stock of your health status, especially if you're aware of conditions for which you may be at high risk. Talk to your doctor about the options available to keep you healthy. Information about taking preventive steps can help you fully enjoy the many years to come after menopause.
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