During my experience as a health care provider, I have realized that, when it comes to aging well, many older women are worried about developing cancer, especially breast cancer, more than any other age-related diseases.
However, there are other more common medical conditions and age-related diseases that make aging well a challenge. Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, is responsible for the highest degree of mortality in women. Vascular disease in women accounts for approximately 40% to 45% of all deaths, compared to 25% for all female cancers, including ovarian, breast, cervical, and endometrial cancer. There are many women over 40 living with age-related diseases affecting the heart, and this is putting them at a heightened risk for heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes.
How Age-Related Diseases Accelerate Aging
The reason why women, in a comparative sense, struggle with aging well is morbidity, which is brought about by age-related diseases. Morbidity refers to a state of ill health whereby you cannot function at optimum levels because of the limitations placed upon you by symptoms of chronic disease—aging well both physically and mentally therefore becomes hindered by your medical condition.
When you suffer from age-related diseases that make you chronically sick, and you’re therefore unable to perform to your potential, the aging process accelerates. This accelerated process—which makes aging well next to impossible—is the result of an abnormal physiological state in your body. Aging well is compromised when you have an age-related disease because your body gives way to what’s happening inside—it can even lead to premature death.
Remember, one of the key reasons for aging faster is the abnormal state of your body caused by age-related diseases. One of the most commonly seen age-related diseases is cardiovascular disease, including stroke and heart disease, which all start with the irregular physiological state of inflammation in the arteries.
The causes of cardiovascular disease in women are quite lengthy and can include old age, smoking, diet, family history, and various other lifestyle factors. However, the most common cause of cardiovascular disease (and subsequent inflammation) is being overweight or obese. It’s not news that being obese leads to a number of health problems that serve as hindrances to aging well, but it is also strongly associated with another age-related condition known as insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance occurs when the cells in your body aren’t receptive enough to insulin, and therefore can’t lower your blood sugar. When this happens, your body simply secretes more insulin to compensate. The problem is that the high insulin levels can cause more weight gain, increased levels of blood fats, excessive clotting, and greatly increased levels of inflammation within your arteries—this leads to plaque buildup, calcium deposition, and eventually blockage of blood to vital organs. Consistently high levels of insulin also tend to make the degree of insulin resistance worse and can adversely affect your liver. Again, all of these conditions make aging well next to impossible.
Managing Insulin Resistance
If you are a woman over the age of 45 with a family history of heart attack, stroke or diabetes, and your waist size is over 36 inches, this is cause for concern, because you may already have some degree of insulin resistance. If this could be you, here are five important points to keep in mind, especially if you’re concerned about aging well:
- Have your blood pressure checked. Hypertension is one of the earliest symptoms of insulin resistance, and a major risk factor for vascular disease.
- Have your blood fats checked. It’s important to have your total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and triglycerides checked.
- Have your fibrinogen checked. As the level of inflammation rises, so does your fibrinogen level, which is associated with a higher risk of clotting.
- Have your blood sugar checked regularly. If you notice a rising trend in your blood sugar levels, even if it’s within normal limits, this can be a strong signal that you are headed for trouble.
- Check you levels of C-reactive protein. This is a blood test that measures the levels of inflammation in your body. If your level is elevated, it directly increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.
“Heart Disease and C-Reactive Protein (CRP) Testing,” WebMD web site; https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/heart-disease-c-reactive-protein-crp-testing, last accessed May 8, 2013.
Zamora, D., “Women’s Top 5 Health Concerns,” WebMD web site; https://women.webmd.com/features/5-top-female-health-concern, last accessed May 8, 2013.
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