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Priorities

Entering into our 40’s and beyond often includes some fear, uncertainty and even a bit of sadness or grief. So much value is placed on youth in our society. We are sold anti-aging creams, hair dye and even surgical options to combat the visibility of aging.  This way we are conditioned to believe that growing older, and becoming a middle aged woman makes us less beautiful, less valuable. Unless you live in a culture that celebrates older age and reveres the elderly,  you’ve most likely succumbed to this belief on some level. 

That’s why the single most important aspect of health and wellness as we transition into middle age is the way we think about it. A major reason so many people suffer ailments, disease, weakness, weight gain and more, actually starts with how we think about ourselves and what’s possible for us as we age.

It’s important to look for all the ways you’ve grown as a person, to value the awareness and wisdom you’ve cultivated. It’s also incredibly important that we understand that our lives aren’t over and that so much more can be awaiting us. 

A study done in 1981 showed that physiological markers such as height, weight, gait, flexibility, cognition, memory, physical strength and more can improve by merely thinking of oneself as younger – even within a short five-day period. This demonstrates the power of our thoughts and expectations. So the first step to caring for yourself and prioritizing your wellness as you age is to become aware of your own thoughts and beliefs, then trade the ones that aren’t serving you and the healthy, vital life you desire, for thoughts and beliefs that do. This isn’t always easy to do on your own, so I always recommend hiring a coach or other advocate who can help you unravel the limiting beliefs and habitual thoughts that are sneakily holding you back from living your best life. 

Reference for the study mentioned: 1. E. J. Langer, Mindfulness (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1989); E. J. Langer, Counter Clockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility (New York: Ballantine Books, 2009).

Nutrition and Diet

Once you’ve begun the work on your thinking, action must follow. Thoughts are the fuel for your emotions and resulting actions, but taking care of the vehicle you reside and experience the world in – your body – is just as important. 

We grow up hearing “you are what you eat” but the reality of this statement isn’t always fully understood. I find it helpful to remember that every cell of your body, which forms each organ, neuron, bone, hair, hormone and neurotransmitter, are built with the ingredients you provide through what you eat. 

As a kid I remember getting excited to eat colorful candy, snacks and treats that were fun to eat. The idea that my body was going to try to use that brownie to build itself was almost completely lost on me. A major part of nutrition is giving your body the ingredients or building blocks it needs to create and replenish healthy cells and to maintain optimal function. 

This means it’s critical to include lots of whole foods into your diet. Colorful vegetables, fruits, meats and fish, grains and legumes provide everything you need to build a healthy body. 

Many women struggle with eating or drinking things that aren’t exactly supportive of health, and it’s true that giving up unhealthy foods entirely isn’t always sustainable. There is a psychological component that comes into play when you try to give up everything ‘bad’ and only eat healthy nutritious foods. 

I like to think of it like this: focus more on providing all the building materials your body needs for optimal health by incorporating plenty of vegetables into your diet and taking in adequate protein. You’ll naturally feel more satisfied because your body won’t be craving missing nutritional building blocks, which will reduce cravings dramatically. 

So rather than focussing on elimination, reduction and avoidance of ‘junk’ or unhealthy items, put your attention more on including, prioritizing and adding in healthy foods into your diet. 

As you age, your body will naturally produce less collagen and your hormones may begin to change. Pay attention to how foods makes you feel and don’t ignore it! If drinking coffee makes you feel awful – you can opt for something else that doesn’t.

Some women will do well starting their day off with carbohydrates, others will feel much better taking in carbs later in the day instead. Each body is different. 

We tend to stick with habits and routines that no longer work for us. It’s empowering to choose what to feed your body with and to make decisions that support and prioritize your wellbeing and vitality.  What you eat most certainly plays a role in how you feel, mentally, emotionally and physically. If you want to live a long life and feel amazing into old age – you can’t neglect nutrition. 

Thankfully it’s not rocket science – so if you’re getting confused by all the conflicting information out there, the miracle diets and advice, keep it simple and focus on giving your body what it needs and paying attention to how you feel. It’s your body and you’re most capable of taking care of it. 

I can’t talk about nutrition without mentioning hydration. Your cells – the building blocks of your entire body and brain – are made up of more than 60% water. Without adequate hydration, your cells will struggle to function. Overweight women who aren’t hydrating adequately can shed excess fat simply by improving hydration, because of improved cell function. So drink enough water ladies!! Don’t underestimate the power of water especially as you transition into middle age and beyond

Physical Activity

Exercise improves the health of our arteries and entire cardiovascular system. Exercise and movement improve brain health, memory and hormonal balance – especially important as we reach perimenopause and menopause. It’s true that exercise reduces risk of disease, heart attacks and strokes, but it also improves mood and emotional wellbeing. If you exercise, you’ll be happier and more resilient.

Exercise doesn’t have to be hard, you don’t need to go to crossfit or lift 140# to be in good health. In fact, when it comes to exercise for women – especially as you enter middle age and beyond, I am a huge advocate of stress-reducing exercise vs stress inducing exercise. Women are often taking on too much stress as it is, and must be very careful not to overdo it when it comes to adding in physical stress via exercise. Activities like yoga and walking are wonderful to incorporate into your routine because they are inherently stress reducing. You should feel better after exercise, not like you need to stay in bed for three days. 

When it comes to strength training, which keeps your bones strong among many other benefits, I can’t emphasize enough how critical it is to work with your body not against it. We need to progress carefully, only increasing weight and intensity as tolerated. 

When you first start an exercise routine, don’t get influenced by what other people are capable of doing around you. Instead, choose to respect, honor and work with your body and its current abilities. That’s the only way to increase in strength and stamina – to understand that you can only be where you are right now and the only way to improve is step by step, little by little from where you are. To work at what I call ‘the edge’. Your body is your ally in this life. Embrace it and team up with it for the best results. 

Mental and Emotional Well-Being

Ah, stress. You may not even realize that you are operating in chronic stress- mode. This means your sympathetic nervous system is activated for sustained periods when it is only intended to be activated for short periods. If you’ve ever watched a nature documentary you may have seen a prey animal be chased by a lion. While the lion is in pursuit, the prey animal’s sympathetic nervous system is activated in order for the prey to get to safety. Have you ever noticed what they do once they make it to safety? They will often literally ‘shake it off’ and go back to their normal lives, entering into the parasympathetic nervous system mode,  aka rest & digest mode. 

The problem with our modern lives is that we often enter into the sympathetic, aka ‘fight or flight’ mode because we can’t find our keys, we get cut off on the highway or the kids are late for practice or won’t put on their shoes fast enough to get to the school bus on time. This stress response gets activated so many times in a normal day and for many of us we hardly ever get out of this mode. 

This is a terrible thing, because your normal bodily functions suffer, as does mental health. Stress is an important component of our nervous systems but it must always be deactivated when the stressful situation subsides. The problem is, for many of us stressful situations don’t subside like they do for a prey animal. We are faced with one stressful situation after another. Some of us can even become ‘addicted’ to running on adrenaline. You might feel like you’re thriving under pressure, but once you get a break you immediately get sick – that’s an important message from your body that you have been operating in chronic stress mode.

That’s why becoming acutely aware of ourselves, how we react to things in our experience, and how we feel in our bodies is key. Like a zebra, we must actively shake it off and allow ourselves to get back into our parasympathetic rest and digest mode often and eventually make that restful state our norm. 

Women often neglect making sure that they have activities in their lives that light them up, and help them relax and enjoy life. Slowing down to pray and be really attentive in our prayers, reading, resting, sleeping adequately, having a thriving social circle and also seeking the support of coaches, counselors or therapists all make a huge difference in overall health and well being. We can’t allow ourselves to be isolated and hopeless, but must take the initiative to ask for help, seek good company and experiences that enhance our quality of life. 

I have my clients do an energy audit where they explore what’s draining them and what’s energizing them. Then help them eliminate, one by one the drainers, and one by one, include more energizers. This practice alone can go a long way towards improving mental and emotional health. For even better results, each woman needs to understand her worth and value, her strengths and the value she brings to the world just by being herself. 

If you’re a woman who can use some help with that, consider this: How much stronger would your family, your community, your society and beyond be if you believed in yourself a little more. If you took care of yourself and were able to be strong and healthy? I suggest envisioning your best self and your best life every day. Be open to possibility and be willing to grow and change. God willing, you will see amazing changes not only in your own health, but in the people and world around you as a result. I’ve seen it in my own life, and I see it every day with my clients. You can make the world a better place, simply by taking better care of you. 

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