Can you turn your health around after 40?
Radical changes to your health are possible at any age.
With the right support, reasonable goals and a good attitude, you can face your health challenges and change your quality of life. Not everything can be totally reversed but health improvements are possible no matter what your age.
The short answer to this question is: of course! The body has an amazing ability to heal and change. Our bodies are very dynamic, adapting and changing based on circumstances basically minute-to-minute. As we age, we typically do not bounce back as quickly; recovery time and wound healing are both generally longer the older we get. However, very radical turnarounds in health are possible at any age.
The first thing to be aware of is that you are not 22 anymore. Our bodies do change as we age. After 30, many women feel a small drop in energy but also often report feeling more in tune with their bodies. After 40, many women have had children, careers and more body changes. They often notice a noticeable decrease in their metabolism around this time. Perimenopause is a classic time where women feel their metabolism has slowed down. Maintaining the same weight can become more challenging even if your diet and lifestyle have not changed. Add to that any chronic diseases that you may also be facing – diabetes, heart disease, obesity or autoimmune disorders may mean your health journey progresses more slowly than you would like. Be patient with yourself and your body. You won’t lose 30 pounds in a month. In fact, that is not a healthy rate of weight loss for anyone. You won’t reverse an autoimmune disorder in a few weeks. But over time, changes you make can make a dramatic difference in your health. Be gentle with yourself, you are precious.
You also need to set goals that are realistic, measurable and reasonable. “I want to feel like I am 20 again!” That is not necessarily realistic and its measurability is questionable. “I want to lose 30 pounds over the course of the next year.” This meets all three – it is attainable and measurable. You have clearly defined a time frame for your goal and it can be achieved in a healthy manner. Not all chronic disease is completely reversible. So, for someone with heart disease or an autoimmune disease, the reasonable goal may be to better manage your health challenges, regain function or independence or simply have more energy to get things done.
Next, you need to assemble a great team to help you reach your goals. This does not have to be an expensive endeavor. You do not have to hire a chef, get a personal trainer, spend thousands on miracle supplements, get a gym membership, etc. You can certainly do some of these things if it helps you reach your goals but not everyone has the means to assemble a professional care team. For most of us, support comes from friends and family, our doctor, church friends and maybe an online support community (like She is You!) Connect with people who help you feel uplifted and empowered. Find a gym buddy (or workout buddy) who keeps you accountable. If you struggle to cook healthy meals, take a cooking class, try a meal delivery service or hang out with friends whose cooking abilities you admire. I learned a lot of my cooking skills from making meals with friends. Some people love to work out in a gym, others hate it. I always encourage my patients to find movement they enjoy. If you want to dance – dance! Like biking? Go for bike rides. You can walk, run, jog, swim, play a sport, do yoga, etc. If you hate the word “exercise”, then call it physical activity, movement, or sweaty-body-fun-time. Adapt your health journey to you and keep searching until you find what works.
The more complex your current health challenges, the more guidance you may need. Someone with several chronic diseases may need to consult their primary care doctor, holistic care provider as well as various specialists that are part of their care team. I always recommend searching until you find the right provider who listens to you, understands your health concerns and gives you concrete guidance on how to improve your health. My own personal bias is that the more holistic providers are the best at this: naturopathic physicians, integrative and functional medicine doctors, osteopathic doctors, etc. Sometimes even a health coach, herbalist or acupuncturist is the person that really helps to kick start your health journey. It can be very overwhelming to rely on “Dr. Google” and I believe it is essential to have someone you can check in with as you start to make changes. If you are on prescription medication, you should let the prescribing doctor know about any changes that you are making.
I have seen women of all ages make major changes to their health with the help of the right team. It might be your sister, your doctor and your acupuncturist. It might be your friends, church sisters and chiropractor. It might be a team of doctors in addition to books you have read, blogs you follow and an online community of women in a similar situation. Find your tribe, set your goals and believe that changing your health is possible. I will leave you with an inspirational story that I first heard of when I was in naturopathic medical school. Dr. Terry Wahls was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she followed the typical medical advice and soon found herself bound to a wheelchair. She then took a journey through food, research, lifestyle changes and supplementation and in her Ted Talk, she is walking around the stage sharing her remarkable story. The Ted Talk is nine years old now but the story is still very powerful. Dr. Wahls continues to write, speak and share what she has learned with others. May you find it as inspirational as I did and always believe in your ability to change your health for the better.