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The five biggest health concerns you should be looking out for with each extra candle on the cake.

I’ll admit it, turning 40 really turned me upside down and I didn’t think it would. Up until then, I suppose I was feeling pretty invincible and not paying too much attention to my own health or wellbeing.

I wasn’t particularly treating my body, or my preventative health with any priority. In fact, I wasn’t thinking about my health at all. But as an older, wiser close friend told me, turning 40 isn’t all doom and gloom. If anything, it’s a great time to take charge of my health. To take action now so that any of those new health factors that come with those few extra candles on my birthday cake, will be no big deal.

So what are some of the biggest health concerns women might or will face over 40 though?

1. Lowered vitamin D levels.

Our bodies can obtain vitamin D in three, unique ways:

  1. Through foods that are naturally rich in vitamin D like egg yolks, cheese and fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel, and salmon.
  2. Through synthesis in your skin when it is exposed to sunlight. Basically, the more your skin is exposed to the sun the more vitamin D is produced;
  3. And lastly, through dietary supplements.
Vitamin D is important for bone health and muscle strength. Image via iStock.

While your diet and level of sun exposure happen to be the best ways to obtain the vitamin D your body needs, our skin’s ability to produce vitamin D with exposure to sunlight decreases as we age.

We also have to also be aware of the importance of ‘adequate levels’ of sunlight exposure for strong bones, but for some that is sometimes difficult to achieve. With this in mind, taking a vitamin D supplement daily may become an important factor in the management of osteoporosis as we age. In fact, research has shown that by adding a vitamin D supplement to our daily line up we reduce the risk of a fracture in two ways: by decreasing falls and increasing bone density. And in addition to bone health, vitamin D may also affect muscle strength.

Essentially, the moral of the story is this: talk with your doctor about your vitamin D levels. You never know, you might need a bit of a helping hand.

2. Breast cancer.

Turning 40 doesn’t automatically put you into a ‘high risk’ category for breast cancer, but obviously the older you are, the more your chances increase, especially if you are predisposed to the gene. The best thing you can do is to catch it early. And the way to do this is to “know” your own breasts and body.

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Breasts come in all shapes and sizes and will change throughout your life. Your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, age and weight may alter the size, shape and feel of your breasts. Get to know your own breasts so that you will know what is normal for you. You should see your GP promptly about the following important changes:

  • A lump, lumpiness or thickening in the breast or armpit.
  • Changes in the skin of the breast such as dimpling, puckering or redness.
  • Changes in the nipple such as inversion, new nipple discharge, itchy or ulcerated skin.
  • An area of the breast that feels different from the rest.
  • New persistent breast pain.

And remember, look in the mirror at your breasts and feel your breasts from time to time.

"Breasts come in all shapes and sizes and will change throughout your life." Image: Supplied.

3. Heart disease.

I think as women, we have it in our heads that heart attacks will only happen to men and only old men at that. Wrong. In fact, you are four times more likely to die of a heart attack than breast cancer. BUT, there are ways to prevent this from happening. Just as important as prevention, is knowing the warning signs of an attack which often, present very differently from those of a man’s. Most people recognise chest pain as a warning sign of a heart attack – which is important because chest pain is one of the most common symptoms.

However, a recent study has shown that 40% of women can experience a heart attack without chest pain. Instead women may experience other warning signs such as shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, back pain or just unexplained tiredness and fatigue. Women often think that these warning signs are less life threatening conditions such as indigestion and don’t take prompt action to call Triple Zero (000).

This is also the perfect time to quit smoking, as this doubles your chances of having a heart attack.

The best way to reduce your chance of heart disease is to eat a balanced meal, take plenty of exercise and quit smoking. Image via iStock.
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4. Weight gain.

Good news. Turning 40 doesn’t automatically mean you’ll start to inexplicably pile on weight. What it can mean however, is that if we do, we tend to put it on around our middle.

This is often due to a drop in activity and hormones. Regular exercise has never been as important as it is right now. It doesn’t have to be vigorous but it does have to be consistent and part of a daily routine. So find an activity you enjoy and can sustain and you will continue to reap the health benefits (low blood pressure, less chance of a heart attack for starters)

5. Vision problems.

Women over 40 may be particularly at risk for the development of eye and vision problems, especially if any of these points apply to them:

  • Chronic, systemic conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
  • A family history of glaucoma or macular degeneration.
  • A highly visually demanding job or work in an eye-hazardous occupation.
  • Health conditions like high cholesterol, thyroid conditions, anxiety or depression, and arthritis for which you take medications. Many medications, even antihistamines, have ocular side effects.
health issues over 40
"Women over 40 may be particularly at risk for the development of eye and vision problems." Image via iStock.

Again, the best way to avoid or manage the potential risk is to undertake regular eye tests and visit your optometrist. It also helps to be as aware of your family’s medical history as possible.

So turning 40 doesn’t mean it’s all bad. It just means we have to be more vigilant and take the time to take care of ourselves - something women are notoriously bad at. So make an appointment to see your doctor and then keep up with regular health checks. In addition, try to live the healthiest life you can lead and then just enjoy being fit, fabulous and over forty.

How do you take care of your health?

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