Friday, 20 June 2014

Middle Age is Knocking – Should You Open the Door?

“Thoroughly unprepared we take the step into the afternoon of life; worse still,
we take this step with the false presupposition that our truths and ideals will
serve us as hitherto. But, we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the
program of life’s morning—for what was great in the morning will be little at
evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie”
(Jung 1933, p. 108).

Midlife, the afternoon of life, as Jung (1933) called it in his essay on “The Stages of Life,” has become of great interest to me of late, possibly because I have reached it.  The term midlife conjures up images of reading glasses, thinning or grey hair, sagging boobs and backside, hot flushes, back ache, loss of libido and a multitude of other changes in the physical, psychological and social realm. I wonder if these experiences are typical of midlife or are misconceptions promoted and exaggerated by magazines, popular talk show hosts, late night comedies and greeting cards.  At middle age do new challenges or unexpected events trigger a midlife crisis or does it stimulate growth, adaptation and/or renewal. Are those people older than 40 “over the hill” or does “life begin at 40”?  These are the questions I think we all ask ourselves as we reach this life transition point.

So what is midlife really?  Does it begin when the kids finally leave home or with a birthday that ends in zero? According to the online Oxford Dictionary (2000), the word midlife first appeared in Funk and Wagnall’s Standard Dictionary in 1895.  So it’s not a new concept by any means. According to current experts Midlife is a normal developmental phase usually falling between ages 35 and 65. It is also now recognized as a period of life similar to adolescence, where important identity adjustments, transitions and a new self-awareness take place. During adolescence the task is to separate from our families and define who we are as individuals as we a just to significant physical changes.  At midlife, we have the task of reevaluating our values and beliefs – likes and dislikes and defining who we are NOW not who we should be or use to be. We also have to adjust to physiological changes.

Researchers on Midlife transitions suggest it is characterized by the following tasks:
  •  Adjusting to Physical Changes – health and physical well-being come to the fore front with significant changes to our bodies and our activity level.  This includes hormonal changes, loss of hair or new hair in new places, need for bifocals, loss of bone density, fatigue etc
  •   Reviewing our life to date - what have I achieved in my personal and professional life? Have I accomplished the goals I set for myself?  What haven’t I done I thought I would by now?  Am I satisfied with my achievements and life in general?
  • Searching for Meaning – Who am I really and what is really important to me as opposed to what society says should be important.  What is my place in life and society? What connections and relationships is a priority for me now?
  • Awareness of own Mortality – the clock is ticking and time is running out.  What goals haven’t I reached and are they still important?  Do I have any new goals I want to set? What will happen when I die to me and to my loved ones? Is there a God/afterlife?

Today I intend to focus on the task of adjusting to the physical changes. According to a national survey conducted by the American Board of Family Practice (1990) the most predominant issue faced by those in midlife are the changes in our physical condition and appearance.    It seems the spiritual, mental and emotional challenges of midlife are less obvious and can be more easily ignored (by some) …then physical changes which are “in your face” so to speak. Just one look in the mirror is sufficient to remind us we aren’t as young as we use to be.  For women these physical changes can be quite confronting as we are constantly bombarded with images of youthful feminine beauty – on TV, in magazines and in movies.  In midlife we begin to see that we are unable to live up to those idealized images – if indeed we ever could.   

My own midlife challenges began when I hit about 48 and knew that menopause was just around the corner.  Initially I was quite frightened as my mother had told me stories of women going mad and her own transition had been quite traumatic both emotionally and physically.  My own transition to and through menopause mirrored my mothers with heavy mensuration before fading away after several years, hot sweats (mainly at night) also lasting several years, weight gain, mood swings, reduced flexibility and energy levels, poor sleeping patterns and hair loss and new growth (in all the wrong places).  I struggled with these changes initially, but eventually realized it was like fighting a tidal surge.  I found that while there are measures we can take to reduce or delay the impact of physical changes they are mostly inevitable and unavoidable.  We can’t turn back time but we can make the minutes count by implementing some strategies to adjust and adapt to our new bodies.   

Strategies to help you age gracefully.

  1.  Know your Body  – Learn all you can about what to expect during peri menopause and menopause through books, magazines and dedicated internet sites.  Find out how it will impact on the various areas of your body and what actions you can take to reduce any negative responses.  For example, perform pelvic floor exercises to increase vaginal muscle tone to reduce incidence of bladder leakage and use lubricants during sex to prevent irritating the vaginal wall which thins during menopause. Take note of the changes in your body; acknowledge any losses then make any necessary adjustments to your activities, clothing, routine etc. I know that a lot of women struggle emotionally with the loss of their reproductive capacity around menopause.  If this is you, please discuss it with someone and get support (menopause support group or therapist).  Other physical changes can impact on flexibility, strength, endurance and recovery times. I found these very difficult as I have always been a sporty person.  More recently I have had to adjust my exercise routine from a 30 minute jog (which I love to do) to a 45 min walk.  At first I stubbornly refused to adapt and stopped training altogether but eventually realised that if I didn’t accept and modify my routine then my fitness level would decrease and then I wouldn’t even be able to walk.  I learnt that I needed to adapt to the changes in my body if I wanted to stay fit. Note: Ensure you have Regular Medical Check-ups including mammograms and pap smear tests
  2. Regular Exercise – Exercise is effective at influencing the levels of total body fat and abdominal fat. The more active you are, the less weight you are likely to gain. A National Institutes of Health review showed that people who participated in aerobic activities every day for 10 or more minutes had 6 fewer inches around the waistline compared to people who did not exercise. It's also protective against disease conditions associated with the menopause - like cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Performing exercise also helps mitigate the physical (menopausal symptoms) and physiological changes associated with menopause.  Here are some tips for starting an exercise regime (from Women's Health Queensland Wide Inc):
·         choose a range of activities that include different types of exercises;
·         start slowly and gradually build up the activity level (check with your doctor);
·         do warm up and cool down exercises and stretches
·         to keep motivated, choose activities that are enjoyable, exercise with others or keep an exercise diary;
·         incorporate exercise into everyday routines like walking or cycling to and from work, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and walking to the shops instead of driving.

  1. Maintain a Healthy Body Weight  - About 30% of women aged 50 to 59 are not just overweight but obese. Many of the risks of weight gain are well known: high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes to name a few. Extra fat at your waistline increases these risks still more. Unfortunately, a bigger waistline is more likely after menopause. As women age, reduced oestrogen increases appetite and reduces the metabolic rate, the rate at which the body converts stored energy into working energy. Many other changes occur at this time that also contributes to weight gain. For example: you are less likely to exercise, you lose muscle mass, which decreases your resting metabolism, making it easier to gain weight and aerobic activity declines. Some dietary advice includes:

·         If you are overweight then slim down – It will minimize menopausal symptoms, reduces the risks of heart disease and breast cancer (both of which go up after menopause). Any balanced diet that cuts calories—and that you can stick with in the long run—will do the job.
·         Aim for two servings of fish (preferably those with healthy fats like salmon or trout) as heart disease risk is likely to rise after menopause. There is also some evidence that fish oil reduces the risk of breast cancer.
·         Increase your Calcium intake (choose low-fat products) - Your calcium needs go up after age 50, from 1,000 milligrams per day to 1,200 mg.
·         Cut the amount of salt and processed carbohydrates in your diet as these lead to bloating
·         Rethink the drink – while red wine gets good press research suggests that one drink a day has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and it may bring on hot flashes as a result of the increase in blood-vessel dilation caused by alcohol. Drink plenty of water and swap hot drinks for cool and decaffeinated.  Hot drinks tend to increase hot flushes
·         Say yesto Soy - Soy foods like tofu, soy nuts, and soy milk may offer relief from mild hot flashes and are not thought to increase breast cancer risk. 

·         Researcher Marjo Eskelinen from the University of Eastern Finland, has found that eating plenty of vegetables, fruit and fish between the age of 40 and 50 slashes the risk of developing Alzheimer’s  by 90 per cent.
If you want more on this topic have a look at : Learn how your diet at 40 & diet at 50 can lead to a healthy & longer life
Read More at Healthy Midlife 

54.  Healthy Sleep Patterns -Sleeping well is vital to your physical, mental and emotional well-being. A good night's sleep helps improve concentration, memory function, cognitive abilities, as well as allows your body to repair the cell damage that occurred during the course of the day. Resting properly also re-energizes your immune system, which assists you in preventing and combating diseases. Global research strongly points at a strong correlation between poor sleeping patterns in midlife and an accelerated memory loss in the later years. It is important to note here that poor sleep hygiene refers not just to getting too little of sleep but also too much of it. Some tips for improving your sleep patterns
● Limit alcohol, nicotine and caffeine intake
6.      ● Do not sleep on a hungry stomach but at the same time never overload your digestive system
● Limit fluid intake a couple of hours before you sleep
● Work out your sleeping environment to eliminate disturbances like noise, light, etc
● If your schedule does not permit 7 to 8 hours of nighttime sleep and you have some time in hand during the day, go for a short (30 minutes to 1 hour) afternoon nap
● Begin your day with a fitness routine - exercise promotes the release of sleep-benefiting hormones
● Develop relaxing bedtime rituals like breathing and meditation
● Follow a consistent sleeping schedule with respect to the time you go to bed and the time when you wake up
● Expose yourself to sunlight for about an hour or two during the day - this will lead to higher melatonin levels, leading to a reduction in sleep fragmentation
Read more at Life Hacker 

7    5. Healthy Sexual function and Activity - The physical transformations your body undergoes as you age have a major influence on your sexuality. Declining hormone levels and changes in neurological and circulatory functioning may lead to sexual problems such as impotence and vaginal pain. Such physical changes often mean that the intensity of youthful sex may give way to more subdued responses during middle and later life. Educate yourself on the crucial physical and emotional elements that underlie satisfying sex so you can better navigate problems if they arise. Medications we take, such as antidepressants and blood pressure medication can also impact on our sexuality. And then, of course, there are the ubiquitous relationship and lifestyle issues that can hit in middle age. If you've been in a long-term relationship, it might be getting stale. If you've let your body go and gained weight, you might have some self-image issues. Conversely, if your partner is the one with the weight gain, you may not find your partner as sexually attractive as you once did. So one of the keys to maintaining a healthy sex life through middle age and beyond is maintaining a healthy you! Remember - You deserve a dynamic, exciting sex life (if you want it) no matter what your age.  Read more at Healthy Women 

Note: If you and your partner are experiencing difficulties in your sex life then explore the reasons for changes together and consult your health care professional.

The more we care for and about ourselves, the less bothered we will be by the natural physical changes of midlife.  Sure…if you want to pluck those chin whiskers or take Viagra to enhance your sex life,…go for it.  But ultimately, the goal in the midlife transition is to make peace with our changing bodies and love it exactly as it is…..cellulite and all!

How are you embracing your changing body? 

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