12 Mistakes Women Make in Middle Age

Here are the 12 most common mistakes aging women make—and how to avoid them.

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There are plenty of reasons to embrace getting older: You have a stronger sense of self and the confidence to make decisions your 20- or 30-something self might have second-guessed.

That said, despite your extra years of wisdom, there's still a chance you might be overlooking opportunities to optimize your health and well-being. Here are some common mistakes that women in their 40s, 50s, and beyond often make—and tips for how to fix them.

Skipping Exercise

In the flurry of your daily life, it may be tempting to skip exercise, but moving your body is vital to your health and quality of life. In fact, a sedentary lifestyle in middle age is a major risk factor for developing chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes, according to a 2014 article in Comprehensive Physiology.

On the flip side, exercise boasts major benefits. According to the National Institute on Aging, they include:

  • Boosting energy
  • Preventing diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer
  • Reducing stress and anxiety
  • Improving sleep quality
  • Possibly improving cognitive function
  • Improving your mood
  • Improving strength

It's no surprise then that exercising in middle age can actually help you live longer. A study published in 2019 in the journal JAMA Open Network found that people who exercised for about seven hours a week from ages 40 to 61 lowered their risk of death in the following years by about 35%.

If you're not already exercising, it's time to start moving that body. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults younger than 65 move their bodies as much as they can. Specifically, it suggests at least 150 minutes a week of exercise of moderate intensity, like brisk walking, or 75 minutes of more intense exercise, like jogging or swimming laps.

Aim to also strengthen your muscles at least twice a week to maintain muscle mass and improve bone strength. Examples of these types of exercises include:

  • Lifting weights
  • Working with resistance bands
  • Resistance exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, and planks

Getting Stuck in a Rut

It can be easy to put updating your wardrobe on the back burner as a possible job, relationship, or child takes center stage, but feeling good about the way you look can make you more confident in general. Take a study from 2014 published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes that found that people who saw themselves as more attractive also believed they belonged in a higher social class than people who weren't as confident about their looks.

Gretta Monahan, style and beauty expert and author of "Style and the Successful Girl," previously told Health that "women who age gracefully don't step aside from trends because of their age."

Monahan said there is a quick and easy way to instantly make your outfits feel less dated: Focus on the accessories. Pairing great-fitting jeans with a trendy colored shoe or accessory can give you an "instant energy boost," Monahan said.

Beyond that, you may want to survey your closet and think about donating any items that are ill-fitting or don't make you feel good. You can replace them with newer versions while staying true to your personal style.

Not Paying Attention to Your Heart

Ignoring heart health can lead to the development of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You're more likely to get heart disease if you:

  • Have high blood pressure or cholesterol
  • Smoke
  • Have diabetes
  • Are overweight
  • Don't have a healthy diet
  • Drink alcohol excessively

It's especially important to take care of your heart as you age because getting older changes the heart and its blood vessels, making you more susceptible to heart disease. While you can't change your age or family history, there is a slew of habits you can modify to ward off heart problems.

Keeping your heart healthy basically means doing the opposite of anything that would increase your risk of heart disease. That includes things like quitting smoking (if you smoke) and limiting alcohol intake (no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men, according to the National Institute on Aging.

It's also crucial to exercise regularly (see above) and eat a diet rich in fruits and veggies and low in added sugars, salt, and saturated fats, which can be found in foods like butter, cheese, bacon, and coconut oil.

If you do have diabetes or high blood pressure or cholesterol, taking medications as directed and listening to your healthcare provider's advice can help keep your heart healthy.

Not Practicing Self-Care

It can be pretty challenging to squeeze in some you-time when you're tackling the countless obstacles that life throws your way, but if you're not dedicating any time to recharge, you might feel stressed, void of energy, and simply unhappy. And your physical health may also suffer.

Consider setting aside time each day for activities that allow you to quiet your thoughts, such as yoga, journaling, or meditation, which has been shown to reduce stress and aging of the brain, according to an article from 2017 published in Frontiers in Psychology.

If you're not interested in mindfulness activities, focus on doing things that make you happy, whether it's as simple as reading a magazine or going for a walk with a friend. The point is to either quiet your thoughts or lose them in something that brings you joy.

Not Getting Enough Sleep

While it may be tempting to shortchange sleep, particularly if you're a parent juggling child-care duties, you might want to reconsider skimping on snoozing. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, not getting enough sleep or getting poor-quality sleep is linked to a whole host of problems, including:

  • Interference with work or social functioning
  • Mental health problems like depression and feeling persistently cranky
  • Chronic health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke
  • Injury

The good news is that there's a lot you can do to help yourself catch more ZZZs (seven or more hours a night is an optimal amount for adults, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine). There are some ways to improve your sleep, such as:

  • Going to bed and waking up at a consistent time each day
  • Ensuring your bedroom is comfortable and relaxing
  • Removing electronic devices from your bedroom (blue light from screens interferes with your circadian rhythm)
  • Exercising
  • Avoiding large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime

Not Getting Enough Vitamin B12...

You know you should be getting plenty of calcium and vitamin D in your diet. But what about B12, a vitamin that keeps blood and nerve cells healthy? This vitamin is often overlooked as a necessity, but it's really important to pay attention to this nutrient as you get older. That's because as your body ages and your level of stomach acid decreases, it can be challenging to get all the vitamin B12 it needs from a healthy diet alone, according to the National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements (NIH).

Vitamin B12 deficiency affects between 3% and 43% of older adults. It can make you feel tired and weak, and can even damage the nervous system.

Once you hit 50, it's a good idea to start pumping up the amount of B12-rich foods in your diet. This includes foods like eggs, meat, dairy, and fish. Clams are also an excellent source of vitamin B12.

You may also want to look into taking dietary supplements and eating foods fortified with the nutrient, such as breakfast cereals. In most cases, people who have a lower amount of stomach acid are still able to absorb vitamin B12 from these sources.

...Or Potassium

Speaking of neglected nutrients, were you aware potassium is especially vital once you hit middle age? That's because blood pressure tends to rise as you age, and potassium can help combat that problem, as well as lower the risk of heart and kidney disease. Potassium also helps to make bones stronger, which is especially important as you age.

It's very common for people to not get enough potassium from the food they eat. That's why it's important to make a dedicated effort to ensure you're choosing potassium-rich foods. Most people think of bananas as the potassium superstar, but there are plenty of other foods that are chock-full of the nutrient. They include:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Beans
  • Yogurt
  • Spinach
  • Fish

Not Choosing the Hairstyle You Want

You might think you have to have your hair a certain way when you get older, but there aren't any hair "rules" for older women, Barbara Grufferman, author of "The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts' Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money, and More," told Health. If you pick a style you don't like just because you think you have to, you might not be happy with your appearance—something that could be a confidence killer.

Instead of following a perceived rulebook or going along with the crowd, pick a style that fits your lifestyle and makes you feel good. That may be a style that you chose in your 20s or 30s or it may be a totally new look. And there are no color rules either—you might love the appearance of a fresh dye or you may opt to go full-out gray—and that's okay. What's important is that you feel comfortable and content in your locks.

Not Taking Care of Your Skin

No matter what you do, your skin is bound to change as you age. Blemishes may take longer to heal, skin tends to become drier, and of course wrinkles and age spots appear.

But that's not to say you shouldn't take steps to help your skin look and feel better—and in fact, ignoring your skin can actually be bad for your skin and your overall health. Take smoking, which can cause wrinkles, or sitting in the sun sans sunscreen, which is a leading cause of skin cancer.

There are many steps you can take to protect your skin. For instance, drinking more water and moisturizing daily can help with dry skin. You should also limit time in the sun and use sunscreen (the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30). Not only will that reduce your chance of developing cancer, but it helps to ward off age spots—those flat brown circles that show up as you get older.

And while there's no magic formula to completely eliminate or prevent wrinkles, skin care experts say that creams and serums containing hyaluronic acid will keep your skin looking and feeling moist and dewy fresh. A pro tip from Grufferman: Apply any face makeup with a "lighter touch." If your skin is dry, makeup can sometimes make wrinkles look more pronounced.

Ignoring Your Teeth

As we age, we're at greater risk of developing tooth decay and gum disease, which, in addition to affecting our smiles, can have a detrimental effect on overall health. According to a study published in 2018 in the journal Hypertension, poor oral hygiene is a risk factor for heart disease and high blood pressure, problems that become more common as you age. It's not clear why, but one theory is that the bacteria infecting your gums cause blood vessel inflammation and damage.

Make sure you don't neglect your chompers. The National Institute on Aging recommends brushing your teeth twice a day (with fluoride toothpaste) and flossing regularly, as well as eating a well-balanced diet. If you smoke, quitting can help reduce your chances of developing gum disease. And as you age, it's more important than ever not to skip those bi-yearly visits to the dentist.

Wearing the Wrong Bra

Haven't we all kept that extra, ill-fitting bra in our lingerie drawer as a backup for when the good ones are in the laundry? Maybe you don't even own one that provides the proper support anymore. After all, breast tissue changes over time as a result of pregnancy, weight fluctuations, and menopause.

"Many women continue to wear the same size and brand they've always worn, without considering that our bodies change as we age," said Grufferman. Yet, the right underwear can help lift and slim your body.

Try on your bras and evaluate whether they fit well and if you're truly happy with them. If not, it might be time to invest in some new ones. Most large department stores and lingerie shops offer free bra-fitting services. Or you can measure your bra size yourself.

Settling for a Boring Sex Life

A natural decline in estrogen beginning in perimenopause—the years preceding menopause—can lead to vaginal dryness that makes sex painful. Because of this, you might feel like you have to settle for a less-than-thrilling sex life, but foregoing sex might have far-reaching consequences for your mental health.

The frequency of sexual intimacy in couples has been linked to better mental and physical health, according to a 2017 study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology. That study also found that women who had sex at least once a week had longer telomeres, which could reduce their chance of developing a degenerative disease.

The good news is that vaginal dryness is completely treatable. Vaginal moisturizers and lubricants can help, as can hormonal treatments if the dryness is paired with urinary symptoms or menopausal symptoms. These treatments include estrogen creams, tablets, and vaginal rings.

Have the confidence to explore your sexual needs as well. "Women over 50 can have the best sex of their lives," said Grufferman.

A Quick Review

There are many ways to boost your health and wellness in your 40s, 50s, and beyond. Exercising consistently, choosing a hair and clothing style that makes you feel confident, and ensuring you are getting enough of crucial vitamins like potassium and B12 are just a few ways to avoid common mistakes people make as they age, and enjoy mid-life to the fullest.

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  15. The Skin Cancer Foundation. Ask the expert: does a high spf protect my skin better?

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