Why we MUST define the midlife developmental stage
What the 2020 Dietary Guidelines taught me about midlife's status as a developmental stage.
So, the question is why write a book on midlife. I’m certainly not the only one who has thought of this. There are many different resources and books. Many I have and love. But in my gut, I felt that there’s just something missing.
And when the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans came out, I knew what it was. They took a life stage approach for the first time. So, created a section for infants, toddlers, adolescents, pregnant women, adults, and older adults. Can you guess what is missing from this?
Midlife is a very important developmental stage that spans much longer ( 40-65 years of age). What we choose to do at midlife makes a huge difference in our health and vibrancy as we age. As the Study of Women Across the Nation (SWAN) study points out, this is a critical window of opportunity:
The reported findings from SWAN along with those of other studies focusing on midlife point strongly to midlife as a window of opportunity for maintaining or establishing positive health behaviors to delay or prevent poor health outcomes or disability later in life”
So why is it ignored? Maybe because menopause has been the key focus for midlife women. And ever since that infamous 2002 Women’s Health Initiative study that showed health risks associated with hormone therapy, conventional medicine has dropped the ball. Not only do medical residents learn very little about menopause, only 20% of ob-gyn residencies take a class on it (and it’s an elective!).
Yet changing sex hormones are just one piece of the midlife health puzzle, and younger midlife women still don’t identify with menopause because it’s many years away. And unlike the developmental stages that preceded it, midlife is where aging meets hormone change. It’s not like puberty where females experience major hormone shifts for the first time but also have young bodies.
No, from age 30 on we are no longer anabolic, building muscle and bone easily. We gradually age and then boom – the transition to menopause accelerates this. I don’t mean to be a downer. There’s good news here. With the right know-how we can slow this down and be stronger than ever. But we need to be informed.
I’ve learned both personally and from research that changing hormones unmask challenges. That’s because sex hormones like estrogen do a lot of heavy lifting. This can be a hard pill to swallow for many of you who have always put health first. And I’m not just talking about physical health but all the emotional stuff. Developmental stages mean change all around.
If you have a pre-teen or teen girl, or remember your own experience, you understand how girls change emotionally. We are no different.
So back to the book. Hey, wouldn’t it be great to be given a well-research book about what to expect at midlife around 40. A book about how your body, mind, and spirit are (and will be) changing and all the options available to you both in terms of lifestyle and what conventional and alternative medicine can do for you? One that empowers midlife women to embrace this stage and live their healthiest lives?
The result of having this big-picture view is it moves women from midlife struggle to midlife strong. This is how (for now) I’m defining midlife strong.
Instead, midlife women are left to fend for themselves. They usually don’t think about midlife until a symptom pops up or things get so bad, they must do something. And that also means women without major symptoms miss out on learning about simple changes that could boost their health and well-being for a lifetime! And those who do search for answers, may find one great resource (or not), but most only tackle one aspect of midlife health like hormones, nutrition, or something else.
As a developmental stage midlife is vital and unrecognized. I believe every woman deserves to know the details about these developmental changes and what options are available to her.
What would you like to know about how your body changes at midlife? I love to have input.
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