Meditation or Vacation?

Research shows that meditation has a positive effect on your mental health, helping to improve mood and lower stress levels. But a 2016 study has found that the practice may also have quantifiable physical health benefits, too. In fact, when compared with the de-stressing health benefits of a relaxing vacation, meditation’s effects may be even stronger and longer-lasting.

For the study, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, and Harvard Medical School recruited 94 healthy women, aged 30-60 years. Thirty of these women were experienced meditators who had enrolled in a six-day meditation retreat at a resort in California. The remaining 64 women were not regular meditators and half of these women were randomly selected to simply enjoy the vacation, while the other half followed a meditation training program run by the Chopra Center for Well Being. The meditation training involved classes in mantra meditation, yoga and self-reflection, all designed by best-selling author and spiritual guru Dr. Deepak Chopra, although he was not part of the study.

For all three groups, researchers collected blood samples and self-reported wellness surveys immediately before and after the retreat as well as one month and 10 months later. They examined more than 20,000 genes from each participant to understand what biological changes were occurring in the body.

Researchers found that all three groups showed some differences in their molecular makeup after a week at the resort. The most significant changes in their “post-vacation biology” were in molecular pathways related to stress response and immune system function.

Evaluations of the participants’ self-reported wellness surveys found that the women who learned meditation techniques at the retreat reported fewer symptoms of depression and less stress than their non-meditating peers. They also maintained these benefits for a longer period than the women who did not meditate. Studies have shown that these mental health benefits have direct physical health benefits, too, resulting in lowered blood pressure and heart rate, improved digestion, more physical energy, and a more robust immune system.

“Based on our results, the benefit we experience from meditation isn’t strictly psychological; there is a clear and quantifiable change in how our bodies function,” said study co-author Rudolph Tanzi, PhD, a neurology professor at Harvard University and director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, in a statement.

One thing that wasn’t clear was whether the women who learned to meditate continued to do so after the retreat or if the mental and physical benefits they reported were the direct result of their one week of practice. But either way, the benefits of meditation were evident long after the initial sessions.

Meditation can change your genes

On top of helping to ease stress and symptoms of depression, another study discovered that meditation can even help lower blood pressure.

A 2018 Harvard study analyzed 24 people who suffer from high blood pressure. They attended weakly relaxation sessions with a trainer and listened to a meditation CD at home for eight weeks. The study found that meditating for just 15 minutes day (for at least eight weeks) alters the expression of the genes that regulate inflammation, glucose metabolism, circadian rhythms and immune regulatory pathways.

“With the new guidelines, patients and physicians alike are going to be more and more interested in non-drug therapies that might control blood pressure or potentially augment their medications,” Dr. Randall Zusman told NPR.

In other words, daily meditation can be beneficial for your physical and mental health.

Credit: Jenn Savedge

Large amounts of water found deposited on Moon

Large amounts of water have been found trapped in volcanic deposits across the surface of the moon, which means the lunar mantle is probably a far wetter place than anyone ever thought possible. The finding could call into question our theories about the moon’s formation, but it could also make future moon colonies more feasible, reports Phys.org.

The leading theory for how the moon formed is that it represents debris left behind after a catastrophic collusion between the young Earth and a Mars-sized planet very early in the solar system history. A collision like this should have burned off most of the moon’s hydrogen, an essential ingredient for making water, so scientists have long assumed that the moon was a dry place.

Clues to the moon’s hidden water were first revealed back in 2008, when a research team detected trace amounts of water in some of the volcanic glass beads brought back to Earth from the Apollo 15 and 17 missions. Then, in 2011, the water in those glass beads was further analyzed, revealing that the samples contain similar amounts of water as some basalts on Earth.

Could the moon’s interior therefore contain similar amounts of water as found on Earth’s?

What we know from Apollo

“The key question is whether those Apollo samples represent the bulk conditions of the lunar interior or instead represent unusual or perhaps anomalous water-rich regions within an otherwise ‘dry’ mantle,” explained Ralph Milliken, lead author of the new research. “By looking at the orbital data, we can examine the large pyroclastic deposits on the moon that were never sampled by the Apollo or Luna missions. The fact that nearly all of them exhibit signatures of water suggests that the Apollo samples are not anomalous, so it may be that the bulk interior of the moon is wet.”

To reach their conclusions, Milliken and co-author Shuai Li used a new thermal correction method to analyze the temperature profile of the areas of interest on the moon’s surface. The source data came from the moon Mineralogy Mapper, an imaging spectrometer that flew aboard India’s Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter. Temperature profiles can reveal which minerals and other compounds are present on the surface of the moon because wavelengths of light are absorbed or reflected by the surface differently depending on what it’s made up of.

Water was found in nearly all of the large pyroclastic deposits that were mapped. Because these regions were distributed across the lunar surface, it means the detection of water in the Apollo samples was no anomaly. It also indicates the high likelihood that a similar distribution can be found in the moon’s mantle.

If there is (or was) more water, how did it get there?

“The growing evidence for water inside the moon suggest that water did somehow survive, or that it was brought in shortly after the impact by asteroids or comets before the moon had completely solidified,” said Li. “The exact origin of water in the lunar interior is still a big question.”

It might mean that we need to re-formulate our theories about how the moon formed, or at least re-consider how hydrogen might survive under such extreme conditions. There’s also potentially more than enough water to make mining operations on the moon worthwhile. Future moon inhabitants might get enough water from the moon to survive on their own without supplies from Earth.

“Anything that helps save future lunar explorers from having to bring lots of water from home is a big step forward, and our results suggest a new alternative,” said Li.

credit: Bryan Nelson

How breathing deep calms your mind

What’s the first thing that people tell you to do whenever you’re upset or anxious? Take a deep breath.

We know that slow, deep breaths can help us calm down. Pranayama, or yoga breathing, is a practice that has been around since at least the fifth or sixth centuries B.C. It focuses on using breathing techniques to calm and center the mind. The Sanskrit word pranayama translates to (prana,) “vital force” and (ayama) “to extend or draw out.” So for thousands of years, humans have known that by controlling our breathing, we can control our moods.

New findings from researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine may shed light on why it works.

The research team, led by biochemistry professor Mark Krasnow, looked at the neurons in the brains of mice. They found that of the 3,000 neurons that control breathing — also known as our breathing pacemaker — roughly 175 of those neurons also appear to control the part of the brain that regulates attention, arousal and panic. This would explain why we hyperventilate when we are anxious and why deep, controlled breathing helps us calm down.

For the study, which was published in the journal Science, researchers isolated the 175 neurons that they suspected acted as communications highways between breathing and arousal and then “turned them off” to get a better idea of their precise function. Researchers theorized that without these neurons, the breathing of the mice might be affected such that they would cough or sputter. But that’s not what happened. In fact, the breathing patterns of the mice initially appeared unchanged.

Mellow mice

The team originally thought that they had been off base with their theory. But after a few more tests, they noticed something odd about the mice. Unlike the control mice who spent the majority of their time in the test chamber exploring and sniffing, the mice in this experiment appeared more calm, spending most of their time grooming themselves and relaxing. They also breathed more slowly than they did prior to the experiment.

Of course, these are mice. So it’s unclear whether or not similar communication highways exist in the neurons of human brains. Also, it’s up for debate as to whether or not the mice were actually more relaxed after the neurons were turned off or if this was just a subjective assumption on the part of the research team. It’s hard to know for sure since the mice aren’t talking.

Still, this is a good start for researchers hoping to better understand the connection between breathing and arousal. If a similar pathway does exist in humans, medication that targets these neurons might help to control anxiety when the system goes into overdrive.

For now, the research just confirms what humans have known for thousands of years. If you’re stressed out, take a deep breath. And let those neurons in the brain work their magic.

Credit: Jenn Savedge

What does stress do to the human body

How many saber-toothed tigers tried to maul you to death today? Hopefully, the stressors in your life don’t involve an apex predator chasing you through the bush, as was the case for our cavemen ancestors. Still, stress affects us the same way it did them. We are wired for stress physiologically much the same way we were millennia ago, with our primordial fight or flight response well alive within us to keep us alert and safe.

Though not all stress is bad, we need a break from bad stressors, otherwise our health may begin to deteriorate.

Modern humans battle bad stressors that might not seem like a fight or flight scenario — staying in an unhealthy or challenging relationship with a partner; financial hardships; job dissatisfaction; drug and alcohol abuse; nagging in-laws — all this distress may cause the body to:

• Elevate blood pressure
• Increase heart rate
• Slow down digestion and metabolism
• Flood the bloodstream with chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol
• Tense up muscles

Have a white-knuckle commute on the freeway to work every morning? Welcome to this modern life’s version of the caveman being chased by the saber-tooth tiger. Though you might not have to flee your car and run, the same chemical cocktails are coursing through your body as the caveman’s.

Cortisol is one of those chemicals. Like adrenaline, it helps us deal with stress, but too much of it can be harmful to the body. Research has linked it to body fat storage around the abdomen. In turn, piling on the pounds around the belly can lead to heart disease.

Excessive cortisol flooding the bloodstream can lead to adrenal exhaustion. Some doctors believe that adrenal exhaustion (think: someone who is constantly tired) is the main culprit behind every chronic disease. Dr. Lawrence Wilson isn’t alone in thinking that the mainstream medical profession often fails to recognize adrenal burnout as a real health concern.

WebMD reports that 75 to 90 percent of all doctor visits are stress-related, but in its assessment of stress on the body, nowhere does it mention adrenal fatigue due to excess cortisol, which is sometimes referred to as “the stress hormone.”

Failing to cope with bad stress, and thus severely fatiguing the adrenal glands (which rest over the kidneys), has a domino effect on the body’s many symptoms and functions, including:

Hormonal (hormonal pathways can be disrupted)

Musculoskeletal (you won’t burn fat as efficiently and gain muscle)

Immune (adrenal fatigue from bad stress wreaks havoc on the immune system)

Digestive (bad stress slows digestion, chronic digestion problems may arise)

Cardiovascular (adrenal fatigue can lead to heart palpitations and other problems)

Obesity:

People who suffer long-term stress may also be more prone to obesity, according to a new study from University College London. The research, which involved examining hair samples for levels of cortisol and was published in the journal Obesity, showed that exposure to higher levels of cortisol over several months is associated with being more heavily, and more persistently, overweight.

While stress and weight long have been thought to go hand-in-hand (think stress eating and comfort foods), this study confirms the link by examining long-term cortisol levels in more than 2,500 men and women over a four-year period.

“People who had higher hair cortisol levels also tended to have larger waist measurements, which is important because carrying excess fat around the abdomen is a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, and premature death,” Dr Sarah Jackson (UCL Epidemiology and Public Health) who led the research, said in a press release. “Hair cortisol is a relatively new measure which offers a suitable and easily obtainable method for assessing chronically high levels of cortisol concentrations in weight research and may therefore aid in further advancing understanding in this area.”

Weakened immune system:

As if mounting bills and a tenuous marriage weren’t enough stress to make your blood vessels dilate, your pupils enlarge, your breathing rapidly increase and your sweat glands kick into overdrive, perhaps reading that eating an unhealthy diet also plays a major role in contributing to adrenal fatigue.

How? Eating the wrong foods over many years can break down the mucosal barrier in your gut. Think of the mucosal barrier as the body’s second skin as well as the body’s first line of defense against pathogens, or unwanted nasty critters invading your gut.

Your immune system lies mostly in your gut, so if over the years you continue eating poorly, the integrity of the mucosal barrier system becomes severely compromised. In the long run, digestion is compromised. With most of your immune system residing in your gut, your immune system will weaken.

Concerned about what stress has done to your body? Seek a medical professional or alternative health practitioner who understands adrenal fatigue and knows how to restore hormonal pathways. A nutritional approach to battling stress should also be applied.

credit: Judd Handler

How old is the moon?

The age of the moon is the subject of some debate within the scientific community. Some scientists think that the moon formed roughly 100 million years after our solar system formed, while others favor a date somewhere between 150 and 200 million years after the solar system’s birth. These dates would put the moon between 4.47 billion and 4.35 billion years old.

A new study published in Science Advances claims to put the controversy over the moon’s age to rest. A team of researchers think they have accurately dated the moon at 4.51 billion years old.

The researchers used moon rocks taken from the lunar surface during the Apollo 14 mission in 1971 for their study. Most moon rocks astronauts have brought back to Earth are composites of rocks fused together during meteor strikes, and that makes dating them tricky as the different pieces of the rocks will reflect different ages. To get around this, the researchers turned to zicorn, a very durable mineral found in both the Earth’s crust and in moon rocks.

“Zircons are nature’s best clocks,”said co-author Kevin McKeegan, a UCLA professor of geochemistry and cosmochemistry. “They are the best mineral in preserving geological history and revealing where they originated.”

McKeegan and lead author Mélanie Barboni focused on the tiny zicorn crystals that contained small amounts of radioactive elements, particularly uranium and lutetium. They isolated when these two elements has decayed to calculate how long the zicorn had formed and used that to provide what they contend is an accurate age for the moon.

This isn’t to say that the zicorn-dating approaching is without its own controversy. Speaking to The Verge about the findings, Richard Carlson, the director for the department of terrestrial magnetism at Carnegie Institution for Science, he praised the work but cited concerns about the zicorn approach. Namely, Carlson questions the assumption that the decayed ratios for the uranium and lutetium would be the same in the early days of the solar system as they would be today.

“It’s just a very complicated problem they are addressing here, which is why we still don’t have a clear answer to such an obvious question as the age of the Moon,” Carlson said.

Source:  mnn.com Continue reading “How old is the moon?”

What is Nutrigeonomics

Nutrigenomics is the “study of how foods affect our genes and how individual genetic differences can affect the way we respond to nutrients (and other naturally occurring compounds) in the foods we eat,” according to NCMHD Center of Excellence for Nutritional Genomics at University of California, Davis. This new branch of genetic research is getting a lot of attention because of the practical applications of its findings: it may be able to be improve not only the health of the general population, but also the health of individuals based on their personal genetic makeup.

Researchers are working off of these five tenets, according to UC Davis:

~Diet can be a serious risk factor for a number of diseases.
~Common dietary chemicals can alter our gene expression or structure.
~The degree to which diet influences the balance between healthy or not may depend on our genetic makeup.
~Some diet-regulated genes likely play a role in the onset, progression and/or severity of chronic diseases.
~Dietary intervention based on personalized nutrition can be used to prevent, mitigate or cure chronic disease.
~None of these tenets seem crazy. We’ve always been told “you are what you eat.” Now that maxim is getting backed up with science, and the possibilities for improved health via “personalized nutrition” are exciting.
Scientists are looking at areas where changing genes can help with health issues, like lactose intolerance. Researchers have identified the genetic variant responsible for whether or not we can consume fresh dairy without complications. It’s believed this discovery “should now make it possible to design individualized dietary interventions based on a genetic test for lactose intolerance in early childhood.”

Treatments for cancers, diabetes, heart disease and more are being studied through the lens of nutrigenomics, and yes, a solution for weight loss is a goal, too. In fact, a soon-to-launch company called Habit will analyze your DNA and design a diet for you, according to Popular Science.

After eating meals that Habit provides, you’ll prick your finger and send blood samples to be analyzed. That analysis may find your body processes carbohydrates best so the resulting diet would be based around that. Or, it may find you need a diet high in protein and low in carbs and fats. Your metabolism rate is analyzed, too, so calorie needs can be adjusted based on metabolism.

I find nutrigenomics fascinating and the promise of the practical uses of this science very encouraging. I do have to wonder, though, even if we have accurate information about what specific foods are optimal for our individual health, will we change our diets? Going back to my own limited knowledge about how to keep my body at a healthy weight, I know what works, but I frequently don’t do what works. Sometimes my human nature wins out over scientific knowledge. Maybe that’s in my genes, too.

credit: Robin Shreeves

The vitamin everyone needs to take

Dirty air is bad for everyone. Linked to higher risks of heart attacks and strokes in adults, air pollution from highways, industrial factories and wood smoke has even been found to cause behavioral problems in children born to mothers with high exposure.

Most of the time, the only way to counteract the damage that particulate matter can do to your heart and brain is to move away from it — not always a practical solution. Now, scientists have found that omega-3 fish oils can fight damage caused by dirty air.

In a new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institute for Environmental Health Scientists gave 29 healthy middle-aged adults either omega-3 fish oil supplements or a placebo of olive oil supplements. After four weeks of supplementation, the test subjects were placed in enclosed chambers for two hours while being exposed to pollution levels similar to those you might be exposed to in an average urban environment. Their blood was tested before and after the exposure.

After exposure to pollution, the people on fish oil supplements experienced much lower heart rate variability, a marker for cardiovascular damage, and other markers of cardiac distress, than the people taking olive oil supplements. At the same time, although both groups had similar LDL (bad) cholesterol and lipid (blood fat) levels before exposure, those levels spiked in the olive oil group but remained steady in the fish oil group.

The effects of air pollution on heart health have become so pervasive that an entire medical field, called environmental cardiology, has cropped up to treat them. And most environmental cardiologists previously believed that the best way to protect against the damages of air pollution was to ward off heart disease entirely, for instance, eating healthfully, eliminating cigarettes and exercising to reduce both weight and stress levels. This study shows that adding fish oil supplements to that list will help keep you from succumbing to air-pollution-induced heart problems.

The participants in this study took 3 grams of fish oil per day every day for four weeks, which is an average dose for most over-the-counter supplements. However, not all supplements are created equal, particularly with fish oil.

It’s important to choose high-quality products to prevent exposure to contaminants such as mercury and PCBs:

• Consult independent tests . Although most fish oils used in supplements come from species that aren’t high in mercury and PCBs, that doesn’t mean a few poisoned poisson don’t make it into the mix. The Environmental Defense Fund surveyed 75 fish oil manufacturers to see if they purify their fish oils to remove PCBs and mercury, and published a list of the healthier supplements. Alternately, consult the third-party supplement-testing service ConsumerLab.com , which conducts annual tests on fish oils and looks for contaminants that could undermine the health benefits of your fish oil supplements.

• Read labels wisely . Concentration of the different omega-3s in the fish oil can vary, according to tests from ConsumerLab. The most beneficial fatty acids are EPA and DHA. In this study, the effective dose contained 410 milligrams of EPA and 274 milligrams of DHA.

• Don’t confuse price with quality . Just because a brand costs more doesn’t mean you’re getting a better-quality product. In ConsumerLab tests, some of the best-quality supplements with the lowest levels of contaminants cost just 6- to 10 cents per serving.

• Don’t be duped by meaningless claims . “Pharmaceutical-grade,” “contaminant-free” and “tested in FDA-approved laboratories” do not carry weight. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve analytical labs, although some labs could be FDA registered and inspected.

credit:Emily Main

Your sixth sense may be related to a gene

Walking and dancing. Typing on a keyboard or climbing Mount Everest. You use your “sixth sense” — your body’s uncanny ability to sense where it is in space — to perform everything from normal activities to great feats of athleticism.

Scientists have known about this ability, called proprioception, for more than a century, but they weren’t sure how it worked. You might think dancers or athletes would hold the answer, but it was researchers studying a rare genetic disorder who have shined a light on it.

The researchers studied a young girl and a woman who completely lacked this sixth sense. Their unusual set of symptoms included an extreme lack of coordination, difficulty walking, and a lack of sensation when objects were pressed against their skin. They both also have an unusual curvature of the spine, as well as feet, hips and fingers that bend at unusual angles. The results of their study were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The researchers learned that both patients didn’t start walking until they were between 6-7 years old and they both had problems learning to feed and dress themselves. Neither patient was able to walk with their eyes closed; they could only take steps if they could see their limbs as they moved.

Genetic analysis revealed a genetic mutation in a gene called PIEZO2, which has been associated with the body’s sense of touch.

One of the researchers, study co-author Alexander Chesler from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, had been studying PIEZO2 in mice for years. But he’d never found a good way to study the gene in people — until now.

Trying to understand proprioception just by experimenting with mice was like trying to understand Beethoven by reading sheet music, Chesler told NPR. “But when I talked to the patients, it was like going to the symphony,” he said.

When researchers began studying these two patients, they were able to demonstrate that the PIEZO2 gene was responsible for proprioception, as well as sensations of touch. They learned much of what it was able to do by studying what the patients were not able to do.

In experiments, the patients were unable to walk blindfolded. They also weren’t able to move a finger from their nose to a targeted point if they were blindfolded. When researchers moved a particular limb for them, if they couldn’t see, they were unable to tell which way the limb was being moved. Once the blindfolds were removed, the patients were able to walk, touch the target and see the direction of their moving limbs.

There’s one other potentially interesting thing researchers may be able to learn from this new discovery: understanding if variations of the PIEZO2 gene contribute to whether a person is klutzy or coordinated.

“Could a finely tuned PIEZO2 gene contribute to superior athletic performance, or a poorly tuned one to clumsiness?” co-author pediatric neurologist Carsten Bönnemann of the National institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke told Science. “I think it’s not impossible.”

Breakthrough study reveals why we sleep

The average human spends 26 years of their lives sleeping. That’s a lot of z’s, and for what? Interestingly, the question of why we sleep is one of the great mysteries of biology.

Most theorists believe that sleep is of particular importance to the health of our brains or nervous system. After all, the effects of sleep deprivation usually take a mental toll, often in the form of memory loss, hallucinations or even seizures. Interestingly, though, every animal ever studied needs to sleep in some capacity, regardless of the size of its brain or the complexity of its nervous system.

So what gives? Well, a breakthrough new brain study might finally offer an answer. The research, spearheaded by Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, represents the best evidence yet of what happens when we sleep, reports New Scientist.

Tononi’s team took slices from the brains of mice before and after sleep. They found that synapses, or connections between neurons, were 18 percent smaller when sampled after a period of sleep. In other words, it seems that the connections between neurons in our brains are being trimmed or weakened while we snooze.

It may seem anti-intuitive to think about sleep as a good thing when it’s shrinking your brain, but it turns out that a slimmer brain has more room the following day to make new memories. At least, that’s the theory. Sleep keeps the mind open to new experiences, and to building memories of those experiences.

“Sleep is the price we pay for learning,” explained Tononi.

The theory is not only corroborated by this study, but it also explains why we find it harder to concentrate and learn new information when we miss a night’s sleep. It’s because the brain has reached its capacity, so to speak; it needs to be pruned.

Previous findings are also consistent with this theory. For instance, EEG recordings have shown that the human brain is less electrically responsive at the start of the day than at the end, suggesting that the connections may be weaker.

If Tononi’s study makes you frightened to sleep, for fear of having your experiences trimmed off, not to worry. The research also found that some synapses were protected from the trimming process, always remaining robust. These areas are probably where the most important memories are being stored, the most essential bits of information.

“You keep what matters,” reassured Tononi.

Though naturally, that leaves open the question of what matters, and how the brain determines what matters. But that’s a mystery for another day.

credit: Bryan Nelson

6 ways a womans body will change when she turns 50

For many, 50 is the new 40. It’s a time of life when we mellow, become more content, have more of life under control. However, when it comes to your health, there are always things to rein in, especially if you’ve acquired some bad habits over time. Read on as our experts direct you to six things you should do during this decade to improve your health.

 

1. You’ll need a colonoscopy.

 

Provided you don’t have a family history or personal risk of colorectal cancer (in which case you’ve probably had a colonoscopy already), regular screening beginning at age 50 is recommended to prevent colorectal cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, preventing colorectal cancer (and not just finding polyps and cancer early) is a major reason for getting tested at this age. Talk with your physician about screening options.

 

2. You may need some vaccines.

 

While you may think things like the pneumonia vaccine are reserved for the elderly, think again, says Kathryn Boling, MD, a family medicine physician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, who suggests you get this vaccine every five years starting at age 50 if you’re at high risk — meaning you have asthma or diabetes. At 50, be sure to get the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) booster vaccine, which you need every 10 years. If you’ve never had the chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says you can get the vaccine as an adult. And the CDC also recommends getting a flu shot.

3. Women will go through menopause.

 

During this decade you’ll experience lengths of time without your period or your period will end, Bitner says. Expect to experience symptoms such as vaginal dryness, low libido, consistent hot flashes, night sweats, belly fat weight gain and fatigue. “You may also start to deal with wrinkles, hair loss and pelvic prolapse,” she adds.

 

4. Your risk for heart disease may increase.

 

“In the first five years after menopause, the risk factors for cardiovascular disease escalate quickly if you aren’t living a healthy lifestyle and/or on menopause hormone therapy,” says Diana Bitner, MD, a physician at Spectrum Health Medical Group in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Even if you don’t have a family history of heart disease, at 50, ask your physician for a baseline electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG), which can help detect heart problems, Bitner says.

 

5. Expect aches and pains.

 

“At 50, all the folks who were lucky enough to get good genes from their folks begin to suffer from what others started noticing at 40,” says Barbara Bergin, MD, an orthopedic surgeon in Austin, Texas. “I never hear anyone say, ‘Everything went downhill at 60,’ because by then no one is surprised by the sudden onset of pain.” At 50, it’s likely you’ll notice that your knees and back feel tight if you’re been sitting for a while. “Your back and knees may feel painful when you stand up, too,” she says.

 

6. Your emotional health may suffer.

 

As your hormone levels fluctuate during menopause, your mood may be affected. It’s not uncommon for women going through menopause to feel depressed and have mood swings from happy highs to teary lows. Plus, getting a poor night’s sleep (or several of them) due to hot flashes would put anyone in a bad mood. Which is why it’s all the more important to find a way to cope. “Forming and/or using existing social networks and talking to friends will help you stay emotionally healthy,” Bitner says. Time to phone a friend.