5. Attend to your mental health
Mental-health problems such as depression and anxiety are not uncommon in older women, but they often go undiagnosed and untreated. Women may dismiss symptoms of depression or anxiety as normal feelings of sadness or worry that they just have to “get over.” Health-care providers similarly may not recognize depression or anxiety for what it is. The fact is, however, that clinical depression and anxiety disorders are not simply passing moods, nor are they a normal part of aging, and they can be treated effectively with medication, counseling or a combination of both.
Women are twice as likely as men to have depression, and people with diabetes are twice as likely to have it as people who don’t have diabetes. Of course, we all go through periods of sadness or grief now and then, but you should talk to your doctor if your feelings of sadness or emptiness last for more than two weeks and are accompanied by any of the following symptoms:
- Loss of interest in things you normally like to do.
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping more than usual.
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering things.
- Weight loss or gain.
- Lack of energy.
- Feelings of hopelessness.
- Withdrawal from your family and friends.
- Thoughts of death or suicide.
Many women experience one of several anxiety disorders. The most common type is generalized anxiety disorder, in which a person feels constantly and excessively anxious. Often, people with generalized anxiety disorder don’t know why they are worrying, and sometimes they can’t stop worrying even if they realize that their anxiety is exaggerated. In addition to persistent anxiety, symptoms may include trouble sleeping, muscle tension, headaches, hot flashes, and difficulty concentrating. Many people with generalized anxiety disorder also have depression. If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor. Treatment options include antianxiety medicines, psychotherapy, and relaxation techniques.
Exercise is a beneficial activity for all women, including those who are past menopause. In fact, an individualized exercise program should be part of any treatment plan designed to help control diabetes. Exercise can help lower blood glucose levels and increase insulin sensitivity, or the body’s ability to use insulin efficiently. Some people who exercise regularly are able to take less insulin and/or oral diabetes medicine. Exercise can also help you lose weight and maintain weight loss.
The benefits don’t stop there. Exercise can also help prevent diabetes complications. Having diabetes makes a woman two to four times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease or have a stroke, but regular physical activity can lower these risks by strengthening the heart, reducing cholesterol levels, and lowering blood pressure.
Exercise is also good for your bones. Weight-bearing activities such as brisk walking, stair climbing and weight lifting can help maintain bone mass and lower your risk of developing osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become porous and fragile. In addition, by strengthening muscles and improving balance and flexibility, regular physical activity can help you reduce your risk for falls and bone fractures.
And there’s more. Getting regular exercise can help you fend off fatigue by giving you more energy during the day and helping you sleep better at night. When you exercise, your body produces chemicals called endorphins, which can act to improve your mood and even relieve the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
According to most recent exercise guidelines from the U.S. Surgeon General, you should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-intense physical activity each week — 30 minutes of physical activity each day for at least five days a week. Jogging or walking at a brisk pace, bicycling and swimming all qualify as moderate-intensity physical activity, and so can other activities, such as raking leaves, gardening and washing your car. You don’t have to do all 30 minutes at once; you can exercise in several shorter bouts throughout the day. For example, you may spend 20 minutes working in the garden in the morning and then take a 10-minute walk after dinner.
If you don’t already exercise regularly and would like to begin or if you would like to increase the amount of exercise you do, pay a visit to your doctor first. It is important to get a thorough physical examination to make sure that exercising will be safe for you. Your doctor will check for complications, including cardiovascular disease, peripheral arterial disease (the hardening of the arteries in the legs and feet), retinopathy (eye disease), nephropathy (kidney disease), and neuropathy (nerve damage). Having one of these complications doesn’t mean you can’t exercise, but it does mean that certain exercises may be safer for you than others. For example, if you have proliferative retinopathy, you should avoid high-impact aerobics, heavy weight lifting and anything that involves straining or jarring movements. If you have neuropathy with loss of sensation in your feet and legs, you should limit weight-bearing exercise and stick to activities such as swimming, bicycling, rowing and chair exercises. Repetitive activities that place pressure on the feet, such as using a treadmill, walking long distances, jogging and doing step exercises, may lead to foot ulcers and fractures. If you have nephropathy, it’s a good idea to avoid high-intensity or strenuous exercises.
In addition to discussing what types of exercise are appropriate for you, ask your doctor how your blood glucose level may be affected during and after exercise and how to handle any changes you experience.