By Barbara Schroeder, M.D., Obstetrics & Gynecology, Memorial Hermann Memorial City
We’re often tired, we sometimes carry around a few extra pounds, our libido is lacking—could there be a medical reason behind these things?
There may indeed be underlying issues. Women who are still menstruating or who are vegetarians should be checked for anemia. Thyroid dysfunction, especially in those over age 40, is 10 times more common in women than men. Hormonal fluctuations or early menopause may also be responsible.
But the majority of the time, the most common complaints I treat on a daily basis—fatigue, weight gain, depression or anxiety and sexual dysfunction—are related to lifestyle. And there’s a trickledown effect—each one of these can easily lead to the other.
Some fatigue can be attributed to daily habits, including what you eat. Caffeine and sugar fixes backfire, because as soon as you come off that high, you feel really tired. Furthermore, all mothers should aim for at least seven hours of sleep a night. Studies show that seven hours is the absolute minimum—any less than that and the immune system may be affected. Lack of sleep also increases leptin, a hormone that triggers hunger.
The very act of growing older is bad for the waistline. Since metabolism slows about five percent per decade, you can expect to gain 10-12 pounds a year if you don’t change your eating or exercise habits. It’s hard to fit exercise into an already jam-packed schedule, but once you start exercising, you’ll find it actually increases energy. Hit the ground running by exercising early in the morning instead of late at night, when you should be winding down.
Depression and anxiety are big factors for women, simply because we are pulled in so many directions. In this regard, the most difficult age group to take care of is women ages 40-55 because they’re sandwiched between young children and aging parents. Proper nutrition, adequate sleep, and, in some cases, therapy, can help with the juggling act.
For women, there’s a lot of psychology involved in sexual function. If work is busy, the kids are demanding or the marriage isn’t quite right, it’s much harder to get in the mood. For men, it’s a more natural drive. In that, we can learn from our partners—sometimes you just need to get started, and the rest will come. A lot of women say they enjoy themselves and often wonder, after the fact, why they don’t get sexy more often. It’s just that getting to that point can be harder for women than men.
Turning it Around
The older women are, the more likely these common woes are triggered by an underlying medical condition. A visit to the doctor is warranted anytime you’re concerned, but in addition to a physical workup, expect the doctor to ask about lifestyle choices.
You might try changing your sleep, eating and exercise habits for four to six weeks to see if there’s any difference in your symptoms. But don’t go full force all at once. For exercise, start at 10-15 minute increments, and then add five or 10 minutes the following week until you’re up to 45 minutes a day. Once you have one good habit established, add the next.
The hard part is there are no easy fixes. But with some effort, a tired, frumpy, sad or frigid mama will soon be a rejuvenated, fabulous, content and sexy mama.
A mother’s mission:
• aim for at least seven hours of sleep a night
• eat whole grains and lean proteins
• exercise early in the morning
• balance work, career and marriage
What it might be:
• thyroid dysfunction
For information on medical conditions common to women, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at www.womenshealth.org