Most of us envision living into old age, but few of us like the physical changes of actually getting older. We often see patients who are distressed (either a little or a lot) about their changing bodies. And we get it! We have changing bodies, too.

Here’s the thing: we don’t have an option when it comes to aging. We can only choose how well we care for ourselves while it’s happening and the perspective we bring to the process.

A key part of adopting a healthy perspective is recognizing the physiologic changes that are more or less inevitable. Exactly when and to what degree these things become apparent varies from person to person, but these are universal changes, especially past the age of 40 and nearing menopause.

  1. Around menopause, women start storing fat more like men. Why do older women get thick in the middle? Whether you use hormones after menopause or don’t, everyone gets thicker in the middle. Without the same levels of estrogen around, female bodies are shaped more like male bodies – straighter and less curvy. You may not gain a lot of weight, but you will have a bigger waist and usually a softer tummy.
  2. Women start to lose muscle mass. Why do women lose muscle as they age? Even with consistent exercise, female bodies build less muscle in response to exercise than male bodies. And when the ovarian source of estrogen declines, guess where else estrogen is made? In FAT cells! Bodies just want to help pick up the slack….so they strive to keep a certain amount of fat around to help.
  3. Women lose skin elasticity and have thinner, drier skin. Why does skin get thinner as you get older? Both natural aging and sun exposure contribute to thinner outer layers of skin and loss of the subdermal fat layer, which helps the skin appear smoother and softer. The elasticity starts to decline gradually, which is seen in fine lines where the skin was formerly smooth. This increases gradually until one day it seems like the elasticity is just gone.
  4. Libido decreases. Why do older women have low libido? It can boil down to lower estrogen levels. Libido is the internal drive for procreative activity. As the brain notices the drop in hormones, it tells the body that procreation is no longer a necessity. That being said, perfectly great and satisfying sex is still totally possible well into old age. There just may not be an irresistible urge. Sex becomes a decision to make—usually a good one!
  5. Energy levels drop. Why do I have less energy as I age? Energy changes so often and for so many reasons throughout our lives that at first, you may not associate it with aging. There’s always something else to blame fatigue on. But gradually there’s slightly less energy as women age. And it doesn’t mean anything is wrong. It makes sense, really. So many factors affect energy levels with age—from circadian rhythms changes to how the body converts fuel into energy to fluctuating hormone levels. The older we live, the less energy the body has.

This is life! It’s the natural progression of things. So, is it possible to slow down aging? There are only some things in your control. Besides regular check-ups, recommended health screenings and important immunizations, there are four basic things people can do every day to make the best of the second half of their adulthood:

  1. Sleep well to feel better: Sleep is the foundation of everything else. Adults need 7.5 hours a night minimum. Sleep as much as your life will allow. Here’s more information on why the quality of sleep changes with age and how to improve it.
  2. Focus on a nutrition-forward diet: Pay attention to mood and energy with food choices. You know when something makes you feel well and satisfied and when something makes you feel lethargic and crummy. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
  3. Prioritize daily movement: When people stop doing certain movements, they will find they are no longer able to do those movements. (Have you gotten down on the floor and back up lately?) Exercise helps with just about everything—physical and emotional. Endurance, strength, balance and flexibility are all important. Walk. Play tennis. Do yoga. Or just try a plank if you have a minute.
  4. Find ways to manage stress: Life will always be stressful in some way or another, and the challenge is to find what you need to do to manage it. Some may just need to stop and breathe. Others need to practice short meditative exercises (try the Headspace app). Some need professional help to get their stressful lives under control.

There may not be a secret cure to aging slower, but to make aging easier–don’t do it alone. It’s less lonely when we acknowledge our common experiences and can share the ups and downs with a support system. And it is a great source of laughter and relief to joke about the superficial changes we can’t avoid.