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In two years I will turn 40. (Wait, what?) Our culture has imbued that birthday with such significance and not necessarily a positive one, especially for women. So I will admit that sometimes when I think about turning 40 I feel some reluctance and kind of what to whine, "But do I have to?"
Then I stop to think and interrogate the cultural messages we've been given about turning 40. I think about what an absolute gift it is to turn another year older. I reflect on what a privilege it will be to greet 40 and to see many more years of my life stretching out in front of me: years to spend with my kids and family, years to spend with Chris, years to write, read, cook, travel, laugh, and live. I think of all the women I know who are 40 and beyond doing great work and living their lives in ways that inspire me. Then I start to think, "Heck yeah, 40! Bring it on!"
I started percolating the general idea of "taking 40 at a running start" when I was pregnant with Maeve. I felt so healthy heading into my pregnancy with Maeve. I had a great exercise routine, felt energetic and comfortable in my body, and ate a balanced, nourishing diet. I felt some minor grief in anticipation of the changes my body would endure during pregnancy and afterwards (even as I also took time to appreciate and be in awe of what my body was able to do). A significant birthday on the horizon plus my love of goals and planning reoriented my thinking. I decided to look towards the healthy habits I would return to and/or put in place after Maeve arrived and feel excited about that. As we muddle through the lingering pandemic, setting my sights on a birthday in two years time holds even greater appeal.
There are things we can't control about our health because of genetics or other factors. However, there's a lot of evidence that certain habits can have significant positive impacts on our long term health. These are things that I do have control over. Taking action to give myself the best health that I can energizes me. My thought is that the healthy habits I have in place at 40 not only benefit me at 40 but are also for my 80 year old self. Plus I always find it easier to maintain a healthy habit than starting a new one. Therefore, better to start at 40 than at 80!
I feel really motivated to be as healthy as possible for as long as possible as I age. I want as much time as I can have to make the most of my "wild and precious life." So as I head towards 40 I'm thinking about maintaining the following healthy habits and giving much older Kelsey a big high five:
+ Regular exercise
I truly enjoy exercising and how it makes me feel. I feel very lucky that I enjoy doing something that is so good for me. A quote from the CDC succinctly captures the impact of exercise: "Only a few lifestyle choices have as large an impact on your health as physical activity. People who are physically active for about 150 minutes a week have a 33% lower risk of all-cause mortality than those who are physically inactive." Additionally, lifting weights helps maintain bone density which is especially important for women as they age to prevent osteoporosis.
I'm currently in a great groove with regular exercise. On a weekly basis I'm doing vigorous exercise for about four and a half hours, give or take. I go to Orange Theory twice, once for a 90 minute class, and do High Fitness, a cardio/aerobic class, twice. I really enjoy tracking my physical activity with my FitBit. One area of improvement for me is strengthening my pelvic floor. I'm doing pelvic floor physical therapy once or twice a week and need to be better about doing the exercises daily.
+ Stretching and staying flexible
I have been working on stretching more. I'm always so glad that I did it! Stretching not only leaves me feeling more limber but I know it helps prevent injuries. For me in particular using a foam roller to roll my IT band from my hip along the outside of my leg to my knee keeps my legs feeling good on the treadmill and afterwards. I try to do a short stretching session every night before bed and this is a habit I want to keep up. Occasionally I'll do an online yoga class and eventually I'd love to get in the groove of a weekly hour-long yoga practice.
+ Eating a plant-based diet with high fiber, low added sugar, and lots of whole foods.
Eating good food is one of life's great joys. In general my favorite kind of meals to eat are delicious, filling, and packed with foods that nourish my body. (I also love eating foods that are delicious and not as nutritious.) Living with a nutrition professor has taught me so much about food. I'm really motivated by information so the more I understand about how things like fiber, sugar, and fat, etc. are used in my body the more motivated I am to eat to nourish my body. The books Gut and The Good Gut made me feel more committed to eating foods that will help keep my gut healthy. This includes eating a high-fiber diet of varied whole foods and including fermented foods like yogurt with live cultures and sauerkraut. By the way, did you know that your gut is where the majority of your immune system is? How fascinating is that?!
Some general food rules that I follow include: eat a plant-based diet that includes dairy, eggs, and fish (although fish is not one of my favorite things to eat); prepare and eat most meals at home; eat whole wheat breads and pastas; avoid trans fats; and preference everyday foods with little to no added sugar. Overall we eat a very healthy diet but there are three things I'd like to improve on: making sure I eat breakfast, eating more daily vegetables, and eating more fermented foods. A breakfast I love is peanut butter oatmeal which I can make very easily if I prep it the night before by mixing oatmeal, almond milk, and peanut butter and putting it in the fridge. In the morning I just microwave the overnight oats for a minute. But I always forget to make it the night before! Often I get to 10 a.m. and realize I've only had coffee which does not set me up for feeling my best. Eating more vegetables feels challenging in this full season of life. Even simple vegetable preparations feel hard with a toddler on your hip. Weekend meal prep would help. To eat more fermented food I can drink a cup of kefir every day which is something we usually have in the fridge.
+ Daily sunscreen
Sunshine is abundant here in Arizona so daily sunscreen is a very important healthy habit for me. Wearing sunscreen helps prevent skin cancer and is going to keep me looking youthful-ish into old age. Every day I wear a moisturizer with SPF 50 from Paula's Choice that I love. I rub it into my face, neck, and upper chest. I am trying to remember to also do the back of my neck which is exposed when I wear my hair up which is often. I'm also trying to get in a better of habit of applying Unseen Sunscreen by Supergoop on my arms and the backs on my hands every day. To help with this I should probably set up a subscription for the Unseen Sunscreen so that I always have plenty.
+ No alcohol
I now identify as someone who doesn't drink alcohol. I would not have predicted that a few years ago! Since having kids my tolerance for and interest in alcohol has waned significantly. I was already heading towards very occasionally drinking when I came across articles about the well-documented links between alcohol and the increased risk of cancer, especially for women (NPR, CDC, Wired). I honestly felt a bit angry reading that the medical community has long-known that alcohol carries an increased risk of cancer. I wondered why this was never mentioned at my annual physicals or well-women exams. Maybe because I always said I had a couple drinks per week at most? Still, I would always like to know about any potential negative impact to my health, even if very small. Then in 2019 I read Quit Like A Woman which includes a discussion about how heavily the alcohol industry markets to women. So to summarize: alcohol is a known toxin, carries an increased risk of cancer, and is a way for big corporations to make money off of me while hurting my health. Given all of that it's felt easy to me to leave alcohol behind.
This past year I was thrilled to discover Athletic Brewing non-alcoholic beer. Now I can enjoy a Friday afternoon snack and beer but without the alcohol – I love it! I'm not sure that I won't ever have another sip of alcohol but I don't miss it and don't see it ever becoming a regular part of my life again.
+ Preventative healthcare appointments
Each year I want to make sure I have the following appointments: a routine physical with blood work, a well-woman exam with a pap smear if I need one, an annual dermatology check (I have a lot of moles!), and regular dental cleanings. I have not always done my annual physical or annual well-woman exam but am committed to doing them going forward. I get my eyes checked every few years and have a very light prescription for glasses which I wear when driving in the dark. Over the next decade I'll need to add other preventative procedures like getting a mammogram and eventually a colonoscopy.
After receiving my bloodwork results at my annual physical this year I asked for copies of all my previous year's bloodwork. I have results from 2016, 2018, and 2021. Surprisingly my doctor's office does not print the results in a way that you can easily compare year to year. I took matters into my own hands and created a master spreadsheet with my results which is my idea of a fun project.
+ Stay curious and connected
When I've read about healthy aging what consistently comes up as a takeaway is having things to look forward to and feeling connected to a community. I'm very fortunate to have these things in my life in abundance. I'm in a full season of life right now with young kids but I also nurture my own interests with the books I read, writing blog posts, producing a podcast, being in a book club, spending time with Chris, and other fun things. As our kids get older and we have more free time there will always be books to read, recipes to try, movies to see, places to go, new skills to learn, and on and on. I also feel very connected to a community of people, both family and friends, whom I care deeply about and who care for me.
And those are the habits and practices on my mind for healthy aging as I approach 40. I find this topic fascinating as you can see! I'd love to know how you think about healthy aging and if there are habits I didn't mention that would be beneficial for my health.