Your 50s: body basics

For most women, her 50s mean menopause. But it is not really a pause at all. Menopause is more like a shift. Your hormone levels shift and change, and your body shifts out of its childbearing years into a new state of balance. But before reaching that balance, many women go through the sometimes roller-coaster-like symptoms of menopause. During the time leading up to menopause, you may experience hot flashes and night sweats, upset sleep and stress, mood swings, irritability, or depression.

And as your body's levels of the hormone estrogen drop, you may also notice other changes. Reduced vaginal lubrication can make sexual intercourse difficult, even painful, and increase your risk of urinary and vaginal infections. Estrogen dips also cause you to lose bone density - putting you at risk of osteoporosis - and have been linked to a gain in belly fat.

Belly fat, in turn, may boost your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. To lose this fat, you may need to bump up your workouts and lower your caloric intake. Your risk of colorectal cancer increases during this decade, so screening becomes crucial.

Weakened pelvic muscles may play a role in urination issues like incontinence, and in some women a condition called pelvic prolapse is to blame. Women who are obese or have had children are more susceptible. Excess weight may also put a woman more at risk of developing uterine fibroids, which are noncancerous tumours that develop in the years before and during menopause but often shrink after. Symptoms of fibroids include heavy bleeding, pain during sex, frequent urination, and sensations of pelvic fullness.

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