As women grow older, they often begin to worry about many of the overt signs of aging. Wrinkles, an expanding waistline, poor memory, bone and muscular aches and pains...These are just a few of the things that seem to occupy our thoughts by the time we've reached the age of 40 or 50.
However, what many women don't realize is that there are other changes going on that you can't see, but which may directly impact how long and well you live. Quietly, and insidiously, as your twenties turn into your forties and fifties, profound changes are taking place in your immune system. Women need to be aware of these transformations, since they will ultimately determine how well their bodies will be able to fight off infections, as well as potential cancers and autoimmune diseases.
Over the past several years, scientists have found that your body's ability to fight off viral and bacterial challenges is greater if you take care of your immune system throughout your life. This means eating right and exercising.
It also means controlling stress in your life.
Stress and Your Immune System
Daily stress is an integral part of modern life. As long as we feel we have the power and ability to control it though, the stress in our daily lives is manageable. However, as we age, our ability to cope with stress becomes even more important.
Recent studies indicate that the immune systems of older people are more likely to suffer if they perceive themselves as having little control over the stresses in their lives. And for women, who are more likely than not to be the caregivers to disabled partners and family members in later life, it is no secret that the stress of daily living can take an enormous toll, both physically and emotionally. Findings from a study by Ohio State University researchers indicate that a family member caring for an Alzheimer's patient for an average of five years has decreased cellular immunity and significantly more days of infectious illness. There is scientific evidence that family caregivers are slower to heal if they are injured than people who are not caregivers.
The Importance of Friends
Are there ways then that women can preserve their health, and protect their immune systems, as they age? The good news is 'yes'. The answer lies in learning to integrate your own needs into your daily life and to balance those needs with the needs of those around you.
We now know that having a strong network of supportive family and friends not only boosts your morale but your immune system as you age. And ongoing interactions with other people can help caregivers in particular feel less isolated and avoid feelings of abandonment. Just having someone to listen to your anguish can be healing.
For most women, the key lies in learning to delegate, which can be difficult. However, if you can turn over some of your responsibilities, even if it is just so that you can get out of the house and take a walk with a friend, you'll find you do feel more in control. And that feeling we now know will have positive effects on your health.
Making the Mind-Body Connection
What we have here is a real example of the mind-body connection at work. This is powerful information for women, who tend to put the desires of others before their own and often feel intense guilt when it comes to fulfilling their own needs. But, in an odd way, perhaps it will be easier now, knowing as we do now that our health depends on it. It's called balanced caregiving and all women can achieve this.