Aging is a natural part of life. But throughout history — from fabled elixirs to experimental medical treatments — we’ve looked for ways to slow it down and enjoy more years of our lives.
The reasons for how and why we age remain a mystery. What we do know is that it’s a complex process influenced by our genes, biology, lifestyle choices, and environment.
We also know that females tend to outlive males — even though we experience a sharp decline in our health and longevity following menopause — and spend more of our lives in poorer health.
So, why do women live longer? And what can we do to protect our longevity and improve our health during those years?
In this article, we’ll discuss the unique traits of the female body that both protect — or harm — our longevity. We’ll also explore ways to take your health into your own hands and improve how you age.
The Female Longevity Paradox
Females live longer than males in over 60% of the species on earth. That may be thanks to several built-in traits that protect us and combat the adverse effects of aging earlier in life. In fact, the enhancements we’ve been given, in many ways, make us not so different from superheroes.
People born as females have two x-chromosomes to use in their development. This additional x-chromosome provides a handy backup system to buffer against certain genetic conditions and diseases that might be found on one of our x-chromosomes. Additionally, our enhanced immune system helps us respond better to infections than our male counterparts and reduces the risk of age-related diseases.
Females also have more estrogen than males — and this is our superpower.
Estrogen is a sex hormone produced mainly in our ovaries that plays a vital role in sexual and reproductive development. But it’s also critical for the proper function of many other organs and systems in the body.
While estrogen doesn't "prevent" aging per se, it does offer protective effects that can delay or mitigate some age-associated changes and diseases. Estrogen also increases the expression of longevity-associated genes and decreases harmful particles produced in our cells that cause cell damage.
But, just like all superheroes, the female body has one critical weakness. A certain phase in our lives threatens these incredible defenses, and it’s often a turning point in our health and longevity.
Menopause: Longevity’s Kryptonite
Menopause is a natural transition in a woman's life accompanied by a significant decline in the production of estrogen and progesterone hormones. While we don’t know why menopause occurs, we do know that our ovaries, which are responsible for producing most of our estrogen, age at twice the rate of any other organ in our body.
This means most women begin peri-menopause around the age of 38-44 and spend nearly a third of their life in menopause.
Why is this important? Because the loss of estrogen and progesterone has a profound effect on our bodies. As estrogen levels drop, bone density decreases, heightening the risk of fractures. Altered cholesterol levels put the health of our heart at stake, and the risk of diabetes, stroke, and memory disorders surges. Lower estrogen levels also affect our immune system response, making us more susceptible to various chronic ailments.
All of these factors jeopardize our long-term health and vitality, but the effects of menopause can extend even further. Menopause accelerates cellular aging by 6%, and the symptoms themselves can impact our longevity.
How to Enhance Your Longevity
While it might seem like improving your longevity is beyond your control, it’s important to know that your genetics are only about 10% responsible for how long you’ll live.
So, what can you do to enhance your longevity today?
Make Lifestyle Changes
Clean Up Your Diet
Diet plays a pivotal role in aging. Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins reduces the risks of chronic diseases and increases longevity. On the other hand, diets heavy in processed foods and sugars promote inflammation and can hasten the aging process.
Eat More Foods with Antioxidants
Antioxidants combat free radicals, those unstable molecules that can cause damage to our cells and contribute to aging and various diseases. By neutralizing these free radicals, antioxidants help protect our body from oxidative stress, which is linked to chronic illnesses and degenerative conditions. Consuming a diet abundant in antioxidant-rich foods, such as berries, nuts, leafy greens, and dark chocolate, not only supports overall health but also aids in reducing the risk of age-related diseases, paving the way for a longer, healthier life.
Add Phytoestrogens Into Your Diet
Phytoestrogens, plant-derived compounds that mimic some of the actions of the hormone estrogen in our body, have been linked to various health benefits. They can play a role in balancing hormones, supporting bone health, and even offering protective measures against certain cancers. Consuming a diet abundant in phytoestrogen-rich foods, such as soy products, flaxseeds, and certain beans, not only promotes overall well-being but may also aid in mitigating age-related health challenges, contributing to a longer, more vibrant life.
Moderate Alcohol Consumption
While excessive alcohol consumption can be detrimental and often makes menopause symptoms worse, light to moderate consumption, particularly red wine, might be associated with increased lifespan and reduced heart disease risk.
Smoking is a leading cause of various diseases. Avoiding tobacco and mitigating exposure to environmental smoke can substantially increase your life expectancy.
Regular exercise is essential for healthy aging, and including both aerobic and resistance training has been shown to reduce the risk of various chronic diseases, enhance cognitive function, and improve longevity.
Maintain A Healthy Weight
Obesity is linked to various health issues, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and certain cancers. However, an underweight body mass index (BMI) can also negatively impact longevity. Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise can help enhance your lifespan.
Chronic stress can be detrimental to longevity. Prolonged exposure to stress hormones, like cortisol, can lead to various health issues, from heart disease to a weakened immune system. Techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and yoga have been scientifically shown to reduce stress and its adverse effects.
Maintain Social Connections
Strong social connections and maintaining your mental health can positively influence your longevity. Across 148 studies, stronger social relationships increased the likelihood of survival by 50%.
Take Care of Your Mental Health
Mental well-being is intimately tied to physical health; conditions like depression and anxiety can have tangible effects on physical health. Seeking help when needed, whether through therapy, friendships, or other interventions, is crucial to your longevity.
Get Regular Health Screenings
Early detection and management of diseases is one of the best ways to improve longevity. In fact, according to findings from the latest Hologic Global Women’s Health Index, regular visits to healthcare professionals, such as mammograms for breast cancer and Pap smears for cervical cancer, may add up to two years to a woman’s life expectancy.
Get the Right Treatment for Aging
While the fountain of youth remains a myth, personalized care from someone trained to understand female longevity can address the effects of aging and enhance your quality of life during those years.
Hormonal and non-hormonal interventions each offer their own unique set of benefits and considerations. That’s why you want a knowledgeable guide to help you investigate your health needs and navigate the different options.
Hormonal Treatment for Aging
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is an effective way to manage the symptoms of menopause by replenishing declining hormone levels. Research into the effects of HRT on longevity is limited but shows hope.
A long-term study from 1981-2003 involving over 8,800 women found that women who took estrogen lived longer than those who did not. In fact, over 22 years, the study found that women who did not take estrogen died younger — and often sicker — than their estrogen-taking peers. Additionally, the risk of both death and age-related diseases was lowest among longer-term, lower-dose users.
While HRT offers numerous benefits, it does come with potential risks and side effects. Most physicians recommend starting hormone replacement therapy within 5-7 years of menopause at the lowest dose possible for the fewest years needed. Before beginning any HRT regimen, it's essential to consult with your healthcare provider to determine if it's the right choice for your individual health needs.
Non-hormonal supplements and medications
Beyond hormone replacement therapy, many vitamins and minerals stand out for their potential to combat age-related issues. These non-hormonal alternatives can offer benefits like reducing inflammation, bolstering the immune system, and replenishing vital nutrients.
Empower with Antioxidants
Free radicals — rogue molecules in our bodies — can cause cellular damage, a key factor in aging and various diseases. Antioxidants, like vitamins A, C, E, and Selenium, counteract these culprits.
Chronic, low-grade inflammation is a crucial contributor to aging. Omega-3 fatty acids, abundant in fish oil and specific plants, are proven to douse inflammation, safeguard brain health, and lower the risk of chronic ailments. Similarly, curcumin, derived from turmeric, acts as a potent anti-inflammatory agent and antioxidant, addressing inflammation at its root.
Shield your Immune System
Vitamin D helps absorb calcium for stronger bones, reducing your risk of fractures and osteoporosis. It also activates our immune defenses to fight off pathogens and protects against cognitive decline. Zinc offers dual benefits: it boosts immune function and helps maintain proper cell function to prevent chronic diseases and conditions associated with aging.
Nourish your Nerve Function
Magnesium is multifaceted. It ensures heart rhythm stability, mitigates hypertension, and plays a pivotal role in nerve function, aiding electrical signal transmission in the body.
Taking vitamin and mineral supplements is not a one-size-fits-all approach. While supplements can benefit people with specific deficiencies or certain health conditions, they aren’t always necessary for everyone. Talk to a healthcare provider before adding supplements to your routine to ensure you take the ones that best match your health needs.
FemGevity: Your Key to Longevity
Navigating the complex aging landscape, especially for women, requires knowledge, attention, and personalized care. While getting older is inevitable, many factors affecting our longevity are within our control.
At FemGevity, our comprehensive approach to care can provide you with the tools, resources, and knowledge to improve your health and longevity. We’re redefining the way women’s health is treated through menopause and beyond so that you can live more of your life in good health.
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