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Stay Healthy Into Your 70s and Beyond

Senior women having fun

It’s an achievement to reach your 70s, 80s or beyond. By the time women turn 70, many have experienced enough life events, both extraordinary and mundane, to gain wisdom and empathy that they may have lacked when they were in their 20s or 30s.

Your 70s may be a good time for self-reflection. Think about what you hoped to achieve in life, what you’ve accomplished so far and what you’d still like to do.

“It’s a matter of recalibrating, readjusting expectations and realizing that there’s still a lot of life to be lived,” said Eynav Accortt, PhD, a clinical psychologist and director of Cedars-Sinai’s Reproductive Psychology Program. “You can still set goals for yourself, although they’re not going to be the same goals you had decades ago, when you were concentrating on your career or growing your family. New goals could be volunteering, creating art or doing something religious or spiritual. Try something that you’ve always wanted to do but never had time for.”

To stay as healthy as possible in your 70s and beyond, see your doctor regularly. Socialize with friends to ward off loneliness. Protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections (with condoms or dental dams) if you have a new sexual partner. Prioritize a nutritious diet to keep your bones healthy, aim for seven to nine hours of sleep every night and make regular physical activity a part of your lifestyle.

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Eynav E. Accortt, PhD

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Eynav E. Accortt, PhD

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Be Realistic About Exercise Goals

It’s important to be as physically active as possible as you get older. Every week, aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity walking or other exercise, plus muscle-strengthening exercises on two separate days and regular balance-related exercises to reduce your risk of falls.

“Exercising helps to improve sleep, reducing symptoms of insomnia and sleep apnea, and helps improve cognition, which may reduce the risk of dementia,” said Gabriela Dellapiana, MD, an OB-GYN and maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Cedars-Sinai. “It helps with bone health and may reduce the risk of injury from falls. And it helps improve an overall sense of well-being.”

Some people can’t meet the recommended exercise goals as they get older. If you’re falling short, do your best.

“If you can no longer accomplish 150 minutes per week because of generalized decline in your physical condition, a cardiovascular condition or other chronic conditions, be as physically active as you are able,” Dellapiana said. “Allow yourself some grace, and adjust as needed. Any movement is better than no movement.”

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Gabriela Dellapiana, MD

Ob Gyn-Maternal Fetal Medicine

Gabriela Dellapiana, MD

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Women in their 70s Screenings and Vaccines

Remember to Nourish Yourself

In your 70s and beyond, your hunger cues may become less pronounced, so make sure that you’re eating and drinking enough. Sticking to a regular schedule for meals may help.

“Some people naturally begin losing weight once they get to a certain age,” Dellapiana said. “Ultimately, the goal is to maintain a healthy weight.”

Eat nutrient-dense foods, with an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, nuts, fish and other whole foods. Limiting your intake of salt and sugar should help you eat a more nutrient-dense diet.

If you have chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, follow your doctor’s dietary advice.

Consume foods that are high in calcium and vitamin D regularly to benefit your bone health.

“Calcium is super-important for women, for healthy bones, because we lose bone density over the years,” Dellapiana said. “Calcium isn’t enough on its own. You need vitamin D to help your body absorb calcium.”

Keep an Eye on Your Mental Health

Older adults tend to be happier than younger adults, but people may experience anxiety or depression at any age.

Women in their 70s, 80s and 90s are more likely than young adults to have chronic diseases, which increases the risk of depression or anxiety.

“When you have a chronic illness, make sure you’re not disregarding your mental health,” Accortt said. “You may have anxiety because you wonder how it will affect the rest of your life, how it might worsen or how you’ll cope. I encourage people to find community, so they feel supported by peers with the same condition.”

Many people experience depression or anxiety when they’re widowed. If you lose a partner or a close friend, seek support from a therapist or a group of like-minded individuals.

“In our society, we don’t talk enough about death in an open, honest, caring way,” Accortt said. “If you can, find community in a group of widows or a group of individuals who have lost their best friends.”

Therapy or a support group may help if you have difficulty coping after you stop working.

“Retirement can be very sad for some people,” Accortt said. “They may think, ‘I feel like I don’t have a purpose anymore,’ or, ‘My kids have their own families, and they don’t need me.’”

Manage Bladder Problems

Once women reach their 70s, recurrent urinary tract infections are more common, and if they aren’t addressed, UTIs may turn into kidney infections. You’re also likely to find yourself rushing to the bathroom more often due to urinary urgency. Talk to your doctor to find out how to manage either condition.

“I see a lot of women in their 70s and 80s who have never really addressed their urinary symptoms because they do not feel comfortable discussing it or they think it’s a normal part of aging,” said Brittni Boyd, MD, a urogynecologist at Cedars-Sinai. “They have urinary urgency, frequency, waking up at night and maybe leaking on the way to the bathroom. Some tell me they’ve been wearing diapers because of mobility issues—they aren’t able to make it to the bathroom in time. Urinary urgency, frequency, nighttime urination and incontinence symptoms are not normal but very common, and there are steps you can take to improve these symptoms.”

Limiting your intake of caffeinated beverages and artificial sweeteners may reduce urinary frequency. 

“Stopping fluid intake about three hours before bedtime and using a CPAP machine if you have sleep apnea can help with nighttime urination," Boyd said.

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Brittni A. Boyd, MD

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Protect Dry or Thinning Skin

Your skin may be noticeably thinner after age 70 or 80, especially if you sunbathed often when you were younger. With thinner skin, you might notice that you get tears in the skin and bruises more easily, even from everyday activities such as carrying grocery bags.

“Oftentimes, the skin is thinnest on the arms, from accumulated sun damage,” said Sravya Bhatia, MD, a dermatologist at Cedars-Sinai. “People might notice that they get more scratches, abrasions or bruises. Bruising is more common among older people who take blood thinners.”

Dry skin becomes more common as you get older, because your skin produces fewer natural oils that provide moisture and hydration. It can be more than a cosmetic issue: Dry skin may be uncomfortable.

“Dry, itchy skin can become a big issue, especially on the lower legs and the back,” Bhatia said.

To keep your skin from drying out, limit your showers or baths to five or 10 minutes, and use warm water, rather than hot. (Don’t use bath oils, which make the tub slippery—a fall hazard.) After you towel-dry, use a thick moisturizer to help lock some of the moisture into your skin.

“Thick creams are better at moisturizing than lotions,” Bhatia said. “Use whatever brand feels good for your skin, but look for one that has ceramides, which help to replenish moisture and strengthen the skin barrier.”

If you have dry, itchy skin and you aren’t very physically active, consider showering every other day.

“Some people don't need to bathe every day,” Bhatia said. “If they're not getting dirty, they don't need to shower daily. It may help to prevent that dryness.”

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Older Women and Frailty

Frailty is a medical term used to describe people whose health status interferes with their ability to live life fully, and it’s more common among older adults. People who are medically frail are unable to bounce back from illnesses as quickly as they did even a few years earlier. They’re more likely to be sidelined by minor health issues, such as a urinary tract infection or a virus, possibly requiring hospitalization. They’re also more likely to experience falls.

People who take multiple medications daily may be at increased risk of frailty. Women are more likely than men to be frail as they get older.

Older adults who are frail tend to be less mobile than their peers, with reduced functioning. They’re often weak and have lost muscle tone. When they walk, they can’t move quickly, and they get tired easily. People who are frail may also have a poor diet and lose weight unintentionally.

To reduce frailty risks, experts suggest:

  • Eat sensibly. Older adults may eat less because of fewer hunger cues. Making an effort to eat meals at set times may help. Foods that are rich in protein, calcium and vitamin D may help prevent bones and muscles from deteriorating.
  • Keep active. Sometimes, older adults who experience falls exercise less often, worried that they may fall again. Staying active helps to keep your muscles toned, and it reduces your risk of falls.
  • Monitor your medications. Many older adults take five or more medications daily, and many have not asked if each drug is still appropriate. Taking medicine unnecessarily may cause drug interactions that lead to confusion, balance problems and other issues that may contribute to frailty. The next time that you visit your doctor, bring all of your medications and ask for a medication assessment.
  • Socialize. People who feel socially isolated are more likely to experience depression, dementia and frailty. Taking time to socialize with friends and family may help you feel more engaged and improve your quality of life, which decreases your risk of all three conditions.