The women at the heart of this story come from all walks of life.
In 1990 a study of 2000 Australian women, aged between 45 to 55, was undertaken to provide a ‘wide-frame snapshot of women’s health in this phase of life (menopausal transition)’. It was designed to last for five years. One of the first things the study learnt, is that this phase of life does not fall into a neat five year plan. The study was extended. 90% of the original group stayed on as new members were recruited in 2001, 2011 and again, just recently, in 2021. A number of the 2021 cohort are daughters of the first group, creating a generational database.
There are now larger studies occurring around the world, but the Australian one was first. These women ‘remain internationally crucial because they reach each age band five to 10 years earlier than those in studies elsewhere‘.
Secrets of Women’s Healthy Ageing: Living Better Living Longer reveals what has been learnt over the past thirty years about women’s health, in Australia, as they age. It was a fascinating and engaging read from beginning to end. Pop out boxes, chapter summaries, dot points, anecdotal quotes from participants and clearly designed tables presented the information in an easy-to-read manner. Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in this area.
Things the Women’s Healthy Ageing Project (WHAP) has learnt so far:
- If there is one single thing you can do to benefit your overall health, it’s walk in the park!
- Postmenopause appears to have at least three distinct stages, with substages.
- Being able to adapt to change is a ‘key secret to maintaining quality of life‘.
- Chronic disease begins to slowly develop from about age 45 onwards.
- For women, is appears that having higher good cholesterol (HDL) is an important factor in preventing brain decline.
- Fatigue is…so common in women, we need more research to understand it better.
- 60% of the women in the study had ‘suffered from violence and sexual abuse‘.
The healthiest women in our study moved every day, they had meaning in their lives and were happier in their ageing than they had been in their youth.
I learnt that:
- women’s heart disease is different to men’s – women are more likely to have ‘small vessel’ heart disease, ‘which slowly strains the heart‘ rather than ‘large vessel’ heart disease, causing a massive heart attack, like men.
- most regulated trials and studies have been done on male animals and humans. Scientists admit the reason why is because the ‘impact of fluctuations of hormones in female animals can affect otherwise ‘controlled’ experimentation.‘
- The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) finally mandated the inclusion of females in all registered trials in 1994.
- The best activities are integrated ones, the ones you can incorporate into your daily life.
- Men and women ‘absorb, distribute and eliminate drugs‘ differently.
It is crucial that we start to consider the development of chronic diseases in ageing not as independent pathways in the body, but as integrated, complex systems with overlapping risk factors and disease processes. These processes build on one another and interact to create worse outcomes.
- Professor Cassandra Szoeke is the principle investigator of the Women’s Healthy Ageing Project, the longest ongoing study of women’s health in Australia.
- Join the AgeHAPPY group by filling out the survey (it takes about an hour but can be completed in 10-minute blocks).
Title: Secrets of Women's Healthy Ageing: Living Better, Living Longer Author: Professor Cassandra Szoeke ISBN: 9780522877236 Imprint: Melbourne University Press Published: 31 August 2021 Format: Trade Paperback Pages: 216
- This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.