When a woman has walked this Earth for over half a century, she is a fountainhead of wisdom, experience and faith, but sometimes needs little reminders on how to stay stupendous. Behnaz Sanjana sets out to do just that.
This month, we celebrate women who have been there, done that. We not only give you some practical pointers on how to take care of yourself better, but also speak to two women who will inspire you to take life by the horns and hug it tight.
Nurture with Nutrition
Clinical dietician at Bahrain Specialist Hospital, Danah Quintana, says: “The majority of your food choices should be packed with vitamins, minerals, fibre and other nutrients. Older adults need fewer calories than others. Making smart food choices can help you stay healthy, manage your weight and be physically active.” The key, Danah says, is to focus on variety and make your calories count. A multivitamin tailored for your age group will fill any gaps in your nutrition, she adds.
Enjoy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, and stay low on saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol, to help reduce the risk of heart disease. A sedentary lifestyle needs 1,600 calories per day. Moderately active and very active women need 1,800 and 2,000 calories respectively per day.
This is also the age where perimenopause or menopause strike, and food can help alleviate its effects. Small changes in your diet can help prevent menopausal weight gain. “Menopausal women should watch their sodium intake and remember that caffeine and spicy foods can trigger hot flashes,” advises Danah.
Healthy, whole foods like fruits, berries, dark leafy greens, salmon, whole grains, yogurt and water help your body to deal better with menopause.
Dermatologist Dr Bhartendu Mehta, of the American Mission Hospital, has come up with some simple, effective ways to slow down skin aging. “Protection from the sun forms the foundation of every anti-aging skin-care plan,” he says. “There is evidence that the sun causes photo-aging — premature ageing of skin.”
He maintains that sunscreen and moisturiser form your most effective anti-aging arsenal. “Using these every day can make a noticeable difference. Select a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen, SPF 30 or more. Be sure to cover up when out in the sun. Eye serums and other anti-ageing products can help diminish signs of ageing.”
Dr Mehta recommends you skip the indoor tanning and smoking; they do no good for youthfulness. But eating healthily, sleeping enough and washing away facial grime with a mild cleanser (not soap) twice a day go a long way.
Women in this age bracket sometimes notice a waning crown of hair. Female Pattern Hair Loss (FPHL) is usually the most common cause of hair loss in older women. “FPHL begins in midlife, and is a progressive condition. Women do not lose all of their hair, as do men. Instead, your parting often gets wider and hair near your temples may recede,” says Dr Mehta.
Treatment delivers the best results when started at the first sign of hair loss. See a dermatologist to make sure that you have FPHL — and to rule out any other condition that may be causing your hair loss.
Meet our Lovely Ladies
They’re fun, fearless and well into their 50s. Debbie Al Asfoor and Shubha Damani tell us how to meet aging with panache.
Debbie has just returned from a holiday skiing in the Alps, and feels lucky to be able to enjoy such an activity when she’s just shy of 60. “When I think of my chronological age I panic slightly, but I actually have more energy and zest for life than I did in my 20s,” she tells us.
She believes that ageing is a mindset and the older one gets, the more one has to do to stay fit and healthy. “You may not feel bouncy every day, but engage in learning something new, focus on something larger than yourself. Connect with people close to you, take up a new hobby, read more, swim, move or meditate. Your wellbeing is more than just a state of mind. Learn to love yourself and be grateful for all that is good in your life however desperate it might seem at times,” she says.
Debbie is a staunch exponent of stretching, which she deems the most underrated component of fitness and feeling good. “It’s something I have done all my life. Keeping the body flexible prevents unnecessary injuries, improves muscle endurance, making everyday duties easier, helps balance and elongates your muscles to improve posture, which is the best-kept fitness secret. If you can no longer touch your toes, don’t give up; you can soon get back in the game!” she says.
“I suffer from the debilitating rheumatoid arthritis and underwent various surgeries some years ago. I pushed my body to the limits with unsuitable fitness activities which caused further deterioration. Luckily, I came out of it. I now treat my body with the utmost care and never embark on activities that will cause long-term negative effects,” she says of her learning experience.
To conclude, Debbie emphasises the importance of having good friends to keep you afloat during rough times. “Embrace and enjoy what is around you and the years that pass you by. Every birthday is a blessing. Never fret about getting older, you’re as young as you feel, as the saying goes.”
A few years ago, Shubha suffered severe joint pains and feared she was ‘getting old’. The orthopaedists gave her some dos and don’ts which she wasn’t thrilled about. “I didn’t want to limit myself so early on in life. I turned to gentle yoga and joint strengthening supplements to help myself. I had been practising yoga for a long time, but this push I gave myself rid me of my pain. You can start yoga at any point in your life; it can be as easy or intense as you want it to be. Along with medical orders, it’s also important to listen to your body,” she says.
Shubha relates this incident to highlight that knowledge is power. By being well informed, women can have self-confidence, thereby empowering themselves to make the right choices. She believes in the instinctive intellect of women, which matures only with age.
On the subject of looking and feeling one’s best, Shubha believes being completely involved in the welfare of the family, and especially the children, without sparing a thought for herself, is a woman’s biggest shortcoming. “Women make themselves second best; we all make that mistake. We often let ourselves go by not taking good care of ourselves. We’re already unselfish by caring well for our husbands and children, so we mustn’t feel guilty for focusing on ourselves either. Once a woman falls into the abyss of low self-esteem, it’s difficult to get out of that groove.”
Pursuing a career or a hobby is her panacea to the rut of not being good enough that some women fall into. Shubha’s favourites are experimental cooking, dancing and gardening. “It’s never too late! Being active keeps your spirits up and keeps your body from creaking. Nothing like it to make you feel young and lively,” she says.
Pursuing a goal gives you a sense of direction, she believes. “My husband and I scaled Mount Kilimanjaro in 2008. To prepare for the climb, we needed to boost our fitness levels, strengthen our hearts, muscles and core. I can’t tell you how many ‘jebels’ we climbed in Bahrain over the weekends to practise mountain climbing. We were busy focusing on fitness to successfully climb Kili, and it felt great.”
Asked if stepping outside your comfort zone makes you feel mentally younger, she agrees. “Push your limits. Be excited by new ideas. It doesn’t have to be mountain climbing; even in fashion, cooking, planning your interiors or whatever you are doing, push boundaries. That’s what gives you that ‘oomph’; that zest for life.” She accepts that you can’t get everything in life right, but the sheer desire to succeed will get you there.
Whether you’re already in your 50s, pushing your half century or have years still to go, take a leaf out of our ladies’ books to live life to the fullest, with no regrets and what ifs.