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Health Fusion: A woman's health in middle age may help predict future decline

Middle-aged women, listen up. Researchers have identified health factors that could put you at risk of poor health in the future. But the good news is that interventions may help. Viv Williams has more in this episode of NewsMD's "Health Fusion."

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Gardening: Promoting healthy lifestyle factors
Viv Williams

ROCHESTER — Picture this scenario: You're a middle-aged woman and your health care provider says that certain health factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes and body mass index, could predict a decline in your future health.

What would you do with that information? Maybe you'd want to take some steps to improve your chances of staying healthier longer.

In a new study , researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston looked at the health measurements of a group of over 1,000 women between the ages of 55 and 65 and compared the information to the same measurements 10 years later. They looked for changes that happened during that time. They found that certain factors were associated with a decline in physical health later on.

Specifically, they found that about 20% of the women they studied experienced clinically important declines.

For women at age 55, the factors associated with the decline include:

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  • Higher body mass index
  • Lower educational attainment
  • Current smoking
  • Co-morbidities, such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis
  • Depressive symptoms

“Age 55 to 65 may be a critical decade,” said corresponding author Dr. Daniel H. Solomon . “As a clinician and epidemiologist, I often think about the window of opportunity at midlife, when people are vital, engaged and resilient. If we can identify risk factors and determine who is at risk, we may be able to find interventions that can stave off health declines and help put people on a better health trajectory.”

The researchers say their study was small, so they need to validate it. But they are already working on ways to incorporate their findings into real world applications, including a risk score to help figureout which women may have future issues.

This research is published in JAMA Open Network.

Follow the Health Fusion podcast on Apple , Spotify , and Google Podcasts.

For comments or other podcast episode ideas, email Viv Williams at vwilliams@newsmd.com . Or on Twitter/Instagram/FB @vivwilliamstv.

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