When a woman enters her mid-forties, she might start developing mid-life challenges which can be very unsettling. This is the time when women start experiencing changes in the body, face significant life transitions, and sometimes shifts in their value systems which might expose them to a different culture making them highly disoriented and isolated. In particular, physiological degeneration encompassing a decline in bone mineral density (BMD) starts manifesting in this age group. This BMD reduction makes middle-aged women susceptible to developing osteoporosis which might contribute to gait and balance impairments, an increased risk of injury, financial burden, and even a greater risk of mortality. All these changes can ultimately bring out a significant decline in their functional capacity.
What is even more important is that these physical incapacities also hamper the mental health of women, as established by a recently published study. The study, published by a team of researchers from Singapore in the Journal Menopause, suggests that women in their mid-life phase, struggling with a weakness in their upper and lower body have a high propensity to develop anxiety and/or depressive disorders. Specifically, advanced anxiety and depression symptoms were associated in cases where the women had a compromised handgrip strength because of which, a longer time was required to get up from a chair.
Navigating through mid-life is challenging for some women
According to senior study author Eu-Leong Yong, from the National University of Singapore, women in their mid-life experience excruciatingly difficult times as they have to juggle the responsibilities of their family life including their growing children, ailing and aging parents, and spouse.
Additionally, they have to devote themselves to their professional commitments as well. In order to provide for all, oftentimes, they end up putting their own physical as well as mental health on the backburner. While the symptoms of deteriorating physical health might surface sooner or later, symptoms of anxiety and depression often go unrecognized.
Physical un-fitness related to mental un-fitness
Yong and his team investigated over 1,100 women who belonged to the age bracket of 45-69 years and had visited the National University Hospital in Singapore for their regular gynecological check-ups. In the course of these appointments, the researchers assessed the physical performance of the upper body which was a reflection of the handgrip strength. For this, the women were asked to squeeze a hand-held dynamometer with maximum effort. In addition, the physical performance of the lower body was also assessed via standing balance, gait speed, and a repetitive chair stand test during which the time taken to get up from a sitting position sans the use of arms was recorder for five times.
Globally acclaimed questionnaires were used to investigate if and how frequently these women grappled with the symptoms of depression and anxiety in the previous week, including irrepressible distress, despondency, exhaustion, poor appetite, decreased or no interest, and sleep disturbances. It was discovered that 16 percent of the study population, represented by 180 women did experience anxiety or depressive symptoms.
Moreover, women in the age group of 45 to 54 years were highly likely to testify their symptoms. These symptoms were independent of the sociodemographic features, lifestyle choices like alcohol consumption or smoking and even menopausal status. However, physical performance and physical attributes like moderate-to-low physical activity, was attached to women with anxiety and depressive indications. The odds of having advanced symptoms were found to be 68 percent for women whose handgrip strength was found to be weak. Likewise, the likelihood of increase in symptoms was reported to be 33 percent for women who took longer in the sit-to-stand test.
Physical strength and mental health are closely associated
Based on the above results, the authors concluded that physical strength and mental health are interconnected. Additional studies are warranted to establish if strength exercises could increase physical performance, thus, alleviating the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
According to Pauline Maki, from the Chicago’s University of Illinois, the mental health of women can benefit greatly from aerobic exercise. She further added that when a woman transitions into her menopausal phase, alongside the hot flashes, mood disturbances are highly prevalent. Scientific guidelines endorse the use of antidepressants, psychotherapies, and physical activities for dealing with these mood symptoms. Though Maki was not associated with this study, she has researched extensively about women in mid-life and their psychological health.
Attaining an equilibrium between physical and mental health
Yong shared that women in their mid-life tend to have busier lives. Despite that, they must focus on resistance and muscle strengthening exercises, as these are free or relatively inexpensive and fun to do. Moreover, these exercises help elevate mood, thus, making it easy to include in one’s daily routine. Apart from this, women can also practice self-help tips to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety. However, sometimes, life can get so overwhelming that exercise alone can’t come to one’s rescue. In such a case, one must seek the support of a mental health professional to deal with their anxiety symptoms.
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