Habits help us to accomplish many things that we must do…and it helps us to be able to do it without much thought. Habits reduce the amount of energy we have to put into our daily lives. They are needful things.
While habits are needful, they aren’t always helpful. Sometimes we create habits that don’t serve us (often known as bad habits), and other times we create those that do serve us. Most of the time, we are just blindly creating habits.
Midlife is a time when mindfulness around habits can be a game changer. By the time we reach the age of 40, we have developed many habits of daily living…some helpful, some not so helpful.
As I’ve worked with women over 40 in the past decade, I’ve come to notice some habit patterns that are pretty common for women at this stage of life. Many of them shaped by the lives they’ve been living for more than 20 years.
Most of the time, I find my clients to be blind to their own habits and how they are keeping them from reaching their health goals. I thought it was high time I shed some light on some of the most common habits that keep my clients from building metabolic and hormone health after 40.
YOU ARE SLEEPING LESS THAN 7 HOURS A NIGHT
This first one is of utmost importance because it involves sleep, our primary means of repair and healing. Without sleep, the body has no way to repair damage done to our cells, tissues, and organs that happen every day. Metabolism is negatively impacted; blood sugar and hunger hormones are dysregulated.
Based on a vast amount of research, the ideal amount of sleep for adults is greater than 7 hours, with some health organizations recommending a range of 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Research has shown that getting less than 7 hours of sleep has been linked with poor health, including weight gain, having a body mass index of 30 or higher, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and depression. Notice, many of these are symptoms women over 40 begin to experience as their hormones change.
In a world where women are often working and taking on much of household management and childcare activities, and where binging on Netflix, and social media scrolling has become a norm, sleep habits have changed dramatically.
More than one third of US adults sleep less than 7 hours per night on average, and that doesn’t take into consideration the statistics on those with disrupted sleep. According to estimates, 50 million to 70 million people in the U.S. have ongoing sleep disorders.
Questions to reflect on…Do you know how many hours of sleep you are getting each night? Are you prioritizing sleep? Or do you find yourself “making up” for lost sleep on the weekends? (Hint: this isn’t possible)
If you sleep less than 7 hours nightly, it is impossible to have optimal metabolic and hormone health at any age, but more especially after 40.
Sleep hygiene habits like a planned bedtime before midnight (optimally by 10pm), avoiding screentime at least 2 hours before bed (or wear blue light blockers), dimming indoor lights hours before bedtime, sleeping in a cool and dark room, and avoiding alcohol or caffeine in the evenings can improve sleep time and quality of sleep.
YOU AREN’T GETTING ENOUGH PROTEIN (SPECIFICALLY ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS)
It is estimated that the average woman in the US eats between 50 and 60 grams of protein per day. For women, and men over 40 this is creating a health crisis. After the age of 30, women begin losing muscle, and sarcopenia, or losing muscle mass as you age, begins to set in at a higher rate after 40.
To prevent muscle loss and to maintain strength, metabolic and hormone health, quality of life and prevent diseases of aging, it is important to consume adequate, high-quality protein with all of the essential amino acids.
Diet culture has indoctrinated many women to restrict portions of protein (along with other foods), and now with the plant-based agenda, women are lowering their intake of essential amino acids even more. This is even more of a problem with breakfast, since the advent of cereals and all manner of processed breakfast foods. Starting your day with a balanced breakfast that includes animal protein is a game changer.
The idea of plant based as being “healthier” has taken hold. Plants are important (even good for us), but plant-based proteins do not include all of the essential amino acids needed to prevent muscle loss, much less build muscle.
While it may be possible to consume adequate amounts of plant protein to meet daily needs, it cannot be done without far exceeding caloric needs. You just can’t compare apples to oranges. In this case, animal protein provides essential amino acids in an efficient and lower caloric manner.
If you’ve been avoiding animal proteins for any reason, it is worth reconsidering including at least 3 ounces of animal protein at each meal. This in itself is not adequate to prevent muscle loss that comes with age, but it is a great place to start improving your intake of essential amino acids, while avoiding the excess of high carb protein foods that can promote weight gain in midlife.
COFFEE IS YOUR GO JUICE
Coffee has become a truly American beverage. Once it made its way to this country, we made it our own in many ways. Coffee has been the subject of controversy from the beginning due to its energy enhancing properties.
It has been the subject of much research with recent volumes of studies showing the many benefits of this roasted bean. The caffeine contained in coffee is considered by many a drug and to this day, some religious groups shun it for that very reason.
No matter how you feel, coffee is an ever-present staple in our daily lives. If you love it, you’ve probably never considered giving it up…But what is your habit like? Do you drink a cup in the morning? Do you only drink coffee and skip breakfast in the mornings? Do you drink a few cups throughout the day? Are you an afternoon coffee breaker? What effect does it have on you? Does it make you more alert? Does it make you sleepy (that’s a thing for some)?
Whatever the case, if you are relying on coffee to wake yourself up in the morning, you might want to reconsider your coffee habit. The reason: If you need something to make you feel alert and awake in the mornings, you probably already have some level of circadian rhythm dysregulation, which means your sleep and wake cycles are not optimized. In that case, it might be a good idea to reconsider your sleep habits so that you don’t NEED coffee to get you going in the morning. NOTE: If you skip breakfast and have coffee for breakfast but feel tired the rest of the day and struggle with sugar cravings, this is definitely an indication that you are having a negative impact on your metabolic and hormone health.
Too much coffee can further dysregulate your circadian rhythm and interrupt your sleep. Not everyone needs to avoid coffee but avoiding caffeine at least 10 hours before bedtime can improve sleep for those experiencing sleep issues. Drinking coffee on an empty stomach may be just fine for some, but if it’s followed by a slump in energy or cravings, it’s probably not a good idea.
YOU WIND DOWN WITH WINE
Wine has also become a cultural norm…especially since 2020! I was once a wine lover and used it as a means of winding down after work. My experience is not unusual, as many of my clients come to me with this same habit.
Mommy wine culture and “Wine Down Wednesday” marketing has promoted the idea that “I deserve to have my wine to relax and unwind.” I don’t have a problem with wine itself, but I do take issue with the use of wine as a means of solving a problem that can be solved in healthier ways.
Alcohol is a toxin, a poison to our bodies (our liver). Hormones are processed and regulated by our livers and when our liver is impaired, our hormones (including thyroid hormones) and metabolic health are not going to be optimal. These are just the facts (I’m just the messenger.)
While the relaxed feeling you get from those couple glasses of wine may feel benign, it comes at a cost to your hormone and metabolic health. It disrupts sleep and dysregulates hunger hormones and satiety cues. If you wonder where those few additional pounds have come from you might consider the role of alcohol in your daily or weekly life.
Instead of sitting and drinking wine with friends after work, consider asking a friend or two to join you in an outdoor walk after work to help reduce your stress, wind down, and build your metabolic and hormone health.
YOU AREN’T MOVING ENOUGH
If you’re over 40, you’ve probably already heard your doctor tell you that you should exercise more. Modern life has confined us to cubicles and keyboards for over 8 hours a day. We sit in chairs and move our little fingers as fast as we can, but our bodies were designed for more. Then, we fill the rest of our time with activities and tell ourselves we don’t have time for movement.
If you consider the way our bodies are built, they were made for movement. Movement keeps our joints from aching, keeps us strong, keeps us lean, maintains our independence, and even gives us joy. Most of us are simply not moving enough.
Movement keeps our muscles sensitive to glucose (our body’s fuel). When we don’t move enough, we lose muscle, our metabolism is lower, and we become insulin resistant. Movement also helps support the movement of our lymphatic fluids, our body’s “sewage system” which is a big part of our detox system.
Lack of movement creates all sorts of metabolic and hormone imbalance, especially as we age. This makes it even more important to incorporate some form of movement into your daily routine.
Before you decide to join the gym and start taking those high intensity cardio classes, take a pause. Daily movement can simply mean taking multiple short daily walks outdoors. It could mean morning and evening stretching and mobility movements. It could mean taking the stairs instead of the elevator every time. Or parking farthest away at the grocery store. This could also mean dance parties in the living room with our kids. Whatever you choose, make it something you enjoy.
AND…Before you start in with the negative self-talk about all of these “bad habits” you need to break…Take a breath and just think about how you got here. You got here through a series of choices about how you were going to solve problems. For instance…You probably started sleeping less when you were looking for more “me time” as a younger mom. Or you started drinking coffee just to make it through the day when you had babies and toddlers and were working full-time. Maybe you started eating less protein when you started counting calories back in your teens, and you just never stopped.
No matter where you find yourself, the habits you created came from a place of either consciously or subconsciously trying to solve a problem. You aren’t a bad person because your current habits aren’t serving you now. You just need new habits to reach your new goals.
Need help figuring out where to start? I can help you with where to start inside my newest, free class! Learn more here.
Establish your goals, then determine what habits will support those goals. Then you can start to plan and consciously take actions that align with the new habits you desire. It may feel like an uphill battle at first, but once the habit is set, your new habit will require less effort, and your hormones and metabolism with thank you.