A lot can change in a century — inventions, clothing and hairstyles. Among women over the past several decades, girls are getting their periods earlier, and women are entering menopause at a later age.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, research has shown that since the 1950s, the average age of girls at the onset of menstruation has moved from 13.5 to 12.7 years old. Also, the average age of women starting menopause has moved from 48.4 to 49.9 years old. Overall, the mean reproductive lifespan for women has increased by two years.
“Two years doesn’t seem like a long time, yet if women are consistently trending a certain direction, it’s important to understand why and what it might be telling us about overall wellness,” Dr. Dominque Boadwine, Avera Medical Group obstetrics/gynecology specialist, said.
The study cites various factors including sociodemographic reasons, lifestyle, behavior, improved access to health care, nutrition, environment and just the fact that women are living longer. The study goes on to state, “Available evidence links later age at natural menopause with reduced all-cause and cardiovascular mortality but increased risk of breast, endometrial and ovarian cancers.”
Other research has shown that obesity — exacerbated by poor diet and lack of exercise — might be a factor in later menopause. Extra fat cells add to the levels of estrogen in the body, affecting hormone balance. Elevated levels of estrogen have been associated with endometrial and breast cancer.
“We are in an unfortunate time when a larger population of girls and women are dealing with obesity,” Boadwine said. “This obesity epidemic contributes to the development and worsening of many diseases and conditions.”
One of the best ways that women can impact their overall health, in the long run, is by maintaining a healthy weight.
Start with a healthy diet and regular exercise. These two habits can help manage weight and therefore, the levels of estrogen in your body.
“A diet rich in vitamins and minerals, and getting your heartbeat up consistently, is the best prescription for patients,” Boadwine said.
Another way to keep your fertility healthy is seeing your provider annually and getting recommended screenings to ensure any abnormalities are addressed in the earliest, most treatable stages.