Wrinkles and gray hairs are often the outward signs that help us count the passing years. But not surprisingly, those are only a few of the changes that happen to our bodies as we age. As years add up, they can take a toll on the body's organs. Although it's different for every woman, knowing what to expect can help you care for yourself in a way that keeps you feeling young and healthy for as long as possible.

Your heart

Over the course of a lifetime, blood vessels stiffen. For many older women, atherosclerosis, a buildup of fatty deposits in the walls of the arteries, causes the narrowing of the passageways where blood flows. Over time the heart also becomes less efficient and must pump harder.

The combination of these factors can lead to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. After age 55 women are especially at risk and the percentage of women with high blood pressure is much higher than men. To counteract this natural change, you can:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Reduce salt and sodium intake.
  • Increase physical activity.
  • Avoid excess alcohol consumption.

Your bones, muscles and joints

Bones reach maximum mass between age 25 and 35, and as you age they shrink in size and density. The rate of bone loss for women speeds up after menopause, when estrogen levels fall. This gradual loss can put you at risk for osteoporosis-related fractures. Muscles, tendons and joints also lose some flexibility. To protect yourself as you age:

  • Do weight-bearing exercise regularly.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet with at least 1,000 mg of calcium a day.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Talk to your doctor about hormone replacement therapies or other medicines to prevent or treat osteoporosis.

Your digestive system

The motions that move food through your system slow down as you age, and the surface area of your intestines gets a little smaller. Secretions from your stomach, liver, pancreas and small intestine may also decrease. Many times these changes aren't noticeable but for some women they can result in constipation. To help prevent constipation, eat a high-fiber diet of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Your kidneys, bladder and urinary tract

The kidneys become less efficient as the body ages. Diabetes, high blood pressure and some medications can also damage the kidneys. Incontinence, a loss of bladder control, is seen in about 30 percent of those age 65 and older. Women are twice as likely as men to experience incontinence at every age, but they are especially susceptible after menopause. As estrogen levels decrease, changes in the bladder reduce bladder support. Today, there are more treatments than ever to improve incontinence issues.

Your outlook

Getting older doesn't mean getting fragile. If you experience any issues or changes in your health, speak with your physician.

To find a doctor or speak to a nurse, call Consult-A-Nurse® at (951) 788-3463, 24 hours a day.

Sources: NIDDK.NIH.gov, NOF.org