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Taking Care of Your Health

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HealthWiki > Where Women Have No Doctor > Chapter 8: Growing Older > Growing Older

Just as a girl's body changes when she becomes a woman, so a woman’s body changes when her childbearing years end. Menopause and aging cause changes in bone strength, muscle and joint strength and flexibility, and overall well-being.

A woman can make a big difference in living her later years with energy and good health by:

Eating well. As a woman grows older she still needs nutritious food to keep her body strong and to fight disease. Her need for certain kinds of food also increases. Because her body makes less estrogen, it helps to eat foods high in plant estrogens, such as soy beans, tofu (bean curd), lentils, and other beans. Since her bones become less dense as she ages, it helps to eat foods high in calcium, a mineral that makes strong bones.

Sometimes older people feel less like eating than they used to. This may be caused by changes in taste and smell, which make eating less pleasurable. Or changes in the body that come from aging can make a person quickly feel full after starting to eat. But this does not mean that older people need less nutritious food. They need encouragement to continue to eat well, and to eat a variety of foods.

eight glasses full of liquid

Drinking a lot of liquids. As a person ages, the amount of water in the body decreases. Also, some older people drink less to avoid having to pass urine during the night or because they are afraid of leaking urine. All these things can cause dehydration. To prevent this, drink 8 glasses or cups of liquid every day. To avoid getting up at night to pass urine, try not to drink anything for 2 to 3 hours before going to sleep.

four women walking and talking together

Getting regular exercise. Everyday activities, such as walking, playing with grandchildren, going to the market, cooking, and farming can all help keep a woman’s muscles and bones strong, and prevent stiff joints. Regular exercise will help maintain weight and prevent heart disease.

a health worker speaking with an older woman who looks ill

Treating illness early. Some people think that getting older means being sick much of the time. But this is not true. If a woman does not feel well, she may have an illness that can be treated, and that has nothing to do with age. She needs treatment as soon as possible.

Try to see a health worker if you feel ill and have been unable to treat the problem yourself.

Staying active. A woman will stay healthier and happier if she is active and productive. Try to take up an activity, join a group, or work on a community project. This may be a good time for a woman to work for better conditions in the community. Here is an example:

a smiling older woman in a headscarf
Louise Waithira Nganga is a coffee farmer in Kandara town, in Kenya. In 1991, as a member of an organization planting trees in Kenya, she met a group of women farmers who complained about a coffee factory upstream. The fertilizers and chemicals the factory used to make coffee were getting into the river, and the women’s cows were getting sick and dying from drinking the dirty water.

Soon many of the women began meeting to talk with Louise. They became aware of how the river also affected their health and their children’s health. They decided to put pressure on the district officers to force the factory to keep waste out of the river.

Louise, however, always insisted that rights and responsibilities go together. So she also helped the women realize how their own habits affected other people down the river. For example, when they cleaned their fertilizing machines or washed their clothes in the river, it was harmful for the health of the people downstream. As Louise said, “We must first be responsible ourselves so that we may, in clear conscience, demand our rights.”

In 1993, Louise and her women farmers created an organization called Rural Women’s Sanitation. Whenever the river is in danger from polluting factories, Louise is able to organize as many as 100 women, who ‘pay a visit’ to the local authorities, and inform them of the problem. Besides taking care of the river, the group is building latrines and demanding that local governments reclaim public wells that have been taken over by private owners.

Louise has stopped planting trees, but has no regrets. “There were more pressing problems that were part of Kandara soil itself.” She tells her fellow women, “God will not come to earth to solve your problems. The government cannot know what your problems are. Only you can make sure they get solved.”

This page was updated:17 Apr 2019