Think back to Aunt Flo’s first visit. Can you believe it’s been that long? Most girls get their first menstrual period when they’re 12 years old, but everyone is different. And that is the age that marked the beginning of your adult life. And according to studies, this age might predict when it ends. After all, menstruation is heavily linked to overall health.
Your ovaries don’t make eggs without any help. The uterus doesn’t thicken just for fun. Hormones don’t work by themselves, ignoring nearby cells and organs. Every part of the body affects the next, and the reproductive system is no exception. There’s a reason why they say Aunt Flo always knows what’s going on. If she’s late to the party or is acting strange, underlying issues are likely to blame.
Meanwhile, life expectancy depends on disease risk, and your period may be the first to know. Here’s how age might play a role.
Your First Period And Longevity
Most American girls begin menstruating at the age of 12, but it’s possible to start anywhere from ages 8 to 15.1 This marks the beginning of their reproductive lifespan.
In 2016, researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine published a study in the journal Menopause. Their goal? Find the link between the start of menstruation (menarche) and the chance of living past 90. The study involved 16,000 women from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. They were followed for 21 years, keeping tabs on chronic health issues that affect longevity. The end of menstruation (menopause) was also taken into consideration.
Their findings were significant. Women who had their first period at a later age – 12 or older – had a lower risk for chronic health problems. Even the chances of smoking were lower. A later period also meant a later menopause, which was also linked to excellent overall health. These women were 13 percent more likely to live past 90.2
Now, you can’t turn back time or control Aunt Flo. But it’s possible to tack on a few more years.
How To Increase Your Life Expectancy
1. Improve Heart Health
In America, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. It’s often called a “man’s disease” because of the higher number of casualties, but it’s still the top cause of for women. One in every 4 female deaths is because of heart-related problems.3 According to the Menopause study, later menarche points to a lower risk for heart disease. It’s also linked to a reduced chance of smoking, a major risk factor.4
Despite the age of your first period, it’s never too late to protect your heart. A moderate exercise regimen will have a dramatic effect on heart health. It’ll control weight, reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol, and decrease blood pressure.5 Eating a heart-healthy diet will also help. This means swapping foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium in exchange for more fruit, veggies, whole grains, fish, and nuts.6
2. Quit Smoking
While it’s easier said than done, ditching cigarettes can do amazing things for your health. It’s the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the country. Every year, it kills more than 480,000 Americans.7
The benefits of quitting are immediate. Heart rate and blood pressure return to normal, two protective factors for heart disease. Carbon monoxide blood levels decrease, making it easier for oxygen to get around the body. After a few weeks, circulation improves. Within several years, the risk for heart disease and cancer gets reduced.8 Considering these are the top two causes of death in females, this benefit is significant, no matter how old you are.9
3. Reduce Stress
Stress can shave years off of your health. It exposes your body to a lot of wear and tear, increasing the risk for chronic disease. Heart disease, the leading cause of death, is high up on the list.10 Unfortunately, this can mean trouble for women. Females are more likely to report higher levels of stress than men. Physical symptoms are also more common, affecting 41 percent of women. Only 30 percent of men experienced the same. It doesn’t help that women are under a lot of pressure to “do it all.”11
That’s why stress management should be a priority. Adequate sleep, exercise, and healthy eating are key to controlling stress. Meditation, taking breaks, and spending time doing things you love is part of self-care. By putting yourself first, you can decrease stress-induced disease and increase longevity.12
Despite when Aunt Flo first showed up, lifestyle factors still matter. You can’t change when you got your first period – but you can control your habits. So, until there’s more research into menarche and lifespan, treat your body well and it will return the favor.
|↑1||Menstruation and the menstrual cycle. WomensHealth.gov.|
|↑2, ↑4||Shadyab, Aladdin H., Caroline A. Macera, Richard A. Shaffer, Sonia Jain, Linda C. Gallo, Margery LS Gass, Molly E. Waring, Marcia L. Stefanick, and Andrea Z. LaCroix. “Ages at menarche and menopause and reproductive lifespan as predictors of exceptional longevity in women: the Women’s Health Initiative.” Menopause 24, no. 1 (2017): 35-44.|
|↑3||Women and Heart Disease Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑5||Myers, Jonathan. “Exercise and cardiovascular health.” Circulation 107, no. 1 (2003): e2-e5.|
|↑6||How to Help Prevent Heart Disease – At Any Age. American Heart Association.|
|↑7||How to Quit. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑8||Harms of Cigarette Smoking and Health Benefits of Quitting. National Cancer Institute.|
|↑9||Leading Causes of Death (LCOD) in Females United States, 2014 (current listing). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑10||How stress affects your health. American Psychological Association.|
|↑11||Gender and Stress. American Psychological Association.|
|↑12||Stress and your health. WomensHealth.gov.|