What Really Happens To Your Body When You Turn 40

Turning 40 is no picnic. Not only are you, well, no longer in your thirties, but you're officially not a spring chicken. There is a certain gravitas to telling someone you're 40. If you're lucky, the person will react with disbelief, and talk about how young you look. Enjoy that. Don't worry — you're not necessarily headed toward a mid-life crisis. You could be edging toward the very best years of your life. However, there are some physical and emotional phenomenon that occur when you hit 40 that are worth learning about. Keep in mind, it's not like these things happen at the stroke of midnight on your 40th birthday. These are changes that happen around age 40.

It may be harder to lose weight

Remember when you could cut out soda and fast food for two weeks and drop ten pounds? Yeah. That's not going to be the case once you turn 40. Lutherville, Maryland-based Dr. Kathryn Boling says that, on average, a woman gains as many as 15 pounds between the ages of 40 and 55. She says it's partly because of a decrease in metabolism. It goes hand and hand with muscle loss. Because you lose muscle tissue at a rate of up to 5 percent per year starting at age 30, by 40 your resting metabolism drops, which results in your body burning less calories.

So, if you eat the same stuff at 40 that you did when you were in your twenties, you will definitely gain weight. But instead of investing in a month's supply of Spanx, there are things you can do to minimize weight gain in your forties. Dr. Frank Lipman says there are ways to build muscle, and in turn burn calories, no matter what your age. By exercising, eating plenty of organic protein and taking supplements, you could ward off the weight gain.

Your menstrual cycle might change

While it's highly unlikely you'll enter menopause at 40 (the average age is 51), you might see some changes to your menstrual cycle around age 40. And, these changes can go on for a decade before "The Change" occurs. It's called perimenopause, and it's the body's way of transitioning into menopause.

Estrogen and progesterone, the reproductive hormones that regulate your cycle, start to fluctuate. The physical symptoms can include irregular periods, insomnia, headaches, random hair growth, hot flashes, changes in libido and more. The first thing that will probably happen is irregular periods. You might have more cramps and bleeding than usual, or you might skip a period or two. And, don't forget about the emotional impact of perimenopause. You might have some short-term memory loss, mood swings, anxiety or anger, among a host of other things. It doesn't sound great, but it's a fact of life.

Your chance of breast cancer increases

There's a reason the American Cancer Society and The Mayo Clinic recommend you get a baseline mammogram at age 40. When you're in your 30s, your chances for a breast diagnosis are one in 228. At 40-49, however, your chances are 1 in 69. And, since 12 percent of women in the US will develop breast cancer at some point, it's important to listen to the experts. Hopefully, prior to your 40th, you perform self exams, so you're familiar with your body and can detect changes in your breast tissue. A baseline mammogram will get your doctor familiar with your breasts so any changes shown in future scans will help with early detection.

There are things you can do, as well, to reduce your risk. Studies show women who consume two or more alcoholic drinks per day have a 50 percent higher risk. Family history is a factor, of course, as is diet. The Susan G Komen Foundation, among others, say eating fruits and vegetables could lower breast cancer risk a bit. And, an exercise regimen increases overall health.

Your bone density might decrease

Your bone density stays pretty consistent until you turn 35 or so. Every year after that, you lose about one percent of bone density every year. By the time you're 40, you might start to notice.

While you don't have to worry about bone density tests until you're around 65 (unless you have other risk factors), there are things you can do to combat bone loss so you keep healthy bones for as long as possible. Weight-bearing exercise and strength training can help bone loss, and it will build bones and make them denser and stronger. Calcium supplements can also help. Try about 1500 mg per day, along with vitamin D. Magnesium will help your body absorb the calcium, so hooray for trace minerals! If you take care of your bones now, you'll ward off bone loss and osteoporosis later in life.

You'll probably get prettier

Hey, you've earned those laugh lines around your eyes — and they don't make you less pretty. They say confidence makes you more attractive, right? Deb Schilling, PA-C, says women 40 and older are more confident and depend less on other people. They don't criticize themselves as harshly, and they are more decisive. There's something to say for a woman who knows what she wants and knows how to get it. At 40, we've experienced enough life to know how to cut the toxic people out of our lives, make decisions on our own, manage our finances and more. Finding peace with yourself and accepting yourself for who you are gives you an air of grace that you can't have when you're 22, or even 30.

Your libido might increase

While some studies show a decrease in female libido because of perimenopause or depression, others maintain that women in their 40s are more sexual than their younger counterparts. Psychologist David Buss thinks it's an evolutionary thing. In a study of 827 women, Buss found women in their "middle years" are more interested in sex.

He also proposes that as women produce less eggs, their bodies are wired to be more sexually aroused because of their decline in fertility. Just remember, even though you're 40, if you're still menstruating at all, you can get pregnant. That's great if you want to have kids (or more kids), but if you want to avoid pregnancy, make sure use protection.

You may be a better first time mom

If you do decide to become a mom at 40, there are risks and rewards. On the good side, you're older and more mature, so you can make educated decisions and probably have reached a comfortable point with your partner. You may also be more financially stable, so you'll be able to do all the mommy stuff without worrying about how you're going to pay for diapers.

In fact, one study says a woman's earnings increase nine percent for every year she doesn't have a kid. And, if you don't have a partner, you likely have a support system and are more self-reliant, so you can raise your baby the way you want to. It can be difficult for some women in their 40s to conceive, but there is fertility therapy and plenty of other options to explore.

You might become lactose-intolerant

Dairy. Some people have problems with it since birth. Others develop lactose intolerance later in life. Like, around age 40. One source tells us 80 percent of African American and Asian women will develop lactose intolerance, and 25 percent of Caucasians will. Your body makes an enzyme called lactase, and it helps your small intestine digest lactose. As you age, the levels of lactase lower, and the lactose you ingest hits your colon in an undigested state, creating gas and other intestinal problems.

While a lot of lactose intolerance is caused by genetics, it can also be brought on by life events like pregnancy, surgery, infections and chemotherapy. Signs of lactose intolerance are gas, diarrhea, bloating, headaches, stomach cramps and skin breakouts. If you suspect you're developing a dairy intolerance, you can take probiotics, try other milk sources like goat milk, or take digestive enzymes that have the lactase your body is missing.

You might experience changes in your vision

Around age 40, your vision might start to change. The most common changes can vary, but many will have trouble seeing close up, like when reading or doing close work, like threading a needle or working a jewelry clasp. Some will need more light for reading, as well. Others experience glare when driving at night, or in bright sunlight. Colors may look different. Dry eyes might become a problem.

It's important to get regular eye exams to monitor eye health, as well. Eye conditions like glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration become more of a risk. Exams should include evaluation of the optic nerve and pupils. To protect your eyes, use UV protection sunglasses, eat a healthy diet and treat your eyes with kindness. They're the only ones you have.

Your sense of smell and taste may change

This might be the biggest bummer of all. You have approximately 9,000 taste buds when you're born. As you get older, your number of taste buds decreases, meaning your sensitivity to the main tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami) declines gradually over the years. It happens to women earlier than men, by 10-20 years.

Your sense of smell also takes a hit when you age. The cells that detect smell die and regenerate when you're younger, but as you age, they don't get replaced as fast. Other factors can impact smell, like the body's reduction in mucus production, hormonal issues, and even some head traumas. Loss of smell and taste is diagnosed by getting a patient to compare smells or tastes and a doctor determines the level of loss.

You may experience hearing loss

As you get older, the eardrum and inner ear change and don't work as well. This affects your hearing, and, since your inner ear controls your balance, you may become a little less coordinated. What causes the deterioration of the ear parts? Lots of things. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reports that around 15 percent of Americans between 20 and 69 experience high-frequency hearing loss because of their exposure to noise at work or through personal activities — thank you all those rock shows we attended with no earplugs.

Once you hit 40, you'll need to pay attention to your hearing, especially because researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine have linked hearing loss that goes untreated to a bigger dementia risk.