4 common sexual concerns after 40 (and what we can do about them)

As life starts to throw more challenges as we get older, whether it’s in terms of our health or just the sheer volume of tasks we need to complete every single day, the fact is that we’re not always in the mood for a bit of naughtiness, if at all! We can be very surprised by changes that occur in our sexual activity, especially after 40. There are very common reasons for this, such as decreased libido, hormone decreases, and changes in our sexual response. But there is more to it than this. Here, we explore, 4 common sexual concerns after 40.

1. Loss of libido

It’s a very common thing women experience, but we must remember that men experience it too! As women go through perimenopause into menopause, women are less likely to think about sex, if at all. And they may be very surprised at this sudden change. But it’s not just women. But men can have decreased libido too. And this is predominantly because their testosterone levels are starting to dip. 


While some methods and medications can help with this, such as Testogel, the fact is that when both partners are losing their libido, this can throw up a confusing number of components. Commonly, if one partner is sexually active and the other one isn’t, this can pose relationship problems, where breakups and divorces can occur.

2. Perception of the self

sexual concerns after 40

Something that is not always spoken about in relation to sex is the fact that as we get older we are going through so many physical changes that we can feel less desirable, which means we can be less interested in sex. Over the age of 40, there is more of a chance of us gaining weight, losing fitness levels, as well as our mood altering throughout these times. 

But we have to bear in mind that the challenges in dealing with each of these aspects can be overwhelming all in themselves. If we don’t feel attractive, which will impact our interest in sex, the best approach is to do what is manageable and reasonable to improve our overall health and appearance. But this alone is not enough. We then need to move on and learn to accept that we are who we are as we enter a new stage of our lives. 

Having that sense of self-perception is so important, regardless of your sex drive, but the more important component is to learn to accept who you are. Once we begin to feel more comfortable in our own skin, this is when we’re going to feel more attractive and open to possibilities. So many of us don’t feel attractive, even during the act of sex, which means that we’re going to not want to even initiate this because it’s going to have a negative impact on our frame of mind.

3. Gender role behaviour

In mid-life, partners can begin to fall out of sync with each other. Women in mid-life will experience a number of changes, not necessarily because of pre-menopause but the focus in their lives changes. For women who have had children in their 20s or early 30s, now they are beginning to focus more on their own needs, but will also have more time to devote to themselves. This is why we see many women changing careers in mid-life. The same thing applies to men, as they are more likely to start slowing down in their careers and want to have a balance in their lives. 

Overall, these things will impact sexual behaviour and will mean that when both partners are going out of sync with each other, they won’t necessarily have those same desires to focus on the other person. As we get older we can feel that we may have given too much of ourselves to others, especially if we’ve been in a parental role. We see many women and men in middle age going out and socialising more as they may have felt they missed out on a lot of this over the last decade or so. 

The main solution to this is about, very simply, learning to sync up with each other’s lives, even to the smallest degree. It’s almost like we’ve got to let our partners get these things out of their system. After all, we deserve to let our hair down, but if our partner is looking to do the same thing we’ve got to be aware that as we try to reclaim our lives for ourselves, there is another person in the equation. 

4. A change in sexual response

In women and men, there is a lot more difficulty in coming to orgasm, or orgasms may be less satisfying, and could potentially be an early warning sign of underlying health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease.

What can we do to help with these problems?

sexual concerns after 40

As we get older, there needs to be more focus on sex in a holistic manner. The fact is that it’s not just about being able to do it as in when you please. As we get older, we’re going to encounter more health problems that pose obstacles. Here are a few things that you can do to help move things along:

Manage stress

As we go into mid-life, our stress can increase. And this is where taking a look at your common stressors and eliminating these will help. Because if you work to manage your stress, you’re going to improve your general well-being which will have a positive effect on your sexual appetite. Managing stress doesn’t have to be about meditating for 2 hours a day, in fact, even as little as 5 minutes a day can have a positive impact, as long as you choose the right practises for you. Learning to breathe low, slow, and deep can have a positive impact on your abilities to deal with stress. 

Having a healthier diet

Our bodies respond very well to certain diets. And because there’s so much information around being healthy, we can find ourselves going down certain avenues that don’t benefit us on an individual level. Physiologically speaking, you have to ensure that you are increasing blood flow and helping your body to regenerate in the right ways. In many ways, the solutions are simple: eating for energy and having whole foods without any preservatives or additives. But it’s also important to remember that fat can also be beneficial here, especially good fats. 

Exercising

sexual concerns after 40

Women who take part in exercise have been shown to display fewer menopausal symptoms. It also increases cardiovascular health, resulting in a better sexual response. 

Treating anxieties

It may be beneficial to go to the doctor and discuss the right methods to medicate any form of anxiety or depression. It’s worth noting that medication like antidepressants can inhibit sexual function, but having this in combination with a type of therapy such as CBT may work for you. 

Sleep

Finally, having adequate sleep is vital for every aspect of your life. Having a solid 8 hours is not just going to reduce your stress, but will increase your hormone production which has a natural impact on increasing sexual desire. 

Because getting older, for many people, means naturally losing interest in sex, this doesn’t have to be the case. The reality is that we all deserve a healthy sex life, and having an understanding of the common issues that underlie a lot of middle-aged sexual anxieties, as well as having the best health solutions, will make a massive difference.

Keep the conversation going by commenting below or connecting with us on Instagram

Are there benefits to a plant-based diet in your 40s?

This article includes PR samples

By now we can all safely admit that we have tried SOME form of restrictive dieting in our time. I remember an old boss going through the cabbage soup diet trend and just feeling so sorry for her. She must have been starving and farty! I had the benefit of working on Celebrity Fit Club where I worked closely with the team supporting the celebrities and I learned so much about nutrition. However, I was in my early 20s and had a metabolism faster than a speeding train. It’s only now, in my 40s, I’ve discovered that this train needs a frikking service!

These days, I look to maintain a healthy balance with food. I eat mindfully and I enjoy what I eat. That said, I know that at this stage of my life, I will benefit hugely from fuelling my body in the right way. I do enjoy meat but for various reasons I do want to cut back so I was super interested to learn more about the benefits to a plant-based diet.

What is a plant-based diet?

We asked Dr Kirstie Lawton, a registered nutritional therapist at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition and an AfN registered nutritionist to explain a little more. She offered us the following information.

According to the British Dietetic Association, a plant-based diet consists mostly or entirely of plant-based foods. While the term is synonymously used with veganism, a plant-based diet isn’t necessarily vegan and may include those who eat some meat, fish, egg, or dairy. The diet is predominantly made up of fruit and vegetables, grains, pulses and legumes, nuts and seeds. 

What are the benefits to a plant-based diet?

benefits to a plant-based diet

An entirely plant-based diet, if correctly balanced, is rich in a wide range of protein building blocks, phytonutrients (plant-derived nutrients) and a diverse array of fibre, that can support the microbiota and improve gut health. Pulses and legumes are protein-rich and contain a variety of nutrients including B vitamins, iron, folate, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and fibre to support the microbiota.

Nuts and seeds are highly nutritious food sources containing a wide variety of protein building blocks, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals including B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, potassium, selenium, magnesium, zinc and copper, and fibre. Fruit and vegetables are rich in a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fibre also. 

There is research supporting the use of a well-considered plant-based diet for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and blood lipid profiles, management of diabetes type 2, weight reduction and prevention of some cancers. However, what is key here is that the diet is from whole food sources that are prepared from scratch, rather than over-reliance on processed plant foods that are high in salt and additives. 

What considerations are there for eating a plant-based diet?

Plant-based eating can be healthy and nutritious, however, there are some key considerations: 

While a number of vegan food sources contain protein, the amount is generally quite low, so it is essential to ensure that you are eating a good source of protein at each meal. A number of these sources also have what we call limiting amino acids, e.g. a protein building block that is essential from the diet is missing. By combining plant-based foods e.g. beans and rice, the meal becomes a source of all essential amino acids. The richest and most complete source of protein is soy, however, this can be highly processed and isn’t suitable for everyone. 

Research indicates that those eating an entirely plant-based diet may be deficient in a number of nutrients including riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), vitamin B12, vitamin D, iodine, zinc, calcium, potassium, and selenium. Sources of all of these nutrients are available through a plant-based diet and some fortification (calcium, vitamin B12). However, someone who is plant-based and concerned that their diet isn’t diverse enough may wish to consider supplementation, which should be done in consultation with a registered nutritional therapist.

Consider supplementation

benefits to a plant-based diet

Further potential deficiencies include the essential fatty acids DHA and EPA, which are derived from fish, and are essential for a number of functions in the body. While these can also be converted from the fatty acids found in seeds, conversation rates are low. Algae is a plant-based source of DHA and EPA and should be considered in supplement form. Finally, choline is essential for a wide range of functions, and is especially important for the growing foetus, so choline supplementation may also be a consideration in those who are eating a plant-based diet and of childbearing age. 

There are more and more plant-based products on the market that are highly processed, and full of inflammatory ingredients which may not be optimal for health. These should be eaten as an occasional food choice, and replaced with homemade recipes from raw or minimally processed ingredients where possible. 

Finally, those with GI issues, such as an imbalance or overgrowth of bacteria, issues with nightshades, a soy allergy, or intolerance to histamine-rich or oxalate-rich foods may struggle with a plant-based diet, and should seek support from a registered nutritional therapist to correct these health concerns.

Plant-based recipe ideas

benefits to a plant-based diet

I was thrilled with Good4U asked me to try their range of plant-based snacks and toppers.

Packed with plant-based protein, the range is ideal for those looking for a natural protein boost, whether it’s to increase energy after a workout or to incorporate as part of a family meal, the delicious topper combinations are here to elevate and nutritionally optimise those bland dishes.

To add nutritional benefit to those more indulgent meals, these tasty toppers can be added to a wide range of dishes including your favourite pizza, curry, or burrito. In fact, the handy pouches can be easily resealed and used whenever a sprinkle of goodness is needed in your dish.

Good4U Super Seeds offer a crunchy and savoury mix of tamari roasted sunflower seeds, pumpkin, and British-grown green peas. At only 144 calories per 25g serving, the seeds contain zinc, known to help the immune system to reduce unwanted bacteria and viruses, ideal for fighting off those colds and flus during the winter months.

If you want to add a bit of spice to your evening meal, why not turn up the heat with Good4U’s Garlic and Chilli Salad Toppers. This spicy mix is only 123 calories per 25g serving, made with sweet red peppers, chilli roasted seeds, smoky chipotle, and a sprinkle of kale, which can be poured on your curry for a nourishing boost or added to your salad to give an extra punchy kick.

To find out more about the range and for recipe inspiration, visit the Good4U website.

benefits to a plant-based diet

I’ve been really enjoying building Buddha bowls for a satisfying lunch. Follow the steps below, picking one suggestion from each. Season to taste and enjoy! Send us your pictures on Instagram!

Grain Base

Grains are naturally high in fibre, helping you feel full and satisfied. Choose from one of the following:

Brown rice

Spelt

Buckwheat

Millet

Quinoa

Bulgar Wheat

Barley

Corn

Giant Cous Cous

Wild Rice

Protein

We need protein in our diet to help our body repair cells and make new ones. Choose from one of the following:

Chickpeas

Lentils

Kidney Beans

Peas

Edamame Beans

Black Beans

Mung Beans

Soy Beans

Navy Beans

Tofu

Colour

benefits to a plant-based diet

There’s nothing more beautiful than eating the rainbow. So add one of the following to invite your eyes to the party:

Broccoli

Kale

Spinich

Carrots

Sweet Potato

Butternut Squash

Red Cabbage

Mangetout

Radish

Beetroot

Dressing

Fats in dressings can actually help you absorb key nutrients. But don’t go crazy! Choose from one of the following:

Olive Oil

Balsamic Vinegar

Apple Cider Vinegar

Red or white wine vinegar

Lemon Juice

Lime Juice

Honey

Pumpkin Seed Oil

Soy Sauce

Natural Yoghurt

Texture

Who doesn’t love that added crunch. Salads don’t need to be boring. What will you add from the following?

Sunflower Seeds

Pumpkin Seeds

Poppy Seeds

Hemp Seeds

Almonds

Cashews

Hazelnuts

Walnuts

Brazil Buts

Peanuts

I love seeing all the gorgeous colours in the bowl knowing I’m eating mindfully and healthily. The best part is, it tastes amazing. We have introduced meat-free Mondays at home. It’s a start!

Are you plant-based? Are you considering cutting back on meat? Let us know by commenting below.

The tell tale signs of a mid-life crisis

What are the tell-tale signs of a mid-life crisis? This is a question that many people ask, especially those who are in the midst of a mid-life crisis. There is no one answer to this question, as the signs can vary from person to person. However, some general signs may indicate that you are experiencing a midlife crisis. This blog post will discuss some of the most common symptoms of a mid-life crisis. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to seek help and get support.

Dramatic changes in relationships

mid-life crisis

One of the most common signs of a mid-life crisis is a change in relationships. You may find yourself withdrawing from old friends and family members, or you may become more involved with them than ever before. You may also experience changes in your romantic relationship, such as increased fights or a decrease in intimacy. If you are experiencing these changes, it is important to seek help and get support. You should also keep in mind that relationships are not static, so this may be normal if your relationship with someone has changed significantly over time.

Loss of interest in hobbies & activities

Another common sign of a mid-life crisis is losing interest in hobbies and activities. You may find that you are no longer interested in doing the things you used to do, or perhaps your interests have changed entirely. If this is the case, ask yourself if these changes may have a negative impact on your life. Of course, some hobby changes are normal, but if you are experiencing changes that negatively impact your life, it is important to seek help and get support.

The loss of interest in hobbies and activities can also be caused by depression or anxiety. If this is the case, these conditions should be treated before they lead to more serious problems such as substance abuse or suicide.

Increased substance abuse

mid-life crisis

Substance abuse is another common sign of a mid-life crisis. You may find that you are using drugs or alcohol more than usual or that you are engaging in other risky behaviours such as gambling. If you are experiencing these types of behaviours, it is important to seek help and get support. Substance abuse can lead to more serious problems such as substance dependence, which can be detrimental.

Reckless spending

mid-life crisis

Another sign of a mid-life crisis is when someone starts spending recklessly. This can be on things like cars, vacations, or even gambling. Often people in the throes of a mid-life crisis will feel like they need to “live it up” before they reach the end of their life. The key here is to carefully consider your spending habits and make informed decisions of which you’ve assessed the consequences. For example, a person experiencing a midlife crisis might be tempted to buy a new car that is out of their budget like a Maseratti, when they can, in reality, afford something more reasonable like a new Jaguar. Mismanaging your finances at this critical stage in life can seriously affect the next twenty years of your life, where you should be building towards a solid retirement strategy.

There are many tell-tale signs of a mid-life crisis. It’s important to be aware of these warning signals and take the necessary precautions, so you can make the most out of the second half of your life.

Have you fallen into crisis? Keep the conversation going by commenting below or follow us on Instagram.

4 self loving ways to change your appearance

Making changes to your appearance is probably something that you do many times throughout your life. Some people are happy to make huge changes all at once, but not everyone is happy doing something completely different. You might want to change your appearance but do it in a way that’s a bit more discreet and perhaps that other people can’t even identify. Maybe you want people to notice that something is different and that you look good without really being able to say what it is. If you want to change your appearance in a more subtle way, here are some options.

Straighten your teeth

Change Your Appearance

Straightening your teeth is a great way to get a new look and improve your smile. It’s something that you might have wanted to do before but couldn’t afford when you were younger. However, as an adult, the idea of wearing braces probably doesn’t appeal to you. Fortunately, you now have the option of Invisalign, which is transparent and discreet. Instead of having visible braces like a teenager, you’ll have see-through aligners that are custom-fit for you. People probably won’t even be able to tell that you have them in, so you can happily wear them without feeling self-conscious.

Try Contacts

If you’ve worn glasses for a long time, you’re probably used to wearing them every day. But contact lenses provide an alternative that can allow you to change your look. As you get older, you could find that your vision changes and you might end up needing to wear glasses or contacts even if you never have before. Contact lenses allow you to correct your vision without having to wear glasses all the time, and it’s not difficult to learn to use them. Of course, if you don’t feel confident about it, you could consider switching up the style of your glasses.

Wear different underwear

Change Your Appearance

The foundational garments that you wear can actually make a big difference to how you look in your clothes. In particular, wearing the right bra can really help your clothes to look better. You can also wear underwear to give you a smoother silhouette and help you get the right shape, especially if you’re wearing clothes with a closer fit. Try experimenting with some different styles to find underwear that you feel good wearing and that helps to provide your outfits with the right foundation.

Learn some new makeup techniques

Doing your makeup in a different way is something that other people might not pick up on straight away. You can make subtle changes that help you to feel more confident and give you a new look that you love, but you don’t have to do anything too drastic. You could change the way you do your eyeliner, choose a new lip colour, or try some subtle contouring if you want to do something a little different from your usual makeup.

If you want to make changes to your appearance, they don’t have to be huge changes. Try something a little more subtle that will still make a difference.

Easy ways to get in the mood on Valentine’s day

This article includes PR samples

Does Valentine’s Day get you groaning for the wrong reasons? It can be a bit of a cringe fest, especially if you’re finding yourself single, lonely and downright miserable. Don’t worry, there’s something for everyone here and it’s the only guide you need to have a happy Valentine’s day and make it one to remember for all the right reasons.

Many women feel depressed and sad towards Valentine’s Day, especially later in life. Perhaps because the day usually fills love in the space,
which can give them pressure concerning menopause. Therefore, talks about romance possibly hit you hard. That should not be the case since
you can still rock your day and feel uplifted.

Top 3 Tips For The Over 40s To Enjoy A Romantic Night

get in the mood on Valentine's day

We asked Ieva Kubiliute, psychologist and a sex and relationships advisor, for her top tips on how to get in the mood on Valentine’s Day. Here’s what she said:

1. Pamper Yourself With A Spa At Home

Set up a spa night composing a scented bathtub. Have some wine and treat your body with a home spa experience or massage. Perhaps this is an
opportunity to try CBD bath bombs that brings not only a splash of aromatherapy on self-care, but also some little fizzers with relaxing benefits.

2. Invite Friends

Ask friends to come over for a drink, evening snack, or a movie night. You can laugh and share a lot to shift your energy to positivity. Talk
of everything. you may want to avoid conversations linked to romance as it may take you back.

3. If Single, Get A Vibrator

You can create a romantic V. Day even if you are single. A vibrator has almost everything you require for stimulating your sweet spots, leaving you screaming in ecstasy. Do not deny yourself pleasure. It is also a healthy sexual self-care.

So what else can we do to get in the mood for Valentine’s Day? Read on for some more suggestions…

Kiss me quick

The gorgeous and talented celebrity make up artist, Donna May, shared with us her top picks for the most irresistible, smooch-able red lipstick.

‘My all time Fave (but is now out of stock) is Bobbi Brown Art Stick In Harlow red or sunset orange – they are both Matte chunky pencils and stay put all day… I’m trowelling the internet to find more .

Giorgio Armani Rouge D’armani Matte in shade 402 is a luxurious red lip- it’s a deep blue red , velvety and a great Night-time shade I always feel super glam when I have this on!

Dr Paw Paw Tinted Ultimate red Balm is a great summers day red- sheer with a red hue that can be layered up to look deeper if required, brilliant for on the beach when you just need a little ‘something’.’

get in the mood on Valentine's day
Bobbi Brown from £25, Giorgio Armani £22.75, Dr Paw Paw from from £3.95

There’s not better way to store your make up than this insanely gorgeous make up bag from Donna’s own collection, Donna May London.

Upgrading your underwear

We don’t know about you but the last time we decided to treat ourselves to some new underwear felt like 1999! OK, maybe not that long ago, but definitely pre-pandemic. As we hit our 4th decade, what we require from our underwear changes. We want to feel comfortable, sexy AND supported. If you think those first two words don’t go together then think again!

We’ve recently been testing out the range from No.1 Bra and can safely say they have 100% achieved this illusive combination. Their bras and undies are not only supremely comfortable (as if you had nothing on, but with all the support), cut beautifully and make you feel as if your divine feminine power is sexily oozing out of every pore. We tested this hypothesis out on one of our resident other halves – Mr C – and he unanimously agreed! Made by women, for women of today. You’ll be happy to keep these on all of Valentine’s Day.

Top buy: we especially loved the Kelly Black Bra which is not only insanely comfortable but gives you a gorgeously sexy shape and just the right amount of lift to achieve that va-va-voom factor.

Now ladies, don’t stop your underwear upgrade there. Instead hot foot it over to award winning lingerie brand Anita and Rosa Faia. Synonymous with lingerie that offers a perfect fit, excellent function and a gorgeous look – again think beautiful bra sets that combine the latest trends with modern cuts. We tested one of their bras and loved the beautiful, timeless and elegant design which made you feel like something out of a Dior advert, but scored high on the comfort stakes too.

Top buy: look out for their Colette bra which – named after the Parisian author Colette who turned Paris on its head with her unconventional style during the Belle Époque. Colette had many faces – she was a grande dame, enfant terrible, utterly sensual, intellectual and always true to herself. Wearing it will make you feel confident, sensual and brilliant.

It’s not all pants

There is ‘no bigger passion-killer than a man in a pair of ill-fitting or unattractive pants’ bemoaned 29 per cent of British women in a recent survey. That equates to 29 per cent of guys failing to light the spark thanks to being pants about their pants.

With the average man buying just 3.4 pairs of pants a year, and 22% of men admitting to not changing them daily, Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to help him drop the old pants and up the passion in a shiny new pair!

New UK men’s underwear brand Crossfly offers quality underwear both he (and she) will love. Boasting super soft quality fabrics, the stylish designs offers a UK first with their unique patented X-FLY system which enables quick and easy access to his crown jewels with a simple thumb swipe. Katie’s husband, Will, was lucky enough to try out a pair. He said ‘I love my new pants, such easy access! They are breathable, comfortable with plenty of room.’ Shortly after that they were on the floor hahahahha.

get in the mood on Valentine's day
IKON trunks or boxers in Everyday styles or Pro, £24.99

Spray your way into the mood

There is a huge amount of pressure to “do it” or be sexy on Valentine’s Day. But what if you simply don’t feel in the mood? Here’s a little cheat for you to try. Lab Tonica have just launched a new natural libido-boosting saucy mist. Blended with oils including jasmine, rose, black pepper and sandalwood, designed to stimulate feelings of pleasure, stimulation and arousal.  it’s gentle enough to be used on the body, the bed and just about anywhere else you feel like! The perfect way to get in the mood on Valentine’s Day pretty much instantly!

Lab Botanica Saucy Mood Mist 50ml £15

Remember, we don’t have to get too serious and bogged down with the true meaning of Valentine’s Day – especially after the last two years we’ve had! Instead, why not use this Valentine’s Day as a chance to have some fun and frivolity. It could be just the boost you need! How will you be getting in the mood for Valentine’s Day? Why not share you plans in a comment below or let us know over on our Instagram community here.

How to be healthier without really trying

Trying to stay fit and healthy is a challenge for most people at the best of times. Lifestyle choices, work patterns and other factors will undoubtedly influence how a person can stay in shape and eat healthily.

The temptation to forego regular exercising and avoid take-out food is often too great to resist in today’s modern world. Do you find it hard to stay fit and healthy while leading a busy lifestyle? If so, don’t worry because you aren’t alone.

The following tips and suggestions will inspire you to stay healthier without needing to do much or make any significant changes in your life:

Eat lighter versions of your favourite foods

How to be healthier without really trying

You’ve likely seen all kinds of diets advertised, and you’ve probably even tried some of them. The truth is, trying a diet and sticking with it can be highly challenging, both mentally and physically. Plus, if you keep “yo-yo” dieting, you could even harm your body in the long term.

A better idea to get fit and healthy is to eat the things you enjoy but swap out some of them for “lighter” versions. For example, you could swap your butter and cheese for versions with low fat and cholesterol in them.

Swap Smoking For Vaping

Are you a smoker? If so, consider giving up your cigarettes and switching to vaping instead. Vaping is something you can do to get your nicotine fix, and you could even try other “juices” like CBD e liquid to help you improve your wellness further.

What’s more, vaping means your clothing and your body doesn’t smell like you’ve been standing near a bonfire for too long! Also, you can choose from all kinds of flavours and varying levels of nicotine to help ween yourself off smoking for good.

Park Further Away From Your Destinations

How to be healthier without really trying

Do you drive? If you spend a lot of time going to various destinations in your car, avoid parking close to where you have to go. Instead, purposely find parking spaces that require you to do some more walking than usual.

For example, park by the car park exit rather than close to your workplace’s entrance if you drive to work. Not only will you get in some extra physical exercise each day, but you can avoid queuing to get out of the car park when you finish work each day.

Avoid Eating Large Meals

Last but not least, you should avoid eating large meals each day. Instead, it’s a better idea to have several small meals spread out throughout the day and evening.

Why is that a good idea, you might ask yourself? The answer is simple: you diminish the chances of needing to snack on unhealthy food like chocolates and crisps to satisfy any hunger pangs between your meals.

Final Thoughts

The above isn’t an extensive list of what you can do. However, it gives you some ideas for getting started on your health kick without tiring or wearing yourself out in the process. Good luck!

Eating well to age + 5 scrummy recipes!

Have you made a pact with yourself to eat better this year? If you’re reading this because you’ve already hit the 40 mark – which you most probably have – then you will know that we can’t quite get away with shovelling any old thing into our system and not pay the penalty for it. The bottom line is that at 40, we need to start thinking about eating well to age so we can feel more vibrant and vital for longer. Because that’s the aim of the game now folks isn’t it?

So what’s the schtick here? At 40, eating well to age means we should all be eating plenty of veggies – the more colourful and intense in colour the better, a variety of fruits, wholegrains, the right amount of protein, healthy fats and the like. As our metabolisms slow down, quite simply…we need to be more selective about what we eat if we want to walk the path to improved wellness.

With that said, today we are sharing some of our favourite recipes for eating well to age from the very appropriately named book – Eat Well to Age Well – the inspiring new cookbook by Beverley Jarvis – which is a veritable bible for eating well to age. It’s packed full of delicious whole food recipes, as well as insightful nutritional and invaluable practical guidance to help us all become super agers, without the hard work!

Vegetable medley with chickpeas and almonds – V

Eating well to age
Credit: David-James Selling

This filling vegetable dish is ideal served as a light lunch or supper, needing only the addition of a dressed, mixed-leaf salad to make it into a complete meal. If you don’t eat the whole dish at one sitting, leftovers can be chilled and re-heated the following day. You may prefer to cook the vegetables on the hob while you cook the sauce in the microwave.

SERVES 2

INGREDIENTS:

250 g washed and diced butternut squash

1 celery stick, chopped

1 small red pepper, chopped

1 medium-size courgette, sliced

1 tsp dried mixed herbs

Juice ½ orange

25 g flaked almonds

1x 200 g chickpeas, drained

EQUIPMENT:

You will need a shallow microwaveable dish (about 1 ½ litre in capacity), a citrus juicer, microwaveable dinner plate, chopping board and knife, spoon for stirring and microwaveable dinner plate.

NUTRITIONAL NOTE:

Butternut squash is a good source of dietary fibre and contains 22 g carbohydrate per cupful. One cup also contains 57% of the RDI for vitamin A and 52% of the RDI for vitamin C, as well as vitamins B1, B3, B6 and B9. It also makes a valuable contribution towards the RDI for the minerals calcium, iron, phosphorus and copper. The chickpeas provide 7.4 g fibre, 7.2 g protein and 15.7 g carbohydrate per 100 g.

TO SERVE:                                

Dressed, mixed-leaf salad with chopped apple; wholemeal bread rolls.

1. Put the prepared vegetables into the shallow dish, sprinkle with the herbs and then add the orange juice.

2. Cover the dish loosely with greaseproof paper, wrapping it under the dish to prevent it from blowing off.

3. Microwave on High for 5 minutes.

4. Remove the dish from microwave and carefully stir the vegetables, then recover and return to microwave for a

further 3½ minutes on High.

5. Set aside to stand, covered.

Toast the almonds:                                                                                                                                                                                                 

 1. Arrange them around the outside edge of the dinner plate and then microwave on High for 5 minutes, opening the door and rearranging the nuts once during cooking. They will turn lightly golden.

2. Add the drained chickpeas to the vegetables and return to the microwave for 1 minute on High.

3. Serve the vegetables with their delicious juices, topped with the toasted almonds, accompanied by the bread rolls and salad.

Cod and courgette kebabs with pineapple

Eating well to age
Credit: David-James Selling

These tasty fish kebabs, flavoured with lemon and garlic could be cooked on the BBQ, or under a pre-heated grill. They are as attractive to serve as they are good to eat.

SERVES 2

INGREDIENTS:

250 g cod fillet (or salmon fillet if

preferred), skinned and cubed

6 button mushrooms

½ tbsp olive oil

1 garlic clove, crushed

Juice and finely grated zest of

½ lemon or lime

1 tbsp freshly chopped coriander

1 medium courgette, cut into 6 equal slices

1 small red pepper, cut into 2.5 cm pieces

2 canned pineapple rings in natural

juice, drained well, then cut into chunks

(optional)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

EQUIPMENT:

You will need a chopping board and knife, small mixing bowl, shallow dish, fork, teaspoon, tablespoon, skewers, a pastry brush, citrus juicer, small bowl and fork.

NUTRITIONAL NOTE:

The cod makes a valuable contribution towards your RDI for protein. It can also provide all or more of your RDI for vitamin B12 and is a valuable source of selenium and iodine. The potato mash makes a good contribution to your RDI for carbohydrate with the sweet potatoes adding vitamins A and B6, plus 6.6 g fibre per 100 g. The bell peppers are a good source of antioxidants.

TO SERVE:

Serve with the pickled vegetables on page 114 and a mash made from equal quantities of sweet and ordinary white potatoes, such as King Edwards, peeled, then cooked together in a covered large pan of boiling water until completely tender. Drain well, then mash, beating in a little semi-skimmed milk and a seasoning of salt and freshly ground black pepper.

1. Put the cod and mushrooms into a shallow dish.

2. In a mug or small bowl, mix together the olive oil, garlic, lime/lemon zest and juice and the coriander.

3. Whisk with a fork and spoon over the mushrooms and fish. Cover and chill for 30 minutes.

4. Carefully thread the fish and mushrooms onto 2 kebab skewers, alternating with the courgette, red pepper and pineapple pieces, if using.

5. Brush each skewer with some of the remaining marinade mixture and season with a little salt and pepper.

6. Grill on a grill rack, lined with tin foil, for 6-8 minutes, turning occasionally, or until cooked through.

7. Serve immediately, with the pickled vegetables and the mashed potatoes.

COOK’S TIP

If you are using wooden/bamboo skewers, soak these in water for ½ hour before use to stop them burning.

Curried lamb soup with broccoli

Eating well to age
Credit: David-James Selling

Any leftovers can be cooled, then stored in the fridge, for up to 3 days. The soup also freezes well; re-heat until boiling and simmer for 3 minutes before serving. Filling and sustaining, serve the soup as a complete meal, accompanied with some warmed naan or chunky wholemeal bread.

SERVES 4-5

INGREDIENTS:

2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil

1 large red onion, chopped

2 carrots, diced

3 tbsp tikka curry paste

1 clove garlic, chopped

½ red chilli, de-seeded and chopped

2.5 cm piece fresh ginger,

peeled and grated

1 x 400 g can chopped tomatoes

2 tbsp tomato purée

350 g lamb leg steaks, trimmed and diced

1 rounded tbsp plain flour, seasoned with

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1.2 litre lamb stock

1 x 400 g can cannellini beans,

drained and rinsed

1 head broccoli, florets only

EQUIPMENT:

You will need a chopping board and knife, 2 dinner plates, absorbent kitchen paper, a measuring jug, tablespoon, grater, teaspoon, wooden spoon, slotted spoon, large saucepan with lid and large frying pan.

NUTRITIONAL NOTE:

The protein in the lamb contributes significantly to your RDI. Lamb also contributes vitamins B6 and B12, iron and magnesium. There are fibre and vitamins A and C in the carrot, tomatoes and broccoli and protein, fibre, vitamin B9, and the minerals copper, and iron in the cannellini beans.

TO SERVE:

1. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large saucepan, on a high heat.

2. Add the onion and carrot and stir-fry for about 5 minutes, over a medium heat, until the onion is soft and translucent.

3. Stir in the curry paste with the garlic, chillies and ginger and keep stir-frying for a further minute.

4. Add the tomatoes and tomato purée to the pan; stir well.

5. On the dinner plate, toss the lamb in the seasoned flour.

6. In a large, shallow frying pan, heat the remaining oil.

7. Add the lamb to the hot oil in the frying pan and stir-fry, over a medium-high heat, until golden on all sides.

8. Lift from the pan, using a slotted spoon, and drain on absorbent kitchen paper.

9. Add the lamb stock to the saucepan and bring to the boil.

10. Cover and simmer gently, for 30 minutes.

11. Stir in the drained beans and broccoli.

12. Continue to simmer for 5-7 minutes, covered, until the vegetables are just tender. Return lamb to pan. Stir.

13. Serve, in warmed soup bowls

Avocado and chicken bake

Credit: David-James Selling

Avocados are highly nutritious and simply delicious, quickly baked in the microwave. This easy recipe makes a great light lunch or supper dish. As an alternative to the chicken, try chopped cooked prawns or drained, flaked, canned tuna fish.

SERVES 1

INGREDIENTS:

50 g cooked chopped chicken thigh

or breast meat

50 g freshly made brown breadcrumbs

1 tbsp Greek-style natural yoghurt

1 tbsp freshly chopped tarragon or parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 large ripe avocado, halved

Juice ½ lemon

25 g parmesan cheese, grated

EQUIPMENT:

You will need a 1-litre mixing bowl, tablespoon, teaspoon, citrus juicer, pastry brush, microwaveable avocado dish, 2 microwaveable dinner plates, chopping board and knife, and cheese grater.

NUTRITIONAL NOTE:

Avocados have many nutritional benefits (see page 23). The chicken makes a significant contribution towards your RDI for protein. The breadcrumbs provide carbohydrate and fibre.

TO SERVE:

2 tsp crème fraîche; handful parsley sprigs, chopped.

1. Put the chicken into the mixing bowl with the breadcrumbs and yoghurt then stir in the herbs with a seasoning of salt (keep to a minimum) and pepper.

2. Brush both halves of the avocado with lemon juice and wrap one half to chill in the fridge for use in a salad the following day.

3. Fill the remaining avocado half with the prepared filling.

4. Sprinkle with the grated cheese.

5. Put the filled avocado half in the microwaveable avocado dish, then stand the dish on a dinner plate.

6. Microwave, uncovered, on High for 2½-3 minutes. Serve immediately with the crème fraîche and parsley.

COOK’S TIP

This recipe can easily be doubled. If cooking two avocado halves together, allow about 4 minutes, and space them apart on a dinner plate.

Sweet jacket potatoes with smoked mackerel, horseradish and parsley

Credit: David-James Selling

Sweet potatoes cook quickly in the microwave and can be counted as one of your seven-a-day. I often serve them for a quick lunch, straight from the microwave, with just some crumbled feta cheese and a dressed, mixed salad with a sliced kiwi fruit and some chopped dates added.

SERVES 2

INGREDIENTS:

2 medium-size sweet potatoes,

washed and dried

Spray oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

75 g smoked mackerel fillet, skinned

3 tbsp Greek-style natural yoghurt

2 tsp lemon juice

2 tsp horseradish sauce

1 dsp freshly chopped parsley

EQUIPMENT:

You will need a vegetable knife, microwaveable dinner plate, 1-litre mixing bowl, fork, measuring spoons, chopping board and knife.

NUTRITIONAL NOTE:

A good source of fibre, and providing 6% of your daily requirement for carbohydrate, and 4% of your daily vitamin C  needs, sweet potatoes also provide 10% of the daily requirement for vitamin B6. The mackerel and yoghurt contribute significantly towards your daily protein requirement and the mackerel also provides more than the RDI for vitamin D, significant B3 (niacin) and B12 and the minerals iron, magnesium and selenium. Greek yoghurt contains 121 mg calcium per 100 g.

TO SERVE:

Accompany with a dressed, mixed salad.

1. Score a cross in the top of each potato you wish to cook.

2. Stand the potatoes, spaced apart, on the dinner plate and spray them all over with a little spray oil and season with a little salt and pepper.

3. Microwave them, uncovered, on High for 5-6 minutes for one potato or 8 minutes for two.

4. Set aside for 4 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, prepare the filling: In the mixing bowl, mash together using a fork, the mackerel fillet with the yoghurt,

lemon juice and horseradish sauce. Add the parsley and fork in.

6. Serve the opened jacket potato(es) with the mackerel filling, divided between them, accompanied by the salad.

COOK’S TIP

Baked sweet potatoes are delicious served with a dollop of lightly seasoned Greek yoghurt, with a little finely chopped red onion or a few snipped chives.

Eat Well to Age Well is available to buy at Waterstones and on Amazon. Check out the first chapter of the book here.

The best healthy recipes for ageing

We hope you enjoyed these recipes which are a fantastic way of eating well to age. Have you started eating well to age? Which is your favourite recipe from the above? And if you haven’t why not join our Instagram community where we share all things related to life in your 40s here.

Cover picture credit: Food photo created by senivpetro

How becoming a non-executive director can reinvent your career

Could you imagine yourself in the boardroom? It’s never too late to start thinking about how to reinvent your career. So read on ladies. We’ve got the low down from Fiona Hathorn, co-founder and CEO of Women on Boards UK to find out more.

Here’s a sobering thought: at the age of 40, you’re almost two decades into your career. Whether you love, hate or are indifferent about your job, hitting the big four-oh is one of those moments that makes us all take stock, reflect, and ask, “is this it?”

If you’ve always worked in the same field, then the likelihood is that you’ve gained a great deal of experience (and a good salary and perks, too). Perhaps you’re happy with this path and excited to accelerate your way to the C-suite. Or perhaps, you’re seeking more control over your own hours, but still with the intellectual challenge you are used to.

Or maybe, turning 40 has made you realise you don’t like your job at all, you feel stuck in a dead end and are thinking of a complete career overhaul. Maybe you’ve emotionally checked out, working on autopilot without feeling any real satisfaction. 

Whatever situation you find yourself in, career reinvention is good for us at any life stage and particularly when we hit important age milestones. It’s also critical to staying relevant in today’s work environment. So, what can be done?

Becoming a non-executive director (NED), Trustee or Governor is a highly attractive proposition for lots of people. Women on Boards UK is on a mission to educate more women about what a NED role is, why it can help you with career acceleration or creating a portfolio career where you are firmly in the driving seat, and to share top tips for landing your first NED role. 

What is a NED?

reinvent your career

NEDs sit on the board of many public, private and not-for-profit organisations, working as a ‘critical friend’ scrutinising the organisation’s performance and offering strategic input and advice to the executive team. In a nutshell, your role is to provide the board with independent oversight and constructive challenge. How often they meet and what duties they are required to perform varies between organisations.

Taking on a NED role can be the perfect career move for those of us seeking an intellectual challenge without the intensity or pressure of an in-house executive role. Levels of remuneration vary from pro bono to quite high, but many combine a few paid NED roles with coaching or consultancy to create a ‘portfolio career’. Becoming a NED provides you with access to the boardroom and high-level strategic conversations about how a business is run. We place, on average, seven women every week into UK boardrooms and the experience they gain has proven to help accelerate career growth in their day jobs. 

When is the right time to start exploring a NED role?

We always say start early! There is a misconception among a lot of women that you need to be in your 50s, 60s or an executive at a big global firm to become a NED and that’s just not true. Yes, some of the listed global companies are looking for this kind of experience but there are thousands of other companies and organisations looking for NEDs at every level. We advertise hundreds of roles at any one time ranging from charities and universities to start-ups and FTSE-listed companies. Don’t get hung up by the ‘story’ we tell ourselves of what a NED looks like (stale, pale and grey). The experience you have gained by the time you’re in your forties is going to be invaluable to many organisations, you just have to find the right one. 

For Rebecca Ganz, becoming a NED coincided with a huge life transition. At the age of 48 she moved back to the UK from New Zealand to look after ageing parents. She urgently needed to reinvent her career back in the UK, having to rebuild her networks and reputation from scratch. Applying her wealth of experience to different organisations would provide the stimulus and challenge she craved, while the idea of a portfolio career of NED roles afforded her the flexibility she required. With five NED roles across the public and private sector, Becks is thoroughly enjoying her new career. 

Meanwhile, Alison Green came to Women on Boards when she wanted to build on her trustee experience and secure her first NED role. After a very successful career in advertising and marketing, Alison had transitioned to a career as an Executive Coach and wanted a portfolio of NED roles that would align with her new career path but also her values. The pandemic had highlighted deep societal inequalities and Alison wanted to find a role that would help her address diversity and inclusion issues. Women on Boards provided her with interview practice, helped to demystify some of the terminology of the boardroom and refreshed her financial literacy skills via our tailored courses. Alison now sits on several boards including the Skinners’ Academy, a secondary school in Hackney, and she is the first female NED for Cake Box PLC. 

Women on Boards member, Neelu Agarwal, started to think about a NED role when she was in her early 30s. Whilst on maternity leave, she began to re-evaluate her current job, which was leaving her feeling dissatisfied. She wanted to step up her skills and do something meaningful but had never thought of a NED role. She felt her lack of experience and broad Indian accent would be barriers. However, the network she met through Women on Boards and the access to training and useful tools such as CV templates gave her the boost she needed, and she landed her first NED role at a mental health charity called Second Step. 

How to find your first NED role and reinvent your career

reinvent your career

Breaking through into the non-executive world and achieving your first role can be tricky. Here are my top three tips to help improve your chances:

  1. Network, network, network. The best networking activities are ones where you will meet members of boards, especially Chair people. If real world or virtual events are tricky to fit into your busy life, take inspiration from Neelu above who used LinkedIn to connect with new people whilst on maternity leave. A good place to start is to identify the organisations you would love to be a part of and connect with people who sit on their board. 
  1. Know the basics. While you will get appointed to a board based on your specific experience, be that digital, marketing or HR, it’s important that every NED has a grasp of the fundamentals such as financial literacy and corporate governance. It’s not rocket science and you will find lots of online resources to help you. Women on Boards has an online Resource Centre packed with links and advice, and we also have specific webinars on key topics such as finance and cyber.
  1. Present yourself as a board-level candidate. There is a difference between a CV and a Board-ready CV. Understanding how to frame your achievements and potential in a way that appeals to boards is a skill that needs to be honed. You also need to articulate what it is that you can uniquely bring, in terms of your personal style as well as expertise. It can be challenging, but Women on Boards has lots of advice and different levels of support to help you do just this.  

Whether you’re looking for an intellectual challenge or to simply pursue your passions, there is a generation of 40-something women who are staring at the second half of their life excited about the journey and the chance to reinvent their careers. Remove any obstacles you have in your mind (too old, too busy, too scared) and, quite literally, jump on Board! As they say, “the bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” 

If you would like help getting started with your Board career or taking it to the next level, please get in touch here

About Women on Boards UK 

Women on Boards UK exists to encourage, inspire and actively support women – from all sectors – to find their own pathway to the boardroom. Its network of 35,000 women (and some men) gain access to information, support and connections to help them take on a board role as a non-executive director, trustee or governor, or to get to the top within their own company. What we do works – seven of our members gain a new board role every week (on average). 

Do you feel inspired to reinvent your career? Let us know by dropping a comment below or reaching out to us on Instagram.

5 biggest myths about cervical screenings you shouldn’t believe 

Following on from our previous article around cervical cancer awareness, we got advice from Dr Tim Woodman, Medical Director at Bupa UK, who shared with us the following information about cervical screenings.

He says; ‘Regular health screenings have been neglected during the pandemic – there are currently 4.7 million people with cervixes in the UK who haven’t been adequately screened for cervical cancer. It’s more important than ever to book your smear test – and to encourage your friends to do the same.

Our previous research found that 1 in 5 women say they wouldn’t visit their doctor if they had pelvic pain or an unusual discharge or bleeding, and 1 in 3 women say they wouldn’t see a doctor if they had bleeding outside of their usual menstrual cycle. 41% of women wouldn’t go to a GP if they had an unusual discharge.’

From believing screening is painful, to the ‘embarrassment’ of seeing your doctor about gynaecological issues, there’s lots of common misconceptions about cervical screening that we shouldn’t believe. These myths could prevent you from attending your screening, or visiting a doctor for any unusual symptoms, such as abnormal bleeding or painful sex.

Here are the most common myths about smear tests you shouldn’t believe:

Myth 1: An abnormal smear test indicates a high risk of cancer

Cervical screening is not a test for cancer – it is used to help prevent cancer. A sample is checked for certain “high risk” types of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). If these are not found, then nothing further is done, but if these types of HPV are present then the cells from the sample are checked for any changes. If any abnormal cells are found and these are left untreated, it could lead to cancer.

Having regular cervical screening will identify any abnormalities – these may not be cancerous, and mild abnormalities don’t always need to be treated.

Myth 2: A cervical screening test is painful

cervical screenings

It’s a common myth that a cervical screening test (previously known as a smear test) is a painful procedure. For some, it can be an uncomfortable procedure, especially if you have endometriosis, vaginismus (when your vagina suddenly becomes tight) or vaginal dryness.

Breathing exercises and distraction methods (listening to music or counting to 100 during the procedure) can help to calm your nerves. You can also ask your nurse about using a smaller speculum (the instrument used during the test) – they come in different sizes, and it can help to ease any discomfort you’re experiencing. 

It’s important to explain any worries you have to your healthcare professional, as they should take additional steps to make the experience less stressful. 

Myth 3: I don’t have any symptoms, so I don’t need to check my health

We have an excellent cervical cancer screening programme, which can detect early abnormalities which can lead to cervical cancer. 

Even if you’re showing no unusual symptoms, you must attend your checks as these can detect abnormalities before you start showing any symptoms. Early detection is key to effectively preventing and treating cancers; attending all appointments – even if you’re feeling well – is vital.

Myth 4: Seeing the doctor about gynaecological issues is embarrassing

cervical screenings

Do not worry – every doctor or nurse in your local clinic will have seen more vaginas and heard more intimate stories than you could ever believe! They understand that everyone is an individual and will not be uncomfortable or bothered by talking about sex, vaginal bleeding, discharge, or painful intercourse. 

Performing intimate examinations is part of their everyday activities, and they want to do this to the cause of the problem you’re having. Try and be as open and honest about your symptoms or concerns as you can, as this will enable your healthcare professional to give you the best care they can. 

Myth 5: If I am worried I can go for a smear test, which will rule out any cancer

No, this is not the case. The cervical screening test only looks for signs that you may be at risk of cervical cancer. It is not a cancer test, nor does it assess the health of your vulva, vagina, womb or ovaries.  A cervical screening test is only suitable if you have no symptoms of concern. 

If you have unusual bleeding, pain or other symptoms you should discuss this with a healthcare professional, who will decide with you what steps need to be taken to assess your gynaecological health.  

Are you up to date with your screenings? Comment below on your experiences or connect with us on Instagram

The importance of cervical cancer awareness

17th – 23rd January 2022 marks Cervical Cancer Prevention week. We’ve joined forces with the experts, bringing you this guide, to raise awareness of cervical screening. If you have a cervix, this one is for you.

Here, Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy talks about the importance of not delaying cervical screening when invited but also to see if there was anything we could be doing to avoid this type of cancer.

Did you know?

  • There are around 3,200 new cases of cervical cancer each year in the UK.
  • Cervical cancer is the 14th most common cancer in the UK.
  • Cervical cancer can be prevented by having regular cervical smears.
  • The most common age group for women to be diagnosed with cervical cancer is in women aged 30-34 years.
  • Since the 1990s, the incidence of cervical cancer has fallen by around 25%. This is likely to be due to the success of cervical screening.
  • The number of cases of cervical cancer is predicted to fall in the coming years due to the success of HPV vaccination.
  • Around 850 women still die each year in the UK from cervical cancer.
  • Since the 1970s, the death rate for cervical cancer has fallen by around 75%. Again, this is likely to be due to the advent of cervical screening.

Risk factors for cervical cancer

HPV – 99.8% of cervical cancers are due to infection with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). This is a sexually transmitted virus. There are over 100 subtypes. HPV 16 and 18 are high-risk subtypes, and these are the target of the current HPV vaccination campaign. Low-grade HPV subtypes, including those which cause many visible genital warts, are not a risk factor for cervical cancer.

Many women with HPV infection never develop cervical cancer, meaning other factors are also important for the infection to progress. Cervical cancer is more common in those who also had an early age of first sexual intercourse, before the age of 14, or who have had 6 or more sexual partners. Cervical cancer risk is lowered in women whose sexual partner has been circumcised.

Women with genital herpes are also at an increased risk of cervical cancer.

Smoking – 21% of cervical cancers are attributed to smoking. The risk of cervical cancer is increased by 46% in current smokers as compared to lifetime non-smokers.

HIV –  Cervical cancer is six times more common in those infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). However, this risk is significantly reduced in women who are taking highly active antiretroviral therapy (HART).

Family history – The risk of cervical cancer is 74%-80% higher in women with a first degree relative, such as a mother or a sister who has had cervical cancer, suggesting there may be some genetic susceptibility.

Oral contraceptives – Up to 10% of cervical cancers are thought to be associated with the use of oral contraceptives. However, the risk is only attributable after five years or more of use. There is no need to panic and stop taking the pill. The benefits of taking the pill are considerable and should not be underestimated. Pill users should not be unduly concerned but are strongly advised to attend for their cervical smears regularly, and to try not to smoke.

Ethnicity – Cervical cancers are more common in ethnic groups who are reluctant to come forward for screening. This means cervical cancer is more common in women who are Black, Hispanic, Asian or from low-income households.

Women who were given diethylstilbestrol (DES) – Some women were given DES, a potent synthetic estrogen, between 1940-1970,  to try and prevent miscarriage. This is known to increase the risk of cervical and vaginal cancers.

The UK Cervical Cancer Screening Programme

One important aspect of cervical cancer is that it has a very long premalignant phase, during which it is possible to identify abnormal cells – by having a cervical smear. These abnormal cells can then be treated. Doing this prevents these cells from transforming into cervical cancer cells.

The NHS Cervical Cancer Screening Programme was started in 1988, and since then there has been a dramatic fall in the number of cases of cervical cancer.

Adult women aged 25-64 years are invited to have a cervical smear once every 3-5 years in the UK. Those aged under 50 are asked to come once every 3 years, and those aged over 50, every 5 years. Trans men (who were female at birth) are not automatically invited but can request a cervical smear if they still have a cervix.

The smear itself is also tested for the presence of HPV. If HPV is present, you will be invited to have smears more often, or referred to colposcopy, where your cervix can be examined more closely with the aid of a special instrument called a colposcope. This gives magnified images of the cervix.

What is a cervical smear?

cervical smear

A cervical smear is a simple test, in which a plastic spatula is gently rubbed over your cervix (the neck of the womb) to collect some cervical cells. These are then sent to the lab to be looked at down the microscope.

To be able to do this, the doctor or nurse taking the smear, needs to see your cervix. This means you do have to remove your underwear, lie on the couch, and allow them to insert a vaginal speculum. This is an instrument, made of plastic or metal, which looks like a duck’s beak.

The secret is to try and relax as much as you can. This helps the smear taker to be able to manoeuvre the speculum as they need to, to get a good view of the cervix. Try not to get too anxious. Doctors and nurses who do smears are very well trained and will do all they can to put you at your ease. It can be uncomfortable having a smear, but it shouldn’t be painful. It usually only lasts – perhaps 30-60 seconds. This is a very short inconvenience for a test that could save your life. You can watch a video of how a cervical smear is taken here.

How many women have not had a cervical smear?

It is very worrying that in 2019, 1 in 3 women aged 25-64 had not had a cervical smear. In a survey conducted by Jo’s Cancer Trust, 2000 women were asked about their experiences of having a cervical smear. An incredible 915 had either never had a smear or had delayed an appointment to have one. 71% said they felt scared, 75% felt vulnerable, 81% were embarrassed, and 67% said having a smear would make them feel out of control. 58% were scared it would be painful.

Having taken cervical smears for over 30 years, I can tell you, taking a smear is a straightforward process, that for the vast majority of women, is easy, quick, and almost painless. The smear taker will respect your dignity, cover you with a blanket, ask permission to start the procedure and stop at any time if you ask them to stop. You do not need to feel out of control. Doctors and nurses who work in sexual health or GP surgeries, spend all day looking at female vulvas and vaginas – they are perfectly used to it, and nothing will surprise or shock them. You can feel completely at ease with these medical practitioners. Any female doctors or nurses will no doubt have had a smear test themselves and know how it feels.

What is far more of a worry, is not attending for your smear, but having to come to the clinic in the future, with a possible undiagnosed cervical cancer.

Getting your smear results

cervical cancer

You should get a letter in the post about your results, usually within 4 weeks. If your smear is normal, you will be told to have another smear in 3-5 years depending on your age. Sometimes, there may have been difficulty interpreting the smear, and it just needs repeating in 3 to 6 months. If you do have abnormal cells, you will be referred to the Colposcopy clinic so a Gynaecologist can take a closer look at your cervix. If HPV is present, but your cells look normal, you will simply be asked to have another smear in 12 months. The important thing is to follow instructions and attend for your subsequent visit as requested.

How accurate are cervical smears?

It’s important to remember that no tests are ever 100% accurate. There is always a small chance the smear could show an abnormality that isn’t cancer, or, could be wrongly classed as negative, meaning something abnormal was missed. In between smear tests, if you have any symptoms such as bleeding in between your periods or after sex, or abnormal vaginal discharge, it’s important to see your GP or go to the Sexual Health clinic without delay.

Prevention is better than cure

After a detailed look at the statistics, experts believe that for a woman aged 33 – 64, attending for cervical screening will reduce her chance of developing cervical cancer over the following five years, by 60-80%, and reduce her chance of advanced cervical cancer by 90%. However, cervical screening is less effective in younger age groups. In general, doing cervical smears in women under the age of 25 has not been found to be beneficial.

If you have any concerns about your smear test, you could book an appointment with your GP or practice nurse, just to discuss the situation and take a list of written questions. They will be happy to help you. You can take a friend or relative to your smear appointment with you.

You can also ask for a doctor or nurse of the sex of your choice to take your smear, although you may be asked to come back on another day if this can’t be actioned at the same visit.

You will also be offered a chaperone when you have your smear. You can accept or refuse – some people prefer another person there to hold their hand, while others prefer as few other people in the room as possible.

Try and find out all you can about having you smear before you get to the clinic. Knowledge is power, and it will help you feel more confident. For example, take a look at Jo’s Trust – Cervical Screening.

What can you do to reduce your risk of cervical cancer?

You can have a smear at any time so long as you are not bleeding. In the past, smears were preferable around midcycle – on day 14 – but these days this is rarely needed. If you are on a form of hormonal contraception, you will not be ovulating anyway, and will not have a day 14. This might be needed in older women, who are having natural cycles, if it has been hard to get enough cells on the smear in the past. But don’t let the day 14 issue confuse the situation.

If you are aged 40 plus, and find smears uncomfortable, you might benefit from using some topical estrogen in the vagina for 4 -6 weeks before your smear test. Ask your GP or the sexual health doctor or nurse about this. You do need to stop using the cream or pessaries at least 2 days before the smear test.

HPV vaccination

In the UK, HPV vaccinations are offered to girls and boys aged 12 and 13, when they are in year 8. They then have a second dose 6 -24 months later. The idea is to create HPV antibodies before they become sexually active and encounter the HPV virus through normal sexual activity. HPV causes cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, penis, as well as some head and neck cancers.

Between 2009 and 2018, over 10 million doses of the HPV vaccines were administered. The vaccines have been proven to be safe and highly effective. In a recent 2019 study, which included over 66 million young men and women, HPV vaccination showed an 83% reduction in high-risk HPV in teenage girls and a 66% reduction in women aged 20-24. There was also a 51% reduction in precancerous changes to the cervix in teenage girls and a 31% reduction in women aged 20-24.

Don’t smoke

cervical cancer

Some studies suggest the viral load of HPV is higher in the cervix of women who smoke than in non-smokers. The reasons for this are not well understood, however, a toxin in cigarette smoke known as Benzo[a]pyren has been shown to stimulate HPV multiplication.

Protect yourself from HPV by using a condom

Consistent and careful use of condoms can help prevent the acquisition, not just of HPV infection, but also other STIs. It can also help cause regression of abnormal cells if they are present on the cervix. However, having sex with an HPV  infected partner, even once,  without a condom, is likely to result in the transmission of infection. Most UK adults will be infected with HPV at least once in a lifetime.

The best sexual health advice at present is that women should use a condom for STI protection as well as, not instead of, a reliable method of contraception to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. If a male partner will not use a condom, women do have the option of using the female condom, the Femidom.

Cervical cancer is linked to an increased number of lifetime sexual partners. For good sexual health, you should try to avoid multiple partners , or overlapping partners, as this is associated with increased risk.

References:

Gov. UK

Cervical screening NHS

HPV NHS

The Guardian

University of Oxford

US National Library of Medicine (National Institutes of Health)

National library of medicine

Helen Baker founded and runs  We Are All Smear Ready, a craftivism campaign to raise awareness of the importance of cervical screening and addressing the barriers of body image and embarrassment, two of the main barriers to attending appointments. She says;

‘With body image and embarrassment being two of the main barriers to attending a smear test, this Craftivist campaign spreads the message that you don’t have to be beach ready to be smear ready, we are all smear ready. It really doesn’t matter how your lady garden looks, nurses have seen all varieties and don’t care what yours looks like.

With so much focus on the external aspect of our bodies we can often overlook how important it is to look after our bodies internally but these mini handcrafted pants as a gentle reminder that cervical screening and HPV vaccines are the best ways to protect yourself from cervical cancer. By making and sharing mini pants and boxers during Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, we can help to spread this important and potentially life-saving message to anyone with a cervix.’ 

You can follow her campaign here

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