5 Wellness Trends Women Are Trying in Midlife
If you’ve attended a yoga class or received a massage, you’re one of an estimated 38% of adults using complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).
According to board-certified interventional specialist Jordan Tate, M.D., many women over 40 seek alternative therapies when “their symptoms don’t fit a textbook diagnosis or treatment pathway, particularly when it comes to hormonal-related issues like chronic pain and fatigue related to perimenopause and menopause.”
Although there’s a dearth of evidence-based research to support the efficacy of these complementary therapies and health practices—such approaches often fall outside of mainstream medicine and don’t receive funding for in-depth studies—board-certified internist Caroline Abruzese, M.D., says they can still be a great way to “augment or even prevent the need for traditional medical care.”
Midlife Wellness Trends to Consider
Some of the more unusual wellness methods have devotees who swear by them and use them regularly to help manage stress and other ailments. As with any new practice, be sure to check with your doctor first if you decide to give CAM therapies a try. Here are five interesting options.
1. Fire Cupping
This ancient practice uses glass or bamboo cups that are lit on fire and then placed on the skin once the flame dies out. As the air cools inside the cup, it creates a vacuum designed to increase blood flow to the area, improve circulation, and reduce inflammation.
Today, cupping is commonly performed with plastic cups and a manual hand pump to create the vacuum. It’s also hypothesized that cupping can improve pain control through a similar mechanism as acupuncture or acupressure. Typically, cupping occurs at four different sites at one time, with the cups left in place for five to 20 minutes. The most common sites of application are the back, chest, and abdomen.
After initially seeking treatment for debilitating muscle spasms, Atlanta-based Pilates studio owner Samantha Ingram, 45, has been receiving fire cupping from a traditional Chinese medical practitioner for more than a decade. “After my first session, I felt relief. And while it didn't necessarily erase the problem altogether, it allowed me to carry on working my bartending job at the time and continue to exercise with little or no discomfort,” she explains.
Samantha credits ongoing treatment with helping to improve her range of motion, increase her daily energy, and provide relief from seasonal allergies and common colds. A recent randomized controlled trial revealed that cupping significantly improved chronic neck pain.
She says first-timers to this wellness trend can expect some temporary discomfort when the cups are in place, and large, round bruise-like marks on the skin once they’re removed. It may take a few weeks before the bruises resolve.
2. Wim Hof Method
Created by the Dutch endurance athlete Wim Hof, this therapy is a combination of breathing, meditation, and cold exposure—think ice baths, showers, and outdoor swims in temperatures between 35 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit—that purports to reduce muscle inflammation while boosting the immune system and improving sleep and focus. It also has been shown that this technique can reduce pain through the central nervous system.
After taking a Wim Hof workshop with her daughter 14 months ago, retired Texas school administrator Chicha Glass, 63, has been practicing the method daily and credits it with reducing her feelings of anxiety and improving her sleep. “For the first time in over 30 years, I am able to go to sleep easily and wake up energized,” she says. Chicha also believes the method has helped to reduce her reliance on coffee and sugar.
Veronique Mertes, 50, a hypnotherapist in South Devon, England, has been practicing the Wim Hof Method for more than two years and says it’s helped her “relieve tension” and “reach great levels of relaxation.”
But the cold therapy isn’t for everyone, cautions Tate. Those with heart conditions, circulation issues, diabetes, or Raynaud’s disease should refrain from activities like the Wim Hof Method that shock the nervous system, Tate says.
3. Sensory Deprivation Floating
Sensory deprivation floating was first described in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until the past decade that this technique gained popularity as a wellness trend.
Atlanta writer and editor Christy Fennessy, 48, was anxious about her first sensory deprivation experience, which took place in a dark and isolated pool filled with body-temperature water and Epsom salts, a combination that causes the body to float above the water.
“I can get a little claustrophobic, but there was a button I could press if I needed help or wanted the lights turned on quickly,” she explains. Once she eased into the experience, she found it so “intensely relaxing” that she fell asleep. “I loved the feeling of floating effortlessly in total quiet and darkness,” Christy says.
Subha Lembach, 46, an attorney from Columbus, Ohio, had a similar reaction. “Spending an hour relaxing my body brought me a great deal of clarity and peace.”
But both say that while calming, the experience isn’t cheap: Sessions average between $75 and $100 for a 60-minute float.
A study published in 2018 revealed that 50 patients with anxiety and stress disorders—including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder—who participated in sensory deprivation floating had significant improvement in stress, muscle tension, depression, pain, and mood. More studies are needed to find out exactly why this technique is so good for you, but it may be that unplugging from the world temporarily is beneficial given all the stimulation you get every day.
4. Sound Bath
Also known as sound healing, a sound bath is a restorative practice similar to gentle yoga or guided meditation. Participants recline or sit in a comfortable position as a practitioner plays crystal bowls, bells, gongs, and other instruments to create a soothing environment enthusiasts say aids in relaxation and eases anxiety.
Los Angeles–based account executive Meredith Maldonado, 45, a self-described Type A personality, says the “immersive” and “otherworldly” sound bath experience helps slow down her “anxious mind,” improves her sleep, and lowers her resting heart rate.
Nashville magazine editor Alison Hudak, 41, had a similar experience at her first sound bath. “Within the first few chimes, I forgot anyone else existed, and I was able to spend the hour not thinking about work or worrying about life,” she says.
Studies have shown that people, especially those between 40 and 59 years old, had significant improvement in tension, anger, fatigue, and depressed mood.
For those new to the practice, the loud and unfamiliar sounds—like rain sticks and gongs—can be jarring, Alison says, but her advice is to “take in each sound like a wave and let it wash over you” to help you stay in the moment.
Much like an acupuncturist uses needles in designated trigger points, practitioners of Japanese reiki use their hands on or over targeted areas of the body to facilitate healing and relaxation. Unlike massage or acupuncture, there are no needles or pressure points, just a very light touch or wave using a series of specific hand positions. The general duration of therapy is between 30 and 90 minutes, lying down, and there is no need to take any clothes off.
A recent meta-analysis analyzing the data from four randomized controlled studies revealed significant improvement in pain after people had Reiki. Carolyn Gordon, 41, a licensed massage therapist and Pilates instructor in Asheville, North Carolina, has been receiving reiki for more than 15 years and says it lowers her stress and gives her an overall “feeling of well‑being and groundedness.”
And although reiki can feel as relaxing as a massage for some people, Atlanta-based administrative assistant Frances O’Brien, 45, admits it can also be an intense experience. “Energy work can stir up strong emotions and physical sensations,” she says, “so always communicate with your practitioner and know it’s okay to take breaks if something is too intense.”
The Bottom Line on CAM Therapies in Midlife
Remember, before participating in any new midlife wellness trend, it’s always important to check with a doctor, say Tate and Abruzese.
And even though many of these practices may not have a basis in medical science or in studies, Tate says that just taking the timeout for a self-care ritual like floating in a quiet room or listening to soothing instruments can have immediate benefits, including “reducing stress and lowering blood pressure, which can have carryover effects like reducing overall anxiety levels and getting a better night’s sleep.”
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