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12 Notable Advances in Aging

Abstract watercolor of woman reproductive system

A timeline of great moments in women’s health and culture.

Although the National Institutes of Health encouraged researchers to include women in studies in 1986, not until 1993 did Congress make it a law to include women in all clinical research.

When it comes to women and aging, society hasn’t always been kind. Yet there have been numerous advances in the fields of health and culture that have had a positive influence on women’s experience with aging over the years. Here are 12 to celebrate.


Menopause was officially coined by a French physician. The word, however, comes from two Greek works: “Menos,” which means “month,” and “pause,” meaning to cease. A woman is officially in menopause when she’s gone 12 months without a menstrual period.


Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman in the United States to earn a medical degree, making her the country’s first female doctor. What made her pursue medicine? A dying friend who told her that her suffering would have been lessened had she had a female physician.


It’s long been known that women outlive men, but when did women gain the longevity advantage? Turns out, 1890 was the year when women took the edge, and the gap widened even more in the 20th century, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. Although COVID-19 has decreased life expectancy for men and women born in America, the current life expectancy for women is 80.2 years versus 74.5 years for men.


Mammography, a critical tool in detecting breast cancer in women, doesn’t seem like it should be over 100 years old. But in 1913, a German surgeon published his findings on using X-rays to study breast tissues. Not until the 1930s, however, were mammograms recognized as a diagnostic tool for detecting breast cancer. Apart from skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, accounting for about 30 percent of new cases every year, according to the American Cancer Society.


Clairol introduced Miss Clairol, the first at-home hair color kit that allowed women to lighten, tint, condition and shampoo their hair in one step. Elle reported it was “almost foolproof.” The advance made gray coverage affordable and easy for women—two words unknown to the market before this date.

woman running

If you’re an active woman, no matter your age, you’ve no doubt appreciated a sports bra at some point in your life. Credit its creation to Lisa Lindahl, a graduate student at the University of Vermont who in 1977 sewed the first version of a bra that she and her friends could run in.


When it comes to health conditions, women and men are certainly not the same. So, it would make sense that men and women should be included in clinical trials. The shocker? Although the National Institutes of Health encouraged researchers to include women in studies in 1986, not until 1993 did Congress make it a law to include women in all clinical research.


The world of mammography changed dramatically this year, as it marked the FDA’s approval of the first digital mammography machine. It’s now the primary method for screening women for breast cancer in the United States.


Jamie Lee Curtis agreed to pose for More magazine with several requests that make this a stand-out moment – and a celebration – for women: No makeup, no manicure, no hair styling and no retouching. She also appeared wearing only underwear and a sports bra. The reason? She wanted to address the myth of perfection. Curtis was 43 at the time.


Researchers have long known that women have a higher rate of Alzheimer’s than men, and most assumed it was because women lived longer. But in 2010, journalist Maria Shriver partnered with the Alzheimer’s Association to produce a groundbreaking report that challenged this fact. Shortly after that, she founded the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement to raise awareness about women and Alzheimer’s, a disease in which two-thirds of those diagnosed are women.


Monica Bellucci became the “oldest” actress to play a James Bond girl at age 50. The movie was titled Spectre. Prior to Bellucci taking this title, Honor Blackman was the oldest Bond girl, appearing in the 1964 film Goldfinger at the age of 39. Note, though, that Bellucci made several comments to the press that she would prefer to be called a Bond woman versus a girl.


Vice President Kamala Harris technically became the first female president, albeit briefly, when she assumed presidential powers while President Joe Biden underwent a colonoscopy. The 57-year-old, who was also the first South Asian American and Black woman to be elected vice president, maintained her presidential power for 85 minutes before assuming the vice presidency.

Karen Asp
Karen Asp is an award-winning journalist and author who covers fitness, health, nutrition, animals, and travel. She writes regularly for numerous publications, including AARP's The Girlfriend, Clean Eating, Costco Connection, Eating Well, Forks Over Knives, Martha Stewart Living, Midwest Living, and O the Oprah Magazine.

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