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6 Reasons You Should Skip Shapewear If You're Over 50

Here's how it can harm your health as you get older, according to doctors.

If you're looking for an instant confidence boost, few things deliver quite like shapewear. Don a bodysuit or a pair of compression shorts and you'll immediately look more trim and toned in whatever outfit you put on. Yet it's also no secret that shapewear comes with its downsides: It pinches, squeezes, rolls out of place, and can leave you counting the minutes until you can slip into something more comfortable. This is especially true for women over 50, who may be more vulnerable to some of shapewear's worst consequences.

In fact, there may be reasons to consider skipping shapewear altogether—or if not, to at least take a good, hard look at whether you're wearing the appropriate type and size. Read on to learn the six reasons doctors say tight shapewear can be harmful to your health past 50.

RELATED: If You're Over 65, Don't Wear These 6 Clothing Items to Exercise.

Shapewear can irritate your skin.

Woman talking to her doctor

Breathable shapewear that's not too tight can help reduce chafing and skin irritation on the thighs—but the wrong shapewear can have the opposite effect on your skin.

"Wearing shapewear that isn't breathable can make you more prone to sweating, particularly during warmer weather," explains Daniel Atkinson, MBBS, the GP clinical lead at Treated. "This can cause skin irritation (also known as 'sweat rash') and might be worse if you're currently going through menopause and prone to hot flashes."

Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP, a board-certified pediatrician and family doctor practicing in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, agrees that shapewear can rub against the skin and cause irritation, redness, and abrasions. "This is especially true for older adults who may have more sensitive skin due to age-related changes in elasticity or thinner epidermis layers."

It can cause bladder problems.

Woman Holding Bladder

As anyone who's ever worn shapewear knows, compression garments can make going to the bathroom much less convenient. Atkinson says this can lead to a range of potential urinary complications.

"If it's too tight, shapewear can compress your bladder and make you need to go to the toilet more frequently, and urgently. Urinary urgency is more common in older adults, so you might find that shapewear exacerbates this condition if you already have it," he tells Best Life.

Atkinson adds that even if you don't have urinary urgency, wearing shapewear might cause you to hold your urine, which can increase your risk of getting a urinary tract infection (UTI). He explains that UTIs are more common during and after menopause, so you might be more likely to experience this problem if you're over the age of 50.

RELATED: 5 Easy Ways to Accentuate Your Waist If You're Over 50, According to Stylists.

It can restrict your breathing.

Woman having trouble breathing

Far too often, women view physical discomfort as the price you pay for beauty. However, Alexander says that if your shapewear makes it more difficult to take a full breath, you should stop wearing it—especially if you're over 50.

"Shapewear that is too tight can restrict breathing capacity by compressing the lungs and diaphragm. This can be particularly concerning for elderly people who may already suffer from respiratory issues such as COPD or asthma," explains Alexander.

Shapewear may make your heartburn worse.

Povozniuk / iStock

If you happen to suffer from heartburn, wearing shapewear may exacerbate your symptoms, says Atkinson.

"As an older adult, you're also more prone to excess stomach acid (GERD or GORD) and getting heartburn. Because shapewear squeezes your digestive tract, this could, in theory, push more stomach acid up into your esophagus and make heartburn worse (or even give you heartburn if you don't already have it)," he says.

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It can worsen back pain.

Woman with back pain

Since many shapewear garments provide external support and structure, they can make your core feel stronger in the moment. However, when shapewear is too tight, it can restrict your range of motion, which can translate into a less engaged and ultimately weaker core.

At the same time, shapewear may put additional pressure on your back, causing unnecessary strain on those muscles. "You might be more susceptible to muscle and back pain as an older adult, and by placing pressure on your back and muscles and reducing your overall mobility, shapewear isn't likely to help," says Atkinson.

He adds that if you do wear shapewear, it's best to give yourself regular breaks and not wear it for long periods. Additionally, you should always choose a size that isn't too pressuring or restrictive.

Shapewear can compress your nerves.

middle-aged woman talking to doctor
Lordn / Shutterstock

Finally, if you notice any odd skin sensations while donning shapewear, chances are the garment you're wearing is simply too tight.

"Wearing shapewear that is too tight can compress nerves leading to a variety of uncomfortable sensations, including numbness or a pins-and-needles feeling," says Alexander. "Older adults may be more vulnerable to nerve compression due to age-related thinning of fatty tissues that normally cushion nerves from pressure."

If this happens to you, it's time to take a break from compression clothes, or at least switch to a size up.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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