To say a lot happens to women’s bodies between adolescence to adulthood would be an understatement.
From fertility and menopause to metabolic changes that affect your weight, your health needs will shift as you get older — which means your health strategy should, as well. From your 20s to your 60s, here are smart women’s health tips to stay control of your health as you age.
Your 20s are all about establishing a solid foundation for good health, and that starts with finding the right doctors. For instance, you should begin to get annual physicals at this age, if you haven’t started already. Your doctor may recommend various health screenings, including those for high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and cervical cancer (also known as a Pap smear). To cover your bases, you’ll want to find both a primary care provider and a gynecologist.
Get recommendations from people you trust, do your own research and visit your insurer’s health portal or call to see which providers are in your network. When you establish a relationship with a qualified medical provider early on, they can help you learn more about your health history before health conditions appear. That simple step of understanding your health makes taking preventive measures to stay healthy that much easier.
In your 30s, you should continue the healthy habits you started in your 20s. Your reproductive health will be a big focus, so continue to do Pap smears to screen for cervical cancer.
Women’s metabolisms tend to slow in their 30s and 40s — just at the same time your life gets busier with family, work and social obligations — which means maintaining a healthy weight will be more challenging going forward. Obesity and being overweight are often linked to an increased risk for certain chronic conditions, so incorporate physical activity at least a few times a week into your routine and aim to reduce the amount of salt, sugar and saturated fat in your diet.
In your 40s, being proactive about your health is even more important than before, since your body will only ramp up its metabolic changes.
Regular checkups with your doctor are crucial in this decade. They’ll be what helps you spot and treat health problems before they become more serious. Depending on your family history and other risk factors, at 40 you should begin to get annual mammograms to screen for breast cancer. Around this time you may also get your first early screenings for conditions such as certain other cancers. While all this is happening, though, don’t stop your other screenings. Keep an eye out for high blood pressure and cholesterol.
Once you turn 50, it’s even more critical to pay attention to your heart health, since heart disease is the leading killer of women. If you’ve been neglecting your diet up until this point, now is a fantastic time to turn it around. Regular exercise can help you ward off heart disease, or at least reduce your risk for the condition if you have a family history.
During this decade, you’ll also transition from annual mammograms to doing this test every one to two years, as long as you’re considered low risk. At 50, you’ll begin colon cancer screenings, which may involve a blood test, colonoscopy, DNA test or other exams.
Women have a greater risk of osteoporosis as they age — 80% of people in the U.S. with osteoporosis are women. So, begin osteoporosis screening now. Your doctor may recommend you get a bone density test to measure the levels of calcium and other minerals in your bones, since low levels increase your risk for a fracture or break. If testing shows that you have a high risk for osteoporosis, make a point of choosing calcium-rich foods or take a supplement.
Conditions like the flu and pneumonia can be particularly harmful when you’re older, so prioritize health maintenance as you enter your 60s. That includes getting the flu shot every year, making sure you’ve had the pneumonia vaccine and not delaying a visit to the doctor when you don’t feel well.
Unfortunately, cognitive decline can happen as you get older, so pay attention to the health of your mind as well. Keep your brain active by reading, doing puzzles and making every effort to avoid social isolation, which affects your risk for dementia and depression.
Getting — and Staying — Healthy Every Decade
Like much else in life, aging is complicated, and the good is often balanced with its fair share of frustrations. But navigating physical, emotional and mental changes as you age becomes easier when you’re consistent about how you take care of your health.
Following the women’s health tips outlined here is a great start. Some health advice, such as eating well and exercising, applies at any age — even if you can only manage low-impact workouts like walking. But most importantly, listen to your body. Keep up with regular checkups, but if you notice changes or feel that something’s wrong, schedule an appointment. Being proactive can help you stay healthy for years to come.