Women’s Heath: Decade by Decade
Moms, you make sure your kids take their vitamins, eat their veggies and get plenty of sleep. But taking care of your own personal health is equally important. After all, women play a central role in the home, workforce and community. Caring for yourself well assures that all the roles you fill can be done to the fullest potential. Here is a step-by-step guide to taking charge of your health decade by decade.
In Your 20s
You’re young and carefree. This is the time to focus on establishing healthy habits that will last a lifetime. Quit smoking (or better yet, don’t start at all). Limit alcohol consumption. And find an exercise program that’s right for you, aiming for 30 minutes a day (play around until you find an exercise routine that is fun and not a chore). While long-term health might be the last thought on your mind, establishing a relationship with a primary care physician now, along with a gynecologist, may be your best bet in early detection and preventive care. This is also the time to focus on proper nutrition, skin care and good sleep habits. After all, practice makes permanent. The habits you develop now are ones that should be worth sustaining into your 30s and 40s. Maintaining a healthy weight is much easier than trying to lose weight later. Wear sunscreen daily. And aim for a full eight hours of sleep a night. This is also a good time to research your family health history. Consult with your mom to see whether your family has any female health issues such as uterine fibroids or endometriosis, as well as any reproductive cancers.
In Your 30s
For many women, this is a season of constant juggling. Careers become established. Children are often a part of the picture. Even if you put healthy habits in place in your 20s, you may find it easy to let them slip in the balance of trying to do everything else. Don’t! Schedule annual well checks and be on the lookout for subtle changes in your health. Within your doctor’s appointments, you should have your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar checked, as well as receive annual pap smears. Continue to perform breast self-exams and, depending on your risk factors, begin cancer screenings. Increase your calcium intake and begin incorporating high intensity interval training (HIIT) into your workout routine. Many women notice their metabolism begins to decrease around age 35. This can be increasingly challenging if you’re carrying extra weight post-pregnancy. Consider getting a pedometer, which is great for goal setting and doesn’t require extra time throughout your day (simply parking farther back in a parking lot or taking the stairs instead of elevator can help you achieve your step goal all while doing necessary tasks). Be kind to yourself and know your limits. If you find yourself battling anxiety, inform your health care provider.
In Your 40s
This decade is considered one of the most critical for long-term health, according to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of KC. A woman’s metabolism continues to be on the decline within her 40s, making it easy to put on weight around the midsection and trunk. Added weight in these areas increases the risk for hypertension and heart disease. Including both strength training and aerobic activity in a regular fitness routine is important to combat both conditions while also maintaining a healthy weight. Even if you don’t eat more than normal, gaining weight is still possible. Aim to eat smaller meals more frequently. Up your leafy greens and reduce your sugar intake but don’t completely deprive yourself (most doctors discourage this as people commonly make matters worse by going overboard later). Women are at increased risk of Type 2 diabetes after 40. The American Diabetes Association recommends screenings for diabetes every three years starting at 45. Depression is also most commonly detected during a woman’s 40s. Although experts don’t have an explanation for this, one contributor may be perimenopause, the onset of menopause which typically affects women by their late 40s. Another cause may be the unique life season women find themselves in, juggling both the care of children and aging parents. Take time for your emotional health by building healthy relationships and establishing a new hobby.
In Your 50s
Most women will have gone through menopause by their mid 50s. Routine exams and screenings should continue to be kept in place. In addition to standard care, this is the time to be vigilant about your heart health. Heart disease is the number one killer of women in America, and most women who experience it tend to develop risks throughout their 50s because of the decrease in heart-protecting estrogen that happens throughout menopause. Ninety-five percent of heart attack patients show signs of one or more risk factors, so make sure to have ongoing conversations with your doctor about your numbers. If you suffer from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or obesity, consult with your doctor about getting a stress test or EKG in addition to standard tests. All cancer risks increase with age, but the most noted concerns in a woman’s 50s are breast and colon cancer. Your first colonoscopy should be scheduled at 50 (and with normal results should not be needed again for another 10 years). Mammograms should take place annually, with Pap smears occurring every three years.
Lauren Greenlee is a freelance writing boy mom hailing from Olathe.
As always, please consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns.