A decade-by-decade guide to women’s health
Each decade of a woman’s life brings many milestones: A college degree, their first child, the corner office and even retirement. In fact, they’re so busy taking care of their loved ones and solving problems at work and home that many forget about their health milestones.
“Women, in general, are good at taking care of their health, but there are still a lot who neglect themselves and put others’ needs first,” says Lana Lange, M.D., a board-certified Ob/Gyn with The Christ Hospital Obstetrics & Gynecology Associates.
Make your health a priority and follow Dr. Lange’s guide to good health through the decades.
Your 20s: Be carefree, not careless
Your 20s are the time to educate yourself on your health history, establish healthy routines and start a relationship with your gynecologist and primary care physician.
- Make friends with your doctors. “Having a physician who knows your medical history well can help him or her diagnose problems early and get to know how to manage any health conditions,” Dr. Lange says. Find a gynecologist for your reproductive and breast health and a family practice doctor for any other concerns.
- Protect your fertility. Children may seem like a long way off, but taking care of your fertility starts now. Screen for and treat any STDs when you become sexually active. Chlamydia, gonorrhea and pelvic infections are linked to female infertility. You should also start Pap tests when you become sexually active or turn 21 to check for the human papillomavirus, or HPV, which can be a precursor to cervical cancer. Also, talk to your mom about any female health problems in your family, such as reproductive cancers, uterine fibroids or endomiosis. “Your gynecologist needs to know your sexual and family history to protect you from problems when you’re ready to become pregnant,” Dr. Lange says.
- Safeguard your skin. Tanning may seem like a good idea now, but you won’t appreciate the wrinkles, sunspots or elevated skin cancer risk that may appear later in life. Follow these skin protection tips and start annual skin cancer screenings.
Your 30s: A time to thrive
You’re finally established in your career and family. Now is the time to watch for subtle changes in your health and get those baseline screenings.
- Be ready for baby. This is the decade when many women start hearing the tick-tock of their biological clock. “If you’re thinking about conceiving, you should come in for preconception counseling,” Dr. Lange recommends. “We can screen for any genetic abnormalities, prescribe prenatal vitamins and make sure any chronic conditions are under control.”
- Start screenings now. You’ll need to get your baseline cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure levels checked for heart health. Recheck your cholesterol every five years. Of course, continue with breast self-exams, your annual Pap test and other cancer screenings, depending on your risk factors.
- Find work-life balance. You can have a career, family and social life. Find ways to prioritize what’s best for your life and keep stress down by saying no to extra demands. Don’t make excuses to get out of routine screenings. “Keeping your annual appointment with your gynecologist is something that just needs to take priority,” Dr. Lange says. “What’s more important than your health?”
Your 40s: Hit your peak
Your 40s are a time for enjoying what you’ve been working so hard for in your 20s and 30s. You’ll also start one of the most important preventive screenings of your life.
- Schedule your mammogram. In addition to recognizing the symptoms of breast cancer, women should stick to the specific screening guidelines and get a baseline mammogram at age 40. It’s the best tool for detecting breast cancer in its earliest stages.
- Watch your weight. As middle age knocks on your door, it sometimes brings along an unwelcome metabolism-zapping friend. As metabolism slows, women can add pounds around the mid-section and lower trunk, raising the risk for heart disease or diabetes. Strength and aerobic training exercises and a healthy diet can maintain your weight (and metabolism). Learn what weight is healthy for your body type here.
- Avoid the mid-life crisis. Not every mid-life crisis arrives in the form of a red sports car. Too much stress or major life changes, such as your kids leaving the nest, can cause depression. Get emotional support from your partner or friends, focus on a new healthy hobby, or join a support group if you think you’re at risk.
Your 50s: Get better with age
In your 50s, along with planning for retirement, keep up on routine screenings and get prepared for some new changes to your body.
- Schedule your colonoscopy. Everyone should receive their first colonoscopy by age 50. Colonoscopy can prevent colon cancer by discovering and removing suspicious masses before they become malignant, as well as diagnose other digestive conditions.
- Discuss menopausal changes. Hot flashes, low libido and irritability don’t have to be a part of menopausal changes. Talk to your doctor about how changing estrogen levels will affect your overall health (especially your heart) and what you can do about it.
- Keep up your screenings. Schedule a baseline bone density test to check for osteoporosis and continue your routine screenings, including tests for breast, cervical and skin cancer.
Your 60s and Beyond: Enjoy the golden years
In your 60s and beyond, think of those laugh lines as a constant reminder of the blessings you have and the joys that have shaped you into the person you are today. These decades are all about maintaining your mental and physical health.
- Put on your thinking cap. Mental fitness can ward off dementia and other chronic diseases as much as physical fitness. Incorporate simple puzzles, board games or computer activities and follow current events to keep a sharp mind.
- Count on your social circle. No matter if retirement leaves you restless or not, make exercise, meaningful conversations and social outings a part of each day. It will help ward off depression, illness and even dementia.
- Expose lurking health issues. In addition to screening for cancers, heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis, get your hearing and vision tested. Take The Christ Hospital’s Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment to identify any other lurking health issues.
Get more head-to-toe health advice for women by making an appointment with your physician. Call 877-904-4YOU to find one today.