April 16, 2018

Great Health at Every Age: A Decade-by-Decade Guide to Living 

Getting and staying healthy should always be a priority, but you may not know all you could be doing to ensure that you stay on top of your health and the risks associated with aging. Today is the first day of the rest of your life, so kick off 2017 with a resolution to do all you can to be your healthiest self.
We asked the experts what people can do at various ages and stages to take the best possible care of themselves. They offered general suggestions, noting that each individual is different. “What’s right for one person may not be right for another. Everything should be individualized for the patient,” says Dr. Hillary Ecker , internal medicine specialist at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital.
Many avoid screening tests, but doctors emphasize that they are key to good health. “Prevention is far less expensive and far less stress-inducing than disease,” says Dr. Leslie Mendoza Temple , medical director of the Integrative Medicine Program at NorthShore University HealthSystem and clinical assistant professor of Family Medicine at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine . She has had patients who regret not being screened after they were diagnosed with cancer that could have been caught at earlier stages. “Suck it up and do it. It may save your life,” she urges.
Healthy Living Tips
Compile your family medical history.
If you haven’t already done this, now is a good time to start talking to relatives and then sharing the information with your doctor. Family health history influences many decisions about testing and screening. Eckert says it’s particularly important to know about any history of breast, ovarian and colon cancer as well as early coronary artery disease, sudden cardiac death, high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes. “You may be perfectly fine now, but being aware of your history and whether you are at risk can allow you to make the necessary lifestyle changes before it becomes a problem,” explains Eckert. “And everyone prefers to make lifestyle changes instead of taking medication.”
Establish basic healthy habits if you haven’t already.
“Wear sunscreen, wear seat belts, see your dentist regularly and don’t smoke — or stop if you do,” says Eckert.
“Cultivate a strong ethic of ‘use it or lose it’ when it comes to exercise,” recommends Mendoza Temple. “The healthy, strong, muscular body you craft from the get-go will carry into the next decades as the ravages of aging are stymied by the strong foundation you built.”
Take folic acid.
The CDC says all women between 15 and 45 years of age should take 0.4 mg of folic acid, noting that doing so prevents spina bifida and anencephaly, birth defects that occur early in pregnancy and typically before most women know they are pregnant.
Screening Tests That Start In This Decade
Annual physical
Now is the time to establish a relationship with a primary care physician. “Everyone should have a physical with their primary care doctor and at that visit, they will take your blood pressure and use your height and weight to measure your body mass index,” says Eckert. “Everything depends on those results.”
The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends blood pressure be checked every one to two years in light of the fact that one in three Americans have high blood pressure.
At an annual physical, doctors will also do a physical exam and often conduct blood tests to determine cholesterol, fasting blood sugar, and possibly more depending on factors like family history and weight.
Pap smear
Women should have regular pap smears, and Eckert notes that the recommendation now is that they happen every three years continuing through a woman’s thirties, forties and fifties unless there is a family history or abnormal result, which require more frequent testing.
Sexually active adults up to age 65 should be screened for HIV, according to recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).
Healthy Living Tips
Note: All of the recommendations for the thirties also apply to subsequent decades.
Keep exercising.
If you haven’t established a regular exercise routine, do so now. It’s not too late. “You can start exercising any time,” says Mendoza Temple. “Make it your goal to get in the best shape that you can possibly be in right now.” She recommends getting a personal trainer if your budget allows, both because having a set appointment and financial commitment increase the likelihood of one making it to the gym, and because a trainer will help make workouts appropriately challenging.
Exercising three to five times a week for at least 30 minutes is a good starting point, according to Eckert.
Practice self-care.
Self-care becomes increasingly important in this decade, and it also becomes more difficult, especially for members of the sandwich generation caring for children and aging parents simultaneously. Mendoza Temple stresses maintaining emotional health. “Cultivate a spiritual practice if you haven’t already. Stress levels and life’s growing complexity mean we need to skillfully subvert the danger of getting overwhelmed and burnt out from it all,” she says.
Dr. Eugene Ahn , medical director of clinical research and hematologist/oncologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Midwestern Regional Medical Center agrees. He recommends yoga and mindfulness to promote a sense of calm. “But the best meditation, so to speak, is the life you live,” he says. “Your life reflects all of your core beliefs about yourself and the world around you. If it is not what you like, work with a life coach, mind-body therapist or psychologist now to find out what those core beliefs are that are not serving you. You then have the power to change those beliefs, and likewise change your life more to your liking.”

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