By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Preventive health measures can help us maintain good health. As Ben Franklin stated, “A stitch in time saves nine.”
While we can’t do anything to change the genetics we were born with, we can mitigate health risks by preventing some health issues decade by decade.
In your 20s
The healthful habits established in your teens and 20s offer a lifetime of benefits, according to Barb St. Pierre, who has a bachelor’s in exercise science and is certified with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She also owns Trillium Sport & Fitness in Syracuse and is a certified personal trainer.
St. Pierre believes that the earlier women adopt good habits of health, such as dietary supplements, exercise and strength training, the better.
“It becomes more and more important as we age,” she added.
You greatly reduce risk of obesity, metabolic disorders, nutrient deficiencies, heart disease, cancer and more by eating right and staying active.
It’s also important to drink only in moderation and abstain from tobacco use. Tobacco damages every cell of the body and represents a factor in numerous disease processes.
Young women also need to get plenty of calcium to enjoy strong bones later in life.
Taking care of your teeth — flossing daily, brushing after meals, avoiding sugary and starchy snacks and visiting your dentist regularly — correlates with heart health, mounting evidence indicates. Take care of any dental issues promptly.
Prepare for pregnancy. Discuss with your health care provider health issues before you conceive and contraception if you want to space your children or once your family is complete.
Breastfeed your babies.
“We’re getting growing evidence that it benefits moms,” said physician Jayne Charlamb, SUNY Upstate associate professor in the department of OB-GYN and director of Upstate’s breastfeeding program. “Moms who don’t breastfeed are at higher risk for heart disease, ovarian cancer and breast cancer. It is the normal, physiological way your body resets itself after pregnancy.”
Along with babies come sleepless nights, so moms should accept help and prioritize rest.
In your 30s
In the 30s, many women become extremely busy with family, household and employment responsibilities, which can make it difficult to keep weight off. St. Pierre said these aren’t excuses.
“It’s life,” she said. “There’s always too much going on, but you need consistency. At least three times a week, work out to stay in the game.”
As another factor, women discover that their bodies don’t respond the same to exercise.
“A lot of times, that’s when people notice a significant change in metabolism,” said Elizabeth Cullen, who holds a doctorate in physical therapy and owns CNY Physical Therapy and Aquatics in Camillus and North Syracuse.
Start performing self breast exams monthly if you’re not already. Report any suspicious lumps, bumps, discharge or discoloration to your provider.
In your 40s
The 40s can be a stressful decade with children who are middle school-aged or teens with crazy schedules. Unwind in healthful ways, such as connecting with friends and family and joining in relaxing hobbies not with substances.
Also in this decade, ask your care provider about when you should begin mammograms.
“Around this time, you start to lose some urinary control function,” Cullen said. “Make sure you’re able to do pelvic floor contractions — Kegels — correctly or get to a doctor or physical therapist who can show you how to do them.”
She added that weight bearing activity and strength training can help prevent osteoporosis later.
“If you wait until your 50s and 60s, it could be too late,” she said.
In your 50s
In your 50s, caring for elderly parents while still working can make maintaining fitness more challenging, but it’s still vital for good health. Get help with elderly parents as needed.
“You need to gear up and think about bone density, flexibility and balance,” St. Pierre said. “In the 50s those become a big thing. So many people lose it and don’t pay attention to it. They chalk it up to being older. That’s not true. Any of these things we can combat through a good balance and flexibility program.”
Know the signs of heart attack, stroke and aneurism. At this point, risk goes up, particularly if you haven’t managed your weight and watched your diet. Take “minor” illnesses seriously. It will take longer to recover from the flu. Don’t push yourself when you’re sick.
Have an annual physical if you aren’t already to track vital numbers like blood pressure, cholesterol and weight. Discuss any menopausal symptoms; you have more options than hormone replacement therapy.
Get a baseline vision and hearing exam so you can benchmark any future vision or hearing loss.
In your 60s
When you reach your 60s, “make sure you take care of yourself,” Cullen said. “Many times, people care for their significant other or the grandkids. Your stuff gets pushed off for years, sometimes, and we’re dealing with back pain that you’ve had 20 years because someone else takes precedent. Things are much easier to handle if you deal with them right away.”
Obtain a bone density scan. Even if your bones are fine, it’s good to have a benchmark so you can tell if you’re losing bone later.
Ask your doctor about colonoscopy and any other exams and screenings based upon your family health history. Speak up if you experience “embarrassing” issues like incontinence, low libido, or vaginal dryness. You won’t embarrass your care provider.
You may also consider seeing a geriatrician, as their medical expertise can address the multi-faceted medical issues often accompanying older age. Ask about vaccinations, like pneumonia.
In your 70s and beyond
In your 70s and beyond, it’s all about staying active and involved. Becoming isolated can hurt your health, since you move less and aren’t as mentally engaged when alone. Volunteer, join clubs and stay social.
If pain hampers you, ask your doctor what you can do.
“Cycling is great for people with knee replacement,” St. Pierre said as one example. “You can cover a lot of ground and it’s relaxing.”
If some chores become too much, ask for help.
“A lot of times, people won’t ask for help because they don’t want to look weak, but if they fall and get hurt, they make end up in a nursing home,” Cullen said.
Stay positive. By focusing on what you still have and fostering an outlook of gratitude, it’s easier to look forward instead of ruminating over the past.