Women’s Health by Decade

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.

“The earlier you can start an active and healthier lifestyle, the more likely you’ll continue it as you age,” said Maddie Nizamis, certified personal trainer and certified in fitness nutrition, operates Studio 22 Personal Training in East Rochester.

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 states. Take care of any dental issues promptly.

Prepare for pregnancy. Discuss your health with your provider before you conceive and contraception if you want to space your children or once your family is complete.

Breastfeed your babies. “The fewer ovulations a woman has in her lifetime, the lower her risk of ovarian and breast cancer,” said Allison Spath, international board-certified lactation consultant with Beautiful Birth Choices in Rochester.

Along with babies come sleepless nights, so moms should accept help and prioritize rest.

“ You don’t have to do it all yourself; it won’t end well,” said Adriana Lozada, owner and post-partum educator and owners of Birthful in Rochester.

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.

“A lot of times, that’s when people notice a significant change in metabolism,” said Elizabeth Cullen, doctorate in physical therapy and owner of CNY Physical Therapy and Aquatics in the Syracuse area.

She encouraged women to ramp up their fitness routine and strength training.

It’s also vital to begin 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 when children 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.

“I see people’s bodies changing the most dramatically in this decade,” said Nizamis, certified personal trainer who is certified in fitness nutrition. “What they have to do to maintain weigh in their 20s doesn’t work anymore. I also see people start to move into hormonal changes in pre-menopause. Hormones effect weight gain in the midsection. Strength training is the number one thing to do for hormones. Sugar is a culprit that doesn’t help out in the midsection, either.”

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.

“Balance tends to be lost as we age, as well as muscle tone,” Nizamis said. “What we naturally have in our 20s, we don’t naturally have into our 50s. Keep up with flexibility and balance are essential.”

Keep track of your own health by knowing the signs of heart attack, stroke and aneurism. At this point, your 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. Your provider can keep closer tabs on your 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.

“Range of motion is important,” Nizamis said. “Functional training is essential and that’s something I focus on. Body weight, like a squat and a plank hold. Having control of our own bodies, being able to carry the groceries inside from the car these are very important.”

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. Volunteers, join clubs and stay social.

“If you’re capable, keep on keeping on with physical activity,” Nizamis said.

If arthritis bothers you, ask your doctor what you can do. Many find that walking and swimming help their symptoms.

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.

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