Taking care of your health as you mature
Ahh, your 20s.
Back then, you could eat what looked good, stay up all night, and indulge to your heart’s content. You bounced back faster, had plenty of energy, and wondered why older people complained about aches and pains.
The 30s are a bit of a wake-up call. Heavy meals may not sit well, and it may take longer to recover from a tough workout or a night out.
If you’re in great physical shape with no chronic conditions, you may not notice this slowdown until your 40s. This is the decade you start wondering who made the print on labels so small and why your elbow hurts if you only pitched five innings of softball for your team.
If you’re a parent, you’re probably taking your kids to the pediatrician regularly. But when was the last time you saw your own health care provider? Or do you even need to? After all, you think your tetanus shot is up to date. And all that junk food you ate in the last decade couldn’t have caused any real damage, right?
The 30s and 40s are busy decades. But they’re also a good time to take care of your physical health. Doing so will help you feel better now and avoid problems later.
Here are some things you can do to build health in your 30s and 40s.
- Make physical movement a habit. Muscle mass begins declining after 30. You may lose 3 to 5 percent each decade.[i] Being active helps you hang on to muscle and even build it. In your 30s, your body reaches “peak bone mass”—the most bone you will ever have. Bone loss begins, but regular exercise can help slow this down.[ii]
- Sleep seven to nine hours a night. Sleep patterns do change with age, and this can start in your 30s.[iii] Getting enough quality sleep makes a huge difference to your memory, alertness, ability to maintain a healthy diet, and much more.[iv] Oh, and by the way, you can’t make it up on weekends. The body doesn’t work that way.
- Keep a healthy weight. This does not have to mean “thin.” Instead, ask yourself: does my weight raise my risk for cancer, diabetes, arthritis and other diseases? If it does, am I OK with that? Is my family?
- Ask your health care provider about any other healthy habits to follow. They can help you address that smoking habit you may have held on to from college or learn how to prepare meals you enjoy that are actually good for you.
- Manage alcohol consumption. Are you “sober curious?” Wondering what your life would be like if you didn’t wake up with a headache, or why a couple of glasses of wine now affect your balance? The US Centers for Disease Control provides information on how drinking alcohol affects your physical and emotional health. Exercise, time in nature, meditation, or even music can relieve anxiety and provide pleasure in a way that doesn’t take the toll on your body alcohol can.
Do you need that annual physical?
Recommendations vary, even by experts. Cleveland Clinic family doctor Daniel Allan, MD, recommends that men see a health care provider at least every two years until age 40, and annually after that.[v] Having a checkup is a good way to learn how often you need one. The problem is, the usual physical does not go deep enough and evaluate the root causes of disease that you can prevent. Ask your doctor to do an integrative health visit using the HOPE Toolkit to learn how you may need to support yourself for better physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
For women, an annual “well woman” appointment is covered by insurance. Your health care provider usually performs a brief in-person physical examination plus pelvic exam and, every five years, a Pap smear to check for cervical cancer. You may also give a blood or urine sample and get shots, such as a tetanus, flu or COVID shots.
Bring any questions, including how often you need to come back and whether you need to see a specialist, with you. Ask if there are any additional test that might be useful to calculate you biological (not just chronological) age. There are though they are not covered by insurance. However, don’t expect to spend an hour with your provider. It’s more common today to use email for health questions or call the office to speak to a nurse or other provider.
An ounce of prevention
Basic health screenings now can prevent disease later. Below is a quick list of screenings to ask your health care provider about. Your doctor can tell you when and how often you should have these tests based on your personal risk profile.
Note: In “for men” column below, we mean people who have XY chromosomes. In the “for women” column, we mean people with XX chromosomes. Ask your health care provider about the screenings you need and when, based on family history and other factors.
Why it’s important
|Blood sugar levels||Blood sugar levels||Almost 40 percent of U.S. adults have pre-diabetes, chronically high blood sugar that harms all your body systems.[vi] If there is diabetes in your family, ask about testing for this condition. You can take steps to prevent type 2 diabetes.|
|Cervical cancer – Pap smear and HPV test every 5 years after age 30||Cervical cancer is most frequently diagnosed between 35 and 44.[vii]
It is much easier to treat successfully when found early.
|Testicular cancer – Doctor’s exam and self-exam at home||Testicular cancer is most often found in the 30s.[viii]
This cancer is very treatable.
|Blood cholesterol levels||Blood cholesterol levels||High cholesterol can lead to heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S. Cholesterol testing is now sometimes recommended even in children.[ix]|
|High blood pressure – Simple test in doctor’s office; home screening for those at higher risk||High blood pressure – Simple test in doctor’s office; home screening for those at higher risk||Risk of heart disease, the number one cause of death in the U.S.
We now know keeping your blood pressure at a healthy level can help prevent heart disease, stroke and dementia later in life.[x]
|Breast cancer – mammograms starting at 40 or when your provider recommends||Mammograms can find breast cancer in the early stages, when treatment is more likely to be effective.[xi] You may want to ask about genetic testing if you have breast cancer in your family.|
|Colon cancer check||Colon cancer check||The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends starting screenings at age 45 unless you are at higher risk due to:[xii]
Talk with your doctor about the best screening type based on your risk.
|Skin cancer check||Skin cancer check[xiii]||Skin cancers are very common. The most serious form, melanoma, can be deadly if not found and treated early. Ask your health care provider about being checked for skin cancer and checking on your own.|
|Eye exam – Every 2 years between 18 and 40 if eyes are healthy, more often if you are at higher risk.||Eye exam – Every 2 years between 18 and 40 if eyes are healthy, more often if you are at higher risk.||Can find problems early, preventing serious eye health and vision problems in later life.[xiv]|
|Biological age or “real age” screening, if interested.||Biological age or “real age” screening, if interested.||There are many simple and often inexpensive ways to check what your “biological” (physical) age is and compare it to your age in years (chronological age).
While the value of these screening tools is still uncertain, some may be worth exploring as you think about your long-term health. You may want to read the book True Age by Yale University researcher Morgan Levine, PhD.
Questions to ask yourself
Your 30s and 40s are often when you really notice physical changes. They can also be a time to start improving your health. Paying attention to exercise, sleep, checkups and screenings are great ways to support yourself – and create whole-person health now and in your future.
[i] Harvard Health Publishing. Preserve your muscle mass. February 19, 2016. Available at https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/preserve-your-muscle-mass. Accessed June 13, 2022.
[iii] Mander BA, Winer JR, Walker MP. Sleep and human aging. Neuron 2017 (94): 19-36. Available at https://www.cell.com/neuron/fulltext/S0896-6273(17)30088-0. Accessed June 13, 2022.
[iv] American Sleep Association. How sleep changes with aging. Available at https://www.sleepassociation.org/sleep-news/sleep-changes-aging/?highlight=aging. Accessed June 13, 2022.
[v] Cleveland Clinic.org. Why you need an annual physical (and what to expect). June 9, 2021. Available at https://health.clevelandclinic.org/why-you-need-an-annual-physical-and-what-to-expect/. Accessed June 13, 2022.
[vi] US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevalence of prediabetes among adults. Last reviewed December 29, 2021. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/data/statistics-report/prevalence-of-prediabetes.html. Accessed June 13, 2021.
[vii] Cancer.net. Cervical cancer: Statistics. Available at https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/cervical-cancer/statistics. Approved January 2022. Accessed June 13, 2022.
[viii] American Cancer Society. Key statistics for testicular cancer. Last revised January 12, 2022. Available at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/testicular-cancer/about/key-statistics.html. Accessed June 13, 2022.
[ix] US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How and when to have your cholesterol checked. Last reviewed April 15, 2021. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/checked.htm. Accessed June 13, 2021.
[xi] National Cancer Institute. Mammograms. Updated September 30, 2021. Accessed June 13, 2021.
[xii] US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What should I know about screening? Last reviewed February 17, 2022. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/colorectal/basic_info/screening/index.htm. Accessed July 25, 2022.
[xiii] US Centers for Disease Control. Skin Cancer. What screening tests are there? Last reviewed April 18, 2022. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/screening.htm. Accessed July 7, 2022.
[xiv] American Optometric Association. Adult vision: 18 to 40 years of age. Available at https://www.aoa.org/healthy-eyes/eye-health-for-life/adult-vision-19-to-40-years-of-age?sso=y. Accessed July 7, 2022.
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