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

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

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 resolve to be your healthiest self now.

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.


Great Health At Every Age: Exercise

“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.”

Screening Tests That Start in This Decade

Breast cancer screening

Great Health At Every Age: Visit Your Doctor Regularly

The recommendation for when to begin regular mammograms varies and is often dependent on family history, but the doctors note that many women start at age 40.

“While this topic often comes with much controversy, it is an individual choice as to whether women want to begin screening mammograms at the age of 40 versus 50,” says Ahn. “One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, so earlier screening allows us to capture some of these breast cancers at earlier stages, and therefore, hopefully leads to better outcomes with less toxic treatment.”

Ahn adds, “Discuss with your physician whether you might be a candidate for a screening breast MRI, which is often considered for women with dense breasts. Some states actually have laws mandating that patients be informed of this option if their mammograms document dense breasts.”


Healthy Living Tips

Eat well.

Great Health At Every Age: Eat Well

“Keep eating healthfully and think about really cutting down on refined grains, sugar, alcohol and processed foods,” says Mendoza Temple. “The body is more sensitive to excess calories and toxins during this potentially chaotic time for women. For men, my advice is the same, as the pressure of aging can start or already have shown up.” Mendoza Temple is such a believer in juicing as a way to access healthy foods fast that she co-owns Mingle Juice Bar in Glenview as a secondary business.

Mendoza Temple also recommends aiming for eating clean 80 percent of the time. “Enjoy all things in moderation, cliché as that may be,” advises Mendoza Temple. She adds that people should push themselves to make progress, but still be realistic. “You will fail if you seek perfection,” she says.

Prioritize sleep.

Keeping a regular sleep schedule is also key to good health, and while it’s a wise approach at all ages, Mendoza Temple stresses the importance of sleep for individuals in their fifties.

Build a relationship with your doctor.

“In my opinion, a physician with a personal passion and experience (both personally and professionally) in integrative medicine/health is critical,” says Ahn. “However, the most important physician in your life will always still end up being you. So look for a physician who understands the tremendous value of educating their patients and empowering them to be effective stewards of their own health.”

Screening Tests That Start in This Decade

Colorectal cancer screening

For both men and women, the USPSTF recommends screening for colorectal cancer using high- sensitivity fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy beginning at age 50 years and continuing until age 75 years. Colonoscopy is the most common test.

Prostate cancer screening

It’s also time for men to discuss prostate cancer screening with their doctors. “The guidelines have changed and it’s about looking at the individual and weighing the risks versus the benefits of screening for each person,” explains Ecker, noting that the conversation should start with your primary care doctor.

Lung cancer screening

The USPSTF recommends lung cancer screenings beginning at age 55. “Most commonly, low-dose CT scans are the preferred method of screening for lung cancer,” says Ahn. “While most people feel that screening is not necessary if they are not showing any symptoms, note that most early lung cancers are asymptomatic, which is why screening is so important.”


Healthy Living Tips

Focus on comprehensive healthy living.

Great Health At Ever Age: Do Yoga

All of the above still applies, and the physicians all stressed the importance of working toward good health at all ages, including in one’s sixties. “While the benefits may be greater if you have an active and healthy lifestyle beginning at a younger age, it is never too late to implement healthy living techniques,” stresses Ahn. He notes that doing so includes eating a diet of lots of fruits and vegetables as well as lean proteins like chicken and fish, and suggests avoiding empty calories and foods with little-to-no nutritional value such as sodas and processed foods.

Screening Tests That Start in This Decade

Vitamin D25 levels

“Although not listed in the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, I recommend that all healthy individuals have their vitamin D25 levels checked,” says Ahn. “Fifty percent of people in the United States are vitamin D deficient, and 75 percent of people in the Midwest are deficient.”

Bone density testing

The risk of bone fracture and osteoporosis escalates as women age, which is why the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that bone density testing begins for women at age 65. Eckert notes that women who have an individual history or family history of fractures should start bone density tests at an earlier age.

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