By Lisa R. Schoolcraft
Our by-the-decade checklist helps women see where their health measures up for their age.
As women age, their needs change and, so does their health. The concerns they have in their 30s are not the same ones they have in their 60s. To help keep you ladies at your best, we’ve compiled a list of recommended exams, tests and visits for women at every age. Plus, we’ve got tips from local health experts on important subjects like skin, fitness and menopause.
(Please see Printed Issue of BSA for comprehensive checklist or see downloadable PDF here)
30s: Weight Loss and Fitness
“It’s never too late to start a journey to fitness and weight loss,” says Chuck Deason, a trainer at Concourse Athletic Club. “If you haven’t already started an active lifestyle, develop quality sleep habits and start healthy eating, first. Begin your goals from there.”
“Set short-term achievable goals to reach a longer-term objective of better health,” Deason explains. “Having success early when developing new habits will keep you motivated, and you will be more likely to stick to your new habits.”
For women in their 30s, a healthy body fat percentage is 21%-33%. The three most common ways to calculate body fat percentage are a tape measure, a skin fold caliper or a body composition scan. It is important to note that body fat percentage (BFP) is not the same as body mass index (BMI), which is measured differently.
At any age, resistance training, which includes exercises like pushups, situps, squats, lunges and pullups, along with any weight training exercises, is the best way to make lasting changes to your metabolism. It helps add and maintain lean muscle, which helps burn more calories. Other benefits of resistance training include higher bone density (which is especially important in women), lower blood pressure and improved energy levels. In addition to resistance training, Deason recommends avoiding calorie-restrictive diets, which can slow metabolism.
40s: Skin Care
It is important to have regular screenings every one to two years by a board-certified dermatologist to keep your skin in tiptop shape. People with a family history of skin cancer, who are prone to freckles or who have a large number of moles should be seen even more frequently. “Light-skinned individuals with a history of sunburn, tanning or frequent sun exposure should begin regular screenings no later than their late 30s,” says Dr. Josh Hammel, a board-certified dermatologist with Dermatology Specialists.
“Aging of the skin caused by repeated exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is also called photoaging,” he explains. “While a lot of damage is done during childhood and young adulthood, without proper protection, the majority of damage occurs in late adulthood, middle age and beyond!” Hammel adds that people with fairer skin, lighter-colored eyes and lighter-colored hair are more susceptible to damage and photoaging than others.
So, what preventative steps can we take to keep our skin healthy? “The most important protective measure is to wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher daily with frequent (every two hours) reapplication,” says Hammel. “And don’t forget your hands, exposed forearms, neck (front, sides, back), and chest in addition to the face.”
50s: Hormones & Menopause
“Most women experience menopause in their 50s,”says Dr. Paul E. Cox of Vital Living Healthcare.
“Their cycle stops between 45 to 54. This results in hormone deficiency symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, sleeplessness, irritability, depression, anxiety, brain fog and fatigue.
“All of these symptoms could be attributed to hormone loss and can be corrected with the administration of the correct type of hormone replacement therapy by a qualified physician. If you have these symptoms, see a doctor that specializes in hormone therapy and have your hormones checked.” He suggests doing research and seeking help from someone trained by the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M).
“Being in good health is essential to maintain healthy hormone levels on our own as long as we can, but everyone will eventually need hormonal support,” says Cox. “Smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, high stress and other poor health habits will hasten hormone dysfunction in both men and women.”
60s: Heart Health & Stroke Prevention
“Men and women should be concerned about heart health from the time they are born,” says Dr. Laurence S. Sperling, founder of the Preventive Cardiology Program at Emory Healthcare.
“Heart health accrues over one’s lifetime,” he says. “Don’t wait until your 60s to raise the topic of heart health and stroke prevention. By the 60s, you should be having proactive discussions with your clinical teams.” Those discussions include requesting an assessment of cardiovascular risk; sharing detailed family history; making a list of questions related to lifestyle factors; and going over the benefits, risks and side effects of medications.
Sperling says adults need to be aware of their family history and risks, including hypertension (high blood pressure). One of every two American adults has hypertension, but only about 25% have it under control, according to a 2017 ACC/AHA Hypertension Guidelines study. “And high blood pressure is most impactful for heart attacks and strokes,” adds Sperling.
To help improve one’s heart, do moderate activity for 30 minutes each day, eat a heart-healthy diet, quit smoking, strive for weight reduction and address heart risks, which may include medical therapy, if appropriate. “Heart disease is a silent process, and a heart attack can happen abruptly,” says Sperling.
Warning signs for heart trouble include chest discomfort, shortness of breath and fatigue. For strokes, always remember FAST: Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties and Time to call 911.
70s: Joint & Spine Health
“Common joint and spine problems in patients in their 70s are arthritis, degenerative disc disease and osteoporosis,” says Dr. Michele Perez, a physician partner at Resurgens Orthopaedics.
Osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease occur in both men and women, with osteoporosis mostly in women until about the 80s, when men catch up.
“These problems are not totally preventable as the aging of the spine begins in the 30s and 40s,” says Perez. “We like to talk about modifiable risk factors [behaviors and exposures that can be changed]. Good nutrition; low-impact exercise like walking, yoga or Pilates; and weight control are good ways to modify risks to joint and spine problems.”
“Osteoporosis is a silent disease,” she says, “in that many don’t know they have it until a fracture.”
Women should start monitoring their density with a DEXA/bone density test once menopause has been reached. Those who are at high risk due to race (Caucasian and Asian) or family history need to be monitored more closely.
“Most spine or joint issues can be self-managed for a couple of weeks with ice, ibuprofen and
rest,” says Perez. “Most orthopedic issues will resolve with self-care. We’re there if it doesn’t resolve.”