As we age and our bodies change, our health needs shift and evolve too.
From rapidly growing bodies in our youth and the pitfalls and opportunities of those middle decades, to ageing well in our final years — each stage of our life is unique and each requires some special care.
Here are the things you can do to keep yourself healthy, no matter where you are in life.
What to do in your 20s
If you haven’t already, find yourself a GP.
From the age of 25, cervical cancer screening is recommended every five years for women and people with a cervix who are sexually active. The cervical screening test (which replaced the “pap test”) checks for the presence of the human papilloma virus — a virus that can cause cervical cancer.
Living in a land of sunshine, annual skin checks are recommended from the time of your 20th birthday. This is especially important for higher risk groups, including those of us with lighter skin tone, light coloured eyes and red or fair hair. Most of us won’t get skin cancers in our 20s and 30s, but it is possible so it’s also important to check our own bodies regularly in the mirror and during showering for any changes in existing moles or new moles.
You only get one set of adult teeth, so it’s important to take great care of them. Avoiding sugar, brushing regularly and using a fluoride toothpaste will help keep those pearlies happy. As will a dental check-up every six months.
Now is the time to begin regularly examining your breasts. Do this in the shower, and with good light, so you can become familiar with what normal is for you. If you notice anything different, or you’re concerned for any reason, have a chat with your GP.
Cancer of the testes is the most common form of cancer for men between the ages of 20 and 35 , so it’s important you look out for any changes in their size, lumps, aches or discharge. If you notice anything unusual or different, make an appointment and chat with your doctor.
What to do in your 30s
Heart health isn’t front of mind for most thirty-somethings but now is the time to start thinking about cardiovascular wellbeing. Have your blood pressure checked every two years if you’re otherwise healthy, your blood pressure is on the high side or you have a personal or family history of high blood pressure, stroke or heart attack.
Kidney disease is known as a silent disease, as there are often no symptoms until it is well advanced. Chatting with your doctor about kidney health and having a simple set of tests is recommended for First Nations Australians, as well as people who are thought to have an increased risk of kidney disease.
What to do in your 40s
If we’re over forty and putting on weight, you might be at increased risk of Type 2 diabetes. Left unchecked, diabetes can lead to an increase in risk of stroke and heart disease, and even dementia. Assess your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by completing the Type 2 diabetes risk test called AUSDRISK or, if you struggle with your weight or have a family history of diabetes, a blood glucose test ordered by your doctor.
Your prostate is a small gland about the shape and size of a walnut. Part of the male reproductive system, it’s located between the bladder and the rectum and produces fluid that makes up part of semen. As we age, the prostate tends to get larger and can, in some circumstances, be the site of cancerous changes. For men at higher risk of prostate cancer, due to family history for instance, it’s best to start prostate cancer screening between the ages of 40 and 45.
The forties and fifties are a time of change for women’s bodies too, with the onset of menopause. You will know that menopause has taken place if you have not had any menstrual bleeding for 12 months. Most women reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55. It’s associated with a slowing of estrogen and progesterone, which causes a range of symptoms including changes in menstrual cycle length and frequency as well as hot flushes, night sweats, aches and pains, and mood changes. The onset of menopause changes your risk of cancer and is associated with a change in bone density, so once symptoms begin have a chat with your GP.
What to do in your 50s and 60s
In addition to self-checks, a mammogram is important in detecting breast cancer early. If breast cancer is found early, it is more likely to be successfully treated. BreastScreen Australia recommends women aged 50 to 74 access their free mammograms every two years.
Osteoporosis is a condition that affects our bones. It’s very common, affecting up to 25 per cent of adults in this age group. The bones become weaker, and more brittle, placing us at higher risk of fracture and injury. It’s more common in women of smaller frames and after menopause. Ask your GP if you require a bone density test to help determine the health of your bones.
Our eyesight tends to change and deteriorate with age. Serious eye conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration are more common as we get older too. Above the age of 65? Have an annual examination. However, more frequent testing may be recommended for those with certain risk factors, including a family history of eye disease and certain medical conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
Bowel cancer is a major killer among Australians. The good news is that it’s relatively simple to test for, and the first step is a chat with your GP. From the age of 50, screening should occur every two years and can be done via a simple “do at home” test kit that’s mailed to your address.
What to do in your 70s and beyond
Prevention is better than a cure — and it’s no different in your 70s and beyond. Staying on top of regular check-ups is critical, as is having a GP you know and feel comfortable with. Have a chat with your doctor about a yearly flu vaccination, a mammogram or bowel cancer check every two years and a cervical screening test every five years, among many other tests.
Dr Sandro Demaio is a doctor and the CEO of VicHealth.
This is general information only. For personal advice, you should see a qualified medical practitioner.
Learn more and get inspired by visiting Your Move collections on ABC iview and ABC listen, including exercise playlists from ABC Classic and Double J, or take the ABC Health Check quiz at abc.net.au/yourmove.
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