Whether you’re 30-years-old or 60, chances are you’ve got the same goal-to keep your body healthy and feeling great. But unfortunately, our goals don’t always line up with reality. Today many Americans suffer from often preventable chronic diseases, such as diabetes or heart disease. Between 1980 and 2011, the number of U.S. adults with diabetes tripled, rising to 19.6 million and 11 percent of the population has heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And those numbers don’t include other health threats such as cancer or depression.
While there’s no way to guarantee your future health-there are ways to reduce your health risks, including getting recommended screenings to spot diseases early, when they are most treatable. While these screenings won’t guarantee that you’ll live until your 90s disease free, they are a reasonable starting point to keep your health on track, said Julie Tishler MD, director of Quality in the Division of Internal Medicine and Adult Primary Care, Tufts Medical Center. Your doctor may want to modify them based on your unique risk factors.
Below is a guide to help you protect your health in several key decades.
If you’re in your 30s chances are you’re still feeling pretty darn good, but this decade also represents a busy time in many people’s lives. You may be immersed in your job or busy starting a family and raising children. “This means that healthcare is often neglected and physical activity sometimes goes out the window,” said Tishler. Resist the temptation to put your health last, because this decade is a great time to establish long-term habits, such as good nutrition, regular exercise and avoiding bad habits such as smoking, excessive alcohol use, and even texting while driving, which can protect you for the long-haul.
While some experts have questioned the need for annual physicals, Tishler said believes it’s smart to schedule that annual trip to your doctor in this decade and all others. The value of the appointment is not necessarily in the tests that are run or so your doctor can listen to your heart and lungs, but because it’ an opportunity to talk, to have conversation about your unique health risks and lifestyle choices.
If you’re in this age group there are some screening tests you should be getting-including checking your blood pressure, weight, and possibly a cholesterol test, based on your risk of heart disease. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends blood pressure testing at least every two years after age 18, more frequently if you have certain risk factors. Women should also be getting a pap test once every three years to screen for cervical cancer, said Tishler. And depending on your sexual history, your doctor may want to do a screening for sexually transmitted infections, testing that should continue at any age depending on your lifestyle. For example, your doctor may want to pair your pap test with another test called an HPV test to screen for a virus that can cause cervical cancer. If this test is negative, you may need less frequent pap tests. Also talk to your doctor about any changes in your mood, or symptoms of depression that you may be experiencing.
The same basic rules apply in your 40s, from blood pressure screenings and cholesterol checks, to depression screenings and lifestyle improvements. But the 40s is also a time that calls for a little added vigilance when it comes to certain diseases and conditions. For example, the 40s is a time that your doctor may want you to start regular mammograms to screen for breast cancer, if you are a woman. Some doctors may recommend certain women begin mammograms at age 40, some may want to start later, after age 50. Also discuss with your doctor how often you should be screened. “While there may be some debate over the right start time and the right testing intervals, there’s no question that this testing has saved lives,” said Tishler.
For men, it’s a good idea to discuss your family history of diseases and whether you might need to start early screening for prostate cancer. Another area you should focus on is checking your skin regularly for changes that may signal skin cancer or paying a visit to a dermatologist who can tell you whether you need regular screenings.
Diabetes is another concern that can affect people of any age. If you have risk factors for diabetes, such as high blood pressure, or you’re overweight or obese, it may be a good idea to get your blood sugar levels checked, said Tishler.
In addition to the tests you got in your 30s and 40s, in your 50s you’ll also want to add a regular colon screening to your list. Your doctor might want you to start this screening even earlier if you have a family history of the disease. “Nationally, rates for colon-cancer screening are on the low side, and this is a missed opportunity,” said Tishler. Caught early colon cancer is very treatable, so getting screened is an important way to protect your health.
If you’re a long-time smoker you may also want to talk to your doctor about starting lung-cancer screenings at age 55.
All of the screening tests you had when you were younger still apply in your 60s including blood pressure and cholesterol, cancer screenings, skin checks, and blood sugar monitoring, but in this decade women and some may also need to focus on the health of their bones with a bone mineral density test, which women should get at least once, more often if they have risk factors for osteoporosis.
“In this decade you should also start thinking about fall risk,” said Tishler. The risk for injury at this age starts to go up.
If you’re a man with a history of smoking, you might also want to consider being screened with ultrasound for a Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm a bulging of your body’s largest artery, which can be deadly if left untreated.
While it may sound like a lot of tests, really it’s a small investment of time for potentially a big, health payoff. “The point of screening is to stay healthy and to feel good. Used appropriately, combined with lifestyle changes, they can increase your chances of staying in good health for as long as possible,” said Tishler.
To learn more about the specific tests you might need, make an appointment with a Primary Care doctor today by calling 617-636-5400 or visiting www.tuftsmedicalcenter.org/primarycare.
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