By Puja Chabra, MD
Though there is no such thing as the fountain of youth, there are many ways women can stay healthy throughout the different stages of life — starting with seeing your primary care physician.
For women of any age, seeing a primary care doctor for an annual checkup ensures that you stay up to date on recommended testing and vaccines, which contribute to overall good health.
This yearly visit is also an opportunity to mention any physical and emotional changes you may be experiencing. If additional care is needed, your doctor can recommend next steps, such as further testing or visiting a specialist.
Your primary care doctor can also offer advice on health screenings and preventative care to help you avoid health problems as you grow older.
20s and 30s
Now that you’ve graduated from your pediatrician, your early 20s are the time to start seeing a primary care provider.
It’s also time to start regularly monitoring your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose levels. These tests can alert you and your doctor to any problems that may lie ahead and create a baseline for comparison as you age.
Normal ranges are less than 200 for total cholesterol, less than 120 over 80 for blood
pressure, and under 100 for fasting blood glucose. As long as the numbers remain in the normal range, testing should be conducted at least every five years unless a health condition develops.
You should also keep up with routine vaccines such as the yearly flu shot and Tdap, which helps prevent against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis or whooping cough, and should be updated every 10 years.
For women in their 20s, establishing a relationship with an obstetrician/gynecologist is also important for maintaining good health. A gynecologist can discuss cervical cancer screening, sexual function, family planning, fertility, prenatal care, breast health, and more.
When it comes to heart health, it’s never too soon to start thinking about your risk for heart disease. Your 20s and 30s are an opportune time to start good habits that protect your heart against three main risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking.
Heart healthy habits include:
- Not smoking or quitting smoking.
- Limiting alcohol use.
- Exercising regularly — at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per
- Eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight. Choose foods that are low in trans-fat, saturated fat, added sugar, and sodium.
When you reach your 40s, your body starts to change. Your metabolism may not be what it used to be. Your cholesterol, blood pressure, and glucose levels may start to creep up.
It is important to continue to go for annual physicals, and to discuss with your doctor your risk factors for certain diseases and recommended cancer screenings.
It is typically recommended that screening for breast cancer begin between the ages of 40 and 50 and screening for colon cancer begin at age 45 for women of average risk.
In addition, it is important to be aware of health issues that can affect the heart, such as diabetes, which is frequently diagnosed in middle-aged and older adults.
Women in their 40s should also continue gynecologic exams. Perimenopause typically begins in your 40s, and for many women, so do symptoms. Your primary care provider or gynecologist can review options for relief.
In your 50s and beyond, it remains important to keep up with health screenings and vaccinations.
In general, women should receive the two-dose shingles vaccine at age 50 to help protect against shingles and its complications. Women should also make sure they are staying up to date on both breast and colon cancer screening.
Gynecologic health often becomes a focus for women in their 50s, which is when most women experience menopause. Hormonal changes can cause uncomfortable symptoms like hot flashes and mood changes. With the loss of the protective properties of estrogen, there can be an increased risk for heart disease.
Regular exercise continues to be critical because it helps combat age-related muscle loss, improve bone and joint health, and prevent heart disease and other chronic conditions.
Focus on workouts designed to help you maintain strength, stay mobile, and improve balance.
As always, check with your doctor before beginning a new fitness program, especially if you have a chronic medical condition, balance issues, or injuries.
60s and Beyond
It’s never too late to prioritize your health and continue health screenings. At 65, women should have a bone density scan if they are at average risk of osteoporosis. Women who are at high risk for the disease should talk with their doctor about having this test done earlier.
You should also continue with your annual flu vaccines and talk with your doctor about the pneumonia vaccine, which is recommended at age 65.
Also, don’t ignore your heart.
With regular physical activity and a heart healthy diet, you still have the power to reduce your risk for heart attack and stroke.
Keep tabs on your blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol numbers to be sure they’re in a healthy range. It is also important to remember to take your medications as prescribed and review your medications with your primary care provider regularly.
Lastly, if you have symptoms that might indicate you are developing heart disease such as chest discomfort or shortness of breath, call a doctor right away.
As you move through life, your primary care physician is a resource to help you maintain your health so you can live life to the fullest at any age.
Penn Medicine Princeton Health provides healthcare services for women, including primary care, gynecology, specialized mental health and addiction services, advanced cancer treatment options, and more.
For more information or to find a physician at Penn Medicine Princeton Health, call (888) 742-7496 or visit princetonhcs.org.
Puja Chabra, MD, is board certified in internal medicine and a member of the Medical Staff at Penn Medicine Princeton Health.