You’re never too young to begin focusing on health.
Your health is tied to all aspects of life, both your physical abilities and your mental and emotional well being. While your focus on healthy living might shift throughout life, there are specific areas that are particularly important during different stages of life.
“Regardless of the age group, staying healthy can be pretty simple in theory but proves to be more difficult to live out on a daily basis, especially as we get older and our free time becomes more limited,” says Dr. Patrick Martin, a physician with INTEGRIS Family Care Moore.
In order to maintain health, Martin gives tips of what to eat and how to treat your body.
“Eating a healthy and balanced diet, which means consuming 50 percent or fewer of your calories from carbohydrates, 20 to 30 percent from protein and only 10 to 20 percent from fats; exercising four to five times a week and getting eight hours of sleep a night are paramount to living a long and healthy life.”
A healthy lifestyle is simply that: a lifestyle.
“Diets just don’t work. Lifestyle changes do,” adds Dr. Castel Santana, family physician with Mercy Health Network’s Midwest City office. “There isn’t a quick fix.”
According to Santana, you should use anything you have at your disposal, even your smart phone.
“Use technology to help you. Apps are helpful to track calories and exercise,” he says.
We all know that healthy eating and exercise are important at any age. But what more can we do to ensure our health at each step of our life as we age?
Many feel that old age is far away, and they don’t need to worry about their future health. However, what you do in your youthful years will have an impact on your health in your later years. Improving and maintaining healthy behavior early in life can improve your health when you’re older.
“It is important to be proactive so you don’t have to be reactive later,” advises Santana. “The things you are doing right now might catch up with you.”
Setting the standard for healthy behavior begins from the moment we leave the nest.
In our teens and early 20s, we are more likely to engage in risky behaviors.
“Individuals in this age group tend to be more open to trying or experimenting with new things, have more of a mindset on the present and still have somewhat of an attitude of invincibility, which I think carries over into some of the decisions that they make,” says Martin.
Dr. Jeff Galles, chief medical officer at Utica Park Clinics in Tulsa, agrees.
“Traumatic injuries are more common in our teens and 20s,” says Galles.
All three physicians interviewed say it is important to remind teens and those in their 20s to make simple, basic decisions in their everyday life. Wear seat belts, use safe sexual practices and limit alcohol and tobacco use.
“Your lifestyle will heavily affect overall health as you move through your 20s,” says Martin.
The body you create in your 20s will be the one you work with later.
Mental health is also a key issue in your 20s. At this age, young adults often ignore psychological difficulties or deal with those difficulties in unhealthy ways. Depression and anxiety are common health concerns and, as a result, are leading causes of death at this age.
“We might not all need treatment for depression or any other mental illnesses, but I do feel it important to have a support system in place to discuss the everyday stressors that might affect your daily mental well being,” says Santana.
Being healthy physically can improve mental health, but often it is not enough.
“Diet, exercise and medications can be effective mental health treatments, but in some cases seeing a specialist is also very important part of treatment,” says Santana.
Going to the doctor isn’t often a high priority for people in their 20s; however, doctors highly recommend routine visits.
“Regular visits allow patients to educate themselves on their health and the process so you won’t be surprised later,” says Galles. “Developing relationships with primary care providers is important as we enter our adult lives. Dental and vision care are also important.”
As we enter our 30s, we often find ourselves more involved in our careers or parenthood and are quickly distracted from our health. Our lives tend to be less about our individuality and more focused on the groups we are involved in, be it a young family or the needs of the workplace.
“Most have graduated college, begun families and embarked on a career path. Our lives begin to take on more shape as we gain more responsibility,” says Martin. “If we only focus all our efforts on keeping our physical bodies healthy without paying attention to our minds, our emotional well-being, and our soul, we miss the mark. Everything is interconnected, and at times emotional pain can manifest itself in very physical ways.”
Finding a balance between work and life is a key health concern for many people as they enter this portion of their lives.
“Work-life balance is always important and is facilitated by strong communications with spouse or life partners,” says Galles. “Make efforts to maintain stable relationships.”
It is during this period that shedding the independence we established earlier can aid in improving our health.
“Strong support groups, church or social group support can be critical,” says Galles. “Strong family support is also very helpful if available during the child-rearing years.”
Santana sees spiritual health as one of his five pillars of wellness and a key to overall health.
“Your spiritual denomination isn’t what is important,” explains Santana. “What is important is a well being with your soul, whether that is through meditation, yoga, prayer or any other form of relaxation and spiritual cleansing.”
As our lists of responsibilites grow, so does the impact of our health choices.
“I begin to see more people struggling with anxiety and depression, which sometimes stem from previous relationships, problems coping with stress at work or with increasing family demands,” says Martin. “I also see chronic diseases, such as diabetes, start to crop up in this age group, which will have an enormous impact on an individual’s future health.”
Galles advises 30-year-olds to get wellness screenings every three to five years with a particular focus on family history. These screenings provide for baselines that your doctor will use to better assess your health as you age.
It is when we reach our 40s that our health becomes a more prevalent factor in our lives. All the previous stressors of work and family are still prevalent. However, we now often begin to notice issues with our physical well-being. Concerns like chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol, make our 40s seem like the end of our youth, [but] it is not.
“It is the beginning of middle age,” says Galles.
“Patients begin to feel their age and are looking for ways to feel young again,” adds Santana.
It is during this stage in life where people more commonly face and deal with the health issues and mortality of those closest to them.
“In your 40s, patients are often seeing their parents deal with health issues like heart disease and cancer,” explains Galles. “Patients, often for the first time, are seeking out ways to keep it from happening to them.”
This awakens in patients the need to make changes in their own health, but despite not having the exuberance of their younger selves, there is still plenty of time to proactively affect their health with valuable and lasting benefits.
“I would like to see people begin to see their health in terms of prevention. Doing things to prevent themselves from ever developing a disease, instead of deciding to make some lifestyle changes after they are diagnosed,” says Martin. “People will try to eat right and make healthier choices after they begin to have symptoms when the illnesses likely could possibly have been prevented.”
All physicians interviewed remind us of those important lifestyle choices we all know and love: healthy eating, exercise, the importance of sleep and avoiding risky behaviors like tobacco use. It is during this period that making changes in these areas can have immediate and noticeable effects on our lives.
“We all get into the habit of unconsciously living,” says Santana. “Know what you are putting in your body and understand the importance.”
Galles suggests varying your physical activities by using your body in different ways.
“Try not to limit your exercise to one type of activity,” offers Galles. “Cross training, biking, running, swimming are all good activities to mix in to limit joint stress.”
Health as you enter your 50s looks much like it does during your 40s. The main change should be the adding of additional health screenings. Routine exams are more important than ever. The advanced screenings will help you and your doctor recognize changes sooner.
Early prevention and diagnosing diseases such as heart disease and cancer can drastically improve your chances of survival. It can also have positive effects financially.
“We know that the cost of health care is reduced when you have an established relationship with your primary care provider,” explains Galles.
At this age, specific screenings are more common as doctors focus on the more common issues patients face.
“Most organizations recommend that patients begin the process of screening for colon cancer as well as breast cancer. Some earlier based on family history,” says Galles. “For smokers and recent non-smokers, we also discuss lung cancer screening between the ages of 55 and 74.”
It is when you are in your 60s that heart disease becomes a major concern. At this age it is the leading cause of death.
“It is increasingly important to monitor cholesterol levels and maintain a normal blood pressure,” advises Galles.
During this time your body begins to have less defense against disease than it did when you were younger. As your body is less able to fight off diseases, vaccinations become a priority again.
“Infectious diseases become more prevalent in our 60s,” says Galles. “Vaccinations are important as our immune systems begin to falter and we need boost them. Obtain a shingles vaccine at 60. At 65, providers recommend updating pneumonia vaccinations.”
For women, bone health becomes an important concern.
“Women should begin screening for osteoporosis in this decade of life,” says Galles.
It is during our 70s that we need to take stock and be aware of what we are physically capable of. Mobility and safe independent living move into focus as our health will have more affect on our physical safety. Fall prevention and safe driving are key concerns at this age.
“We encourage family members to accompany their older family members when they drive to evaluate their driving skills,” says Galles. “Also, establish a network of support for when you need help.”
Though our physical abilities are decreased, exercise is still important into your 70s and beyond. A strong body is much more likely to be a healthy body. Your body’s abilities allow you to have your independence safely for as long as possible.
Doctors agree, the best thing you can do to be as healthy as possible at the latest stages of your life is to take an active, educated approach to your health early. This begins by eating right, exercising and staying connected to your primary care physician.