Women's Guide to Lifelong Health


Do you know a wonder woman? Perhaps she's your mom, aunt, teacher or congresswoman. What helps her conquer life's challenges?

The secret to a woman's success may be maximizing her health. Check out this decade-by-decade guide on how to avoid the most common diseases to live well now and into the future.

Your 20s

It's easy to take good health for granted. But this is the decade you're laying the foundation for your health.

  • Establish good eating habits. Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and protein sources while limiting added sugars and sodium. Aim for at least 1,000 mg calcium and 600 international units (15 mcg) vitamin D daily. Women reach their peak bone mass by around age 30, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
  • Learn your family medical history. Discussing the health histories of immediate and close relatives with your doctor may help determine your disease risk for the most common diseases.
  • Schedule annual wellness visits. This includes health screenings, such as blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol and any necessary immunizations. The American Congress for Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends getting screened for cervical cancer with a Pap test beginning at age 21 and then every three years.
  • Follow the American Heart Association's Life's Simple 7 guidelines. Promote heart health by maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels while engaging in regular physical activity, eating well, managing your weight, and either quitting or avoiding smoking. In a 25-year follow-up brain MRI, middle age participants of the CARDIA study who had followed these guidelines since their twenties showed greater whole brain volume than the average midlifer. Twenty-somethings who followed these guidelines had brains by middle age that, on MRI imaging, appeared more than a decade younger than others who didn't follow the guidelines, concludes a study published by the journal Neurology

Your 30s

It's common to be juggling family and work obligations during this decade. When life gets busy, self-care may fall to the bottom of your priority list.

  • Get enough sleep. Adequate sleep is critical to your health. Research shows a lack of sleep may increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer and depression, notes the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Keep up with good nutrition and make time for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least five days per week and muscle strengthening activities twice weekly to maintain heart and bone health and boost your metabolism, recommends the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
  • Manage stress. Spending time with friends and picking up a hobby, such as yoga or reading, may reduce stress levels.
  • Get health screenings. Continue blood pressure checks. If you're overweight or are at risk for diabetes, ask your doctor for glucose and cholesterol tests.

Your 40s

Your 40s is a time of body changes as perimenopause begins.

  • Re-establish healthy lifestyle habits. You may need to eat a little less and maintain a regular exercise routine as calorie needs decrease. Make a commitment to eat balanced meals and limit your intake of fat, sugar and refined carbs. Weight-bearing and strength training exercises are key to preserving muscle mass and bone density.
  • Consider starting mammogram screening. Consult your doctor to determine when and how often you should have a mammogram based on your individual risk factors. ACOG suggests women begin a yearly or biannual mammogram regimen at the age of 40.
  • Get a checkup. Even if you aren't high risk, you should be screened for diabetes at least every three years starting at age 45. Your exam should include blood pressure and cholesterol screening. If you smoke, ask your doctor how to quit. A new study finds that middle-aged people who smoke, have diabetes or have high blood pressure are more likely to develop dementia than healthy non-smokers.
  • Learn about menopause. As you approach your 50s, perimenopause sets in as your hormones fluctuate and you may begin to experience symptoms of menopause.

Your 50s, 60s and Beyond

While your risk for the most common diseases may be higher as you age, your Golden Years are when healthy habits developed earlier in life really pay off.

  • Get your screenings. Screening for colon cancer should begin at 50 and osteoporosis tests should be conducted by age 65 — earlier if you have a family history or other risk factors, advises the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. It's important to stay on schedule with mammograms, glucose and cholesterol testing and Pap tests, too.
  • Get necessary immunizations. In addition to your annual flu shot, ask your doctor about vaccines for pertussis and shingles after age 60, and a pneumonia vaccine when you reach 65.
  • Understand your risk of heart disease. With menopause comes an increased risk of heart disease. It is critical to protect your heart by discussing your risk factors, which include smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes, with your doctor.
  • Maintain physical activity and good nutrition. Eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D to support bone health. Since calcium needs increase after menopause, ask your doctor if a supplement will help. Regular weight-bearing and resistance exercise not only helps build bone density, but may reduce your risk of falling. Adequate protein intake may also help preserve muscle. A diet rich in omega-3, which primarily comes from fish, may help prevent dementia, reports Science Daily.