How to stay healthy: A decade-by-decade health check

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As we age and our bodies change, our health needs also change and evolve.

From the rapidly growing bodies of our youth and the pitfalls and opportunities of those middle decades, to aging well in our final years, each stage of our lives is unique and each requires special care.

Here are the things you can do to stay healthy no matter where you are in life.

What to do at 20

If you haven’t already, find a family doctor.

From the age of 25, cervical cancer screening is recommended every five years for sexually active women and people with a cervix. The cervical screening test (which replaced the “Pap test”) checks for the presence of human papillomavirus—a virus that can cause cervical cancer.

Living in the land of the sun, an annual skin check is recommended from the age of 20. This is especially important for higher-risk groups, including those of us with fair skin tones, light eyes, and red or blonde hair. Most of us won’t get skin cancer in our 20s and 30s, but it is possible, so it’s also important to check our own bodies regularly in the mirror and while showering for changes in existing or new moles.

They are only given an adult set of teeth, so it’s important to take good care of them. Avoid sugar, regular brushing, and using a fluoridated toothpaste to keep those pearls happy. Just like a dental check-up every six months.

Now is the time to examine your breasts regularly. Do this in the shower and in good light so you can get used to what is normal for you. If you notice anything else or are concerned for any reason, talk to your GP.

Testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer in men between the ages of 20 and 35, so it’s important to be aware of any changes in their size, lumps, pain, or discharge. If you notice anything unusual or different, make an appointment and talk to your doctor.

What to do at 30

Heart health is not a priority for most thirty-somethings, but now is the time to think about cardiovascular well-being. Have your blood pressure checked every two years if you are otherwise healthy, have high blood pressure, or have a personal or family history of high blood pressure, stroke, or heart attack.

Kidney disease is known as a silent disease because it often doesn’t show any symptoms until it’s very advanced. First Nations Australians and people thought to be at increased risk of kidney disease are advised to speak to their doctor about kidney health and have a simple battery of tests performed.

What to do at 40

If we are over forty and gaining weight, you may be at increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Left uncontrolled, diabetes can lead to an increased risk of stroke and heart disease, and even dementia. Assess your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by taking the type 2 diabetes risk test called AUSDRISK or, if you’re struggling with your weight or have a family history of diabetes, a blood glucose test ordered by your doctor execute.

Your prostate is a small gland the size and shape of a walnut. Part of the male reproductive system, it sits between the bladder and rectum and produces fluid that makes up part of semen. With age, the prostate tends to get larger and may be the site of cancerous changes. Men with an increased risk of prostate cancer, for example due to a family history, are best advised to start prostate cancer screening between the ages of 40 and 45.

The 40s and 50s are also a time of upheaval for the female body with the menopause. You know menopause has happened when you haven’t had a menstrual period for 12 months. Most women reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55. It is linked to a slowdown in estrogen and progesterone, which causes a range of symptoms including changes in the length and frequency of the menstrual cycle, as well as hot flashes, night sweats, aches and pains, and mood swings. The onset of menopause alters your cancer risk and is associated with a change in bone density. So talk to your GP as soon as symptoms appear.

What to do at 50 and 60

In addition to self-monitoring, mammography is important for early detection of breast cancer. When breast cancer is caught early, it is more likely to be successfully treated. BreastScreen Australia recommends that women aged 50-74 receive access to their free mammograms every two years.

Osteoporosis is a disease that affects our bones. It is very common, affecting up to 25 percent of adults in this age group. Bones become weaker and more brittle, putting us at greater risk of breakage and injury. It is more common in women with smaller physiques and postmenopausal women. Ask your GP if you need a bone density test to determine the health of your bones.

Our eyesight tends to change and deteriorate with age. Serious eye diseases such as glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration also become more common with age. Over 65? Have an annual check-up. However, more frequent testing may be recommended for people with certain risk factors, including a family history of eye disease and certain conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

Colon cancer is a major killer among Australians. The good news is that it’s relatively easy to test, and the first step is to speak to your GP. From the age of 50, screening should be every two years and can be done via a simple “do at home” test kit that will be mailed to your address.

Regardless of your age, certain health checks are essential to good health. (Adobe: Rawpixel.com)

What to do in your 70s and beyond

Prevention is better than cure — and it’s no different in your 70s and beyond. It’s important to stay up to date with regular checkups, as is having a family doctor you know and feel comfortable with. Talk to your doctor about an annual flu shot, a mammogram or colon cancer exam every two years, and a cervical cancer screening test every five years, among many other tests.

dr Sandro Demaio is a physician and CEO of VicHealth.

This is general information only. You should consult a qualified doctor for personal advice.

Find out more and get inspired by visiting the Your Move collections on ABC iview and ABC listen, including exercise playlists from ABC Classic and Double J, or the ABC Health Check quiz at abc.net.au/yourmove take part.

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