Expert advice on keeping your body and mind in good working order in every decade of your adult life.
There are some things you should do no matter how old you are, such as being active, eating a balanced diet with plenty of veg (however much veg you’re thinking of, more than that), not smoking, drinking only in moderation, paying attention to your mental health, and spending time with family and friends.
There are some things, however, that become particularly important at certain stages of your life, so it’s worth being prepared and taking preventive measures above and beyond the standard advice.
So we’re thankful to three Bupa health clinic experts – GPs Dr Luke Powles and Dr Ann Robinson, and dermatologist Dr Stephanie Munn – who have offered their advice on the most important health concerns to address in each decade from your 20s to your 60s.
Actually we’re even more thankful that people in their 20s, all aglow with the apparent invincibility of youth, need to look out for a few things too. Strangely, though, there’s no advice later on about combating the bitterness that comes with age – we’ll have to get back to you on that one.
How To Stay Healthy In Your 20s And 30s
Establishing healthy habits is a key concern in your 20s, because you’ll not only reap the benefits later in life but also avoid some of the bigger health risks your age bracket. Let’s start with one of the most obvious places – alcohol.
“Responsible alcohol intake is important throughout every stage of life – the less the better,” says Powles. “Minimising alcohol intake can help reduce a range of health problems including liver disease, heart disease, obesity and some cancers.”
Continuing the statements of the bleeding obvious, smoking. Cut it out. “As well as the lasting damage it can cause to your health, any amount of smoking can drastically damage elastin in the skin, and smoking in your 20s will mean your skin will age faster as you get older,” says Munn.
And smoke isn’t the only thing that can wreak havoc on your skin. Munn adds that the evidence suggests that extreme sun exposure, including frequent sunburn, before the age of 40 increases the risk of developing skin cancer. “Avoid sunbeds and wear high-factor sunscreen in the summer months and on holiday,” says Munn.
This age group can also suffer from persistent acne, which can be aggravated by whey protein supplements. “If someone suffers from acne, it’s best to cut out whey protein and to use non-pore blocking and oil-free products to avoid long-term scarring or persistent acne,” says Munn.
“Although testicular cancer is relatively rare – the risk is just under one in 200 in the UK – it appears to be rising, so men need to be more aware of the symptoms,” says Powles. "It can occur at any age but it is the most common type of cancer for men between the ages of 20 and 35.” These are the signs Powles says to watch out for:
Pain or discomfort in a testicle or the scrotum. A painless lump or swelling on either testicle. A change in the way a testicle feels or a change in its texture. Sudden build-up of fluid in the scrotum. A pulling sensation in your scrotum. A dull ache in your groin or lower abdomen.
The final thing it’s important for this age group to pay attention to is their mental health. “Suicide is the leading cause of death among people aged 20-34,” says Powles, “so it’s important to be aware of your mental wellbeing. If you feel anxiety or stress affecting you, seek help and ask your GP in the first instance if you’re unsure where to turn.”
How To Stay Healthy In Your 40s
In your 40s, it’s vital look after your head and heart.
“Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for two-thirds of all dementia, actually starts around 20 years before any symptoms appear,” says Robinson. “It’s important to consider how certain life choices can increase the chances of dementia.
“Smoking and diabetes at any age increases our risk, as does high blood pressure, high cholesterol, being inactive and being obese. Essentially, what is good for your heart is good for your brain.”
“There is a spike in deaths related to heart disease from 50 onwards so one of the biggest focuses for men and women in their 40s should be keeping their hearts healthy,” says Powles. Getting a heart health check will identify any major risks and also suggest lifestyle changes you can make to reduce the risk of heart issues.
Keeping a close eye on your weight is also vital in your 40s. Obesity is not only a risk factor for many health concerns, but can also cause other issues like back pain.
“Statistics show that 60-80% of people will get significant back pain in their lifetime, and 95% of cases will be resolved by exercise and managing posture,” says Powles.
Finally, Powles suggests that your 40s is the decade when you should start considering your joints, because they become increasingly prone to injury as you age.
How To Stay Healthy In Your 50s
Skin cancer can occur at any age, but the most common age to develop this is in your 50s and 60s.
“While we should all keep an eye on our moles, it’s particularly important for those in their 50s,” says Munn. “If new moles appear or they change shape, have different colours, are bigger than the size of the top of a ballpoint pen, become itchy or crusty or start bleeding, make sure you see your GP or dermatologist.”
Whereas you might shrug off minor health issues earlier on in life, in your 50s it’s important to take even small problems seriously. “Act on any niggles straight away,” says Powles. “For example, if you have a cough that persists for longer than three weeks, it’s really important to go and seek health advice – particularly if you smoke or used to.”
And make no bones about it – in your 50s you need to look after your bones.
“It’s important to protect your bones at this age: weight-bearing exercise is a good thing to keep up and try to keep your weight in check,” says Powles.
In terms of taking a holistic view of your health, don’t underestimate the importance of strong relationships with friends and family.
“Stay social,” says Powles. “It’s easy to let regular contact with friends slide as you get older, and family and work pressures mount. However, maintaining these relationships in your 50s means you are safeguarding your mental health for a time when you may not work as much or at all. Evidence shows the quality of our close relationships, be they social or romantic, can be a greater predictor of our health in our older years than certain genetic and lifestyle factors.”
How To Stay Healthy In Your 60s And Beyond
Once you reach your 60s the primary focus should be on your brain health. Dementia is the leading cause of death in women and the second biggest in men. Keeping the brain engaged can reduce the risk.
“Taking care of our brain health should start much earlier in life, but it is still important that during the 60s we keep our brain active,” says Robinson. “This may increase its vitality and it could even build its reserves of brain cells and connections, so you could even generate new cells.”
Powles says crosswords and other puzzles are an excellent way to engage the brain every day. Additionally, learn a new skill, or language, or go to the theatre – these activities can all be fun and relaxing ways of staying mentally alert.
Staying active in your 60s is also important – for both your physical and mental health.
“We know that when older adults lose their mobility their physical and mental health can often follow,” says Powles. “This also applies to older adults who retreat into inactivity in their later years so it is vital that those in their 60s should try to do something, even if it’s just heading out for a walk every day.”
Written by Nick Harris-Fry for Coach.