How to look after your health through the decades

Living well is important at any age, but experts say our health priorities can change as we get older.

While the principles of exercising regularly, eating well and managing stress will always be relevant, there may also be specific things you can do – at each milestone decade – to make sure you’re harnessing your full healthy potential.

So, what are they? We asked health experts to share their tips for happy, healthy ageing, and looking after yourself at different stages of life.

In your 20s: support your bones and set good habits
Our bones carry on developing into our late-20s, so it’s important we continue to get plenty of calcium and vitamin D during these years, says Dr Naveen Puri, a lead physician at Bupa Health Clinics.

As well as taking eating a good diet and taking supplements where necessary, he adds that resistance-based exercise, such as weight training, can help strengthen bones, as well as repetitive activities such as hiking, jogging and playing tennis.

“Once your bones stop growing, they typically stop getting stronger and can slowly weaken in the longer term,” warns Dr Puri. “As such, helping them develop in your 20s will set good foundations as you get older.”

Your early adult life is also a great time to avoid too many unhealthy lifestyle choices. “When we’re young, we might not notice the impact of drinking too much or smoking, but now is the ideal time to minimise these habits,” says Dr Puri.

“Drinking too much on a regular basis is linked to a host of long-term health conditions, from high blood pressure and heart disease, through to liver disease and certain types of cancer. Similarly, smoking is heavily linked to issues like cancer, heart and lung disease, strokes, and diabetes.”

In your 30s: eat well and protect your mental health
As you move into your 30s, you might start noticing some subtle body changes as your metabolism slows down. “This is perfectly normal, but does mean it becomes more important to eat well,” says Dr Puri.

Although it’s tempting to find a quick fix for those stubborn extra pounds, don’t turn to fad diets. “Instead, look at making smaller, sustainable changes, as these are often healthier and easier to maintain,” he advises.

“Try to avoid grazing and stick to three meals a day, including high-fibre foods like wholegrain bread or brown rice, and protein like chicken or tofu. Also aim to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day to make sure you’re getting a range of vitamins and minerals.

“Elsewhere, try and avoid foods that are high in sugar or saturated fats. If you want to snack, have a piece of fruit or a small handful of nuts and seeds.”

At this time of life, many people may find themselves in more stressful situations, with greater demands on their time. This can come from lots of different sources, like our growing career responsibilities or family life.

“There are many methods to help manage stress, and it’s about finding what works for you,” says Dr Puri. “Relaxation therapies – like meditation, yoga or mindfulness – may be helpful, and it’s also important to know where to turn if pressures are mounting.”

In your 40s: maintain a good diet
While type 1 diabetes can occur at any age and is not linked with weight or lifestyle, generally speaking, type 2 is more likely to develop in over-40s, and this form of diabetes is often associated with factors like weight and diet.

Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle may help prevent type 2 diabetes, as well as being important if you are diagnosed.

“Maintaining a good, balanced diet and exercising regularly is key to managing both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. In some cases, you can reverse type 2 diabetes with the right diet and exercise,” says pharmacist Anshu Kaura.

Ms Kaura advises to “always consult your GP before making any diet or lifestyle changes, especially if you have an underlying condition”.

In your 50s: check your breasts and prostate regularly
Surgeon Giles Davies says it’s really important for women to check for the signs of breast cancer in their 50s.

“Women should check their breasts from a young age – ideally in their late-teens or 20s – but it becomes even more important as you get older,” he notes. “Around 80 per cent of breast cancers happen in women over 50, so it’s important you attend your screenings.

“It’s also vital you know the signs of breast cancer, so you can act on any concerns. One of the most commons signs is a new lump in the breast area or armpit, though women may also experience nipple discharge, skin changes, or a change in size or shape to either one or both of the breasts.”

Men should also get regular prostate checks as prostate cancer mainly affects those over age 50.

Problems with urinating can often be one of the first signs that something is wrong, especially if the cancer is pressing on, or growing near the urethra. Other common indications may include needing to pee more frequently, often during the night, or finding it more difficult to start or stop urinating.

These symptoms don’t always mean you have cancer. However, getting things checked out quickly is always sensible. And in some cases, cancer doesn’t cause any symptoms, so it’s important to keep up with your regular health checks.

In your 60s: look after your joints
Joint pain is very common as we get older, and it’s often caused by osteoarthritis, or wear and tear. Lifestyle measures may help prevent these problems worsening, as well as helping ease flare-ups.

Keeping physically active can still be very important. If you are concerned about joint pain and exercise, speak to your GP and perhaps a physiotherapist for tailored advice.

Ms Kaura adds: “In winter, many individuals with joint conditions find their sensations of pain can become more frequent. For those experiencing heightened joint pain in winter, a cod liver oil supplement may help.

“Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids help support the body’s anti-inflammatory response, which can in turn help to prevent joint conditions such as arthritis from deteriorating. There has even been research that cod liver oil can help reduce the number painkillers those with arthritis take.”

In your 70s and beyond: keep active
Experts say even people in their 70s should look to undertake some form of exercise every day, but it doesn’t need to be anything as intense as marathon running.

Light activity, such as a brisk walk or a bike ride, will still provide good benefits, and people should try to clock up about two-and-a-half hours of this a week.

It’s recommended that older people work on strength and balance training. This is really important, as it can help keep us mobile into old age, while also preventing falls.

Some great exercises for this can include gentle weightlifting or aerobics. Yoga and Pilates are also great options and can easily be adapted to suit anyone’s ability.

What measures do you take to stay as healthy as possible? Are there any habits you wish you’d never started?

– With PA

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