Health "Musts" For Every Decade

Featured Article, Women's Health
on September 8, 2014

It’s okay to share some things with your mom or grandmother, like a bottle of Chardonnay, a classic navy blazer or even your taste in men. Unfortunately, though, health and fitness guidelines don’t make the list. As we age and mature, our bodies have different needs (which explains why pulling a few all-nighters a week is a lot more difficult in your 30s than it was during college), and we have to adjust our routines accordingly.

So read on to see how you should be taking care of yourself in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond – and keep the multi-generational swapping to juicy romance novels.

Your 20s

For carefree twenty-somethings, the temptation is strong to enjoy your resiliency while you can. Regular cocktail binges with the girls followed by greasy diner burgers can’t hurt when you’re young, right? Wrong, says Sharon Palmer, RDN, dietitian and author of Plant-Powered Life.

“Just because you’re young, it doesn’t mean you can skimp on nutrition! You’re gearing up for childbirth and maintaining bone mass, on top of supporting an active lifestyle,” she says. “And you don’t want to start allowing those pounds to creep up, as weight gain patterns can stick with you throughout life. So eat a varied, balanced diet, with adequate lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and seeds.”

Palmer also has specific nutritional recommendations for those in their 20s, specifically omega-3 from fish, walnuts, hemp or chia; carotenoids from produce like carrots and sweet potatoes to keep skin bright and healthy; and folic acid to prepare for child-bearing years.

When it comes to fitness, American Council on Exercise (ACE) expert and exercise physiologist Jacque Ratliff says women should find an activity or workout program that they love to begin developing strong exercise habits. “The sooner you find an activity that you love doing, the greater the chance of you doing it for life and maintaining your health,” she says.

“Whether it’s Zumba, swimming, body building or endurance racing, the only workout that you regret is the one you didn’t do, so be sure it’s something you enjoy.”

And even in your 20s, when it’s difficult to look ahead 10 months, let alone 10 or 20 years, preventative health is important, too. “Skin cancer screenings must be conducted every year no matter what your age, and pap smears should be done annually between the ages of 21 and 30,” says Dr. Angela DeRosa, DO, founder of DeRosa Medical.

Your 30s

Once in their 30s, many women have established secure footing in their careers which can greatly impact the level of health care they are able to provide for themselves.

“The 30s are the time to be sure women are listening to their bodies and recovering well in between workouts, as well as managing stress levels,” Ratliff says. “Women may have a bit more disposable income at this point, so they should use that to take care of their bodies so they can continue to use it long into their twilight years. Work with a personal trainer, massage therapist or health coach to be sure you are staying in tune with what your body is telling you.”

Starting a family is also major life milestone that many women hit in their 30s, so aside from monitoring their own nutritional needs, they now have to care for husbands and/or kids as well.

“You may be raising children during this stage of your life, and it’s the time to model good eating behavior,” says Palmer. “Studies show that children adapt the eating habits of their parents, and to prevent the whole family from developing chronic diseases – such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and hypertension – good nutrition comes first. Make sure that the whole family includes fruits and vegetables at each meal and snack, get inventive and try to eat a few meatless meals a week based on legumes and get your kids cooking with you in the kitchen. Avoid lots of prepared, highly processed and fast food meals.”

Regarding health screenings, pap smears can be reduced to once every three years after the age of 30, provided women are in a monogamous relationships, says DeRosa.

Your 40s

While many women profess to feeling more confident and secure in themselves than ever before, the reality is that, by this point, their bodies are drastically different than they were decades before.

“Women reach their peak bone mineral density in their early 30s and can start to lose bone health every year if they don’t take care of our bone,” says Ratliff. “Regular strength training can increase bone mineral density by 1-3%, helping to ward off osteoporosis or other orthopedic issues than can plague women well into their 50s, 60s and 70s.”

Palmer echoes Ratliff’s sentiment: “You’ll probably need to up your activity or cut back on calories a bit to avoid weight gain in your 40s,” she says. “And now is the time that you may be noticing the first signs of aging. Enjoy lots of antioxidant-rich produce to fight oxidative stress and inflammation, and to fend off early aging and development of chronic disease. Also, be more choosy about your protein choices; make them lean with more plant proteins to take care of your heart.”

According to, a woman’s breast cancer risk jumps from .44% in their 30s to 1.47% in their 40s, so that is definitely the time to begin screenings. “Starting at age 40, mammograms need to be performed every other year and annually after age 50,” says DeRosa. “Another test for breast cancer is the detectDX breast test for women ages 35-75, and getting a specialized breast cancer blood test along with a mammogram to detect breast cancer can be done, too.”

Your 50s and beyond

The later years are a time for enjoying the life you’ve worked hard to create, but vigilance in maintaining good health is still critical – even while you’re having fun.

“Join a social group that emphasizes fitness,” suggests Ratliff. “This could be a walking group in your neighborhood, a masters swimming group or group exercise class. As you move into retirement years, it is important to stay socially involved for your own mental and physical health, not to mention the sanity of your spouse or significant other!”

At meal times, try cutting back on portions to accommodate lower activity levels, says Palmer, and fill plates with mostly plant-based foods.

“As we age further, it’s important to keep eating good sources of protein and fruits and vegetables,” she adds. “Your energy needs may be lower, but it’s important to get small portions of lean protein, lots of fiber through beans, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and calcium and vitamin D.” Palmer also recommends women in their 50s begin taking a vitamin B12 supplement.

Annual mammograms should be conducted at this age, and women should get their first colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer at age 50, with follow-ups every five to ten years.

Thanks to advancements in the medical field, women are expected to live longer than ever – well into their 80s and longer. And while some health tips (like drinking enough water) apply across the board, following these age-specific guidelines will ensure that each decade you reach is better than the last.