As the saying goes, once you turn 40 you are considered “over the hill”. With this milestone, things tend to change. Your hair may get a little grayer, you may grab for reading glasses more often, and you might feel like your energy and ability to “bounce back” is reduced. Reaching your forties tends to bring up some of the health concerns you may have ignored in your younger years. As you cruise through your 20’s and 30’s, people often don’t take the time to check in with their primary provider or keep tabs on their important health factors, such as blood pressure. Now that you’ve crossed the bridge into your forties, consider how you can act now to prevent disease and keep yourself healthy long into your golden years.
To help you get started on your path to prevention, we asked Dr. Casey Ryan, internal medicine physician, and prevention specialist with Altru, to share the five things you should know about your health at 40 and why.
1. Your Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is an important health factor to consistently monitor. Maintaining normal blood pressure will help to prevent heart and kidney conditions, and improve longevity. It’s important to have regular visits with your primary care provider to stay on top of it. Generally, your provider will determine your blood pressure based on multiple tests over time rather than in a single visit. If your numbers read high, meaning you are either at risk for or have hypertension, your provider may recommend weight loss and reducing sodium intake to help lower your blood pressure. If you are in the normal range, it’s important to live a generally healthy life, with a diet high in fruits and vegetables and at least 30 minutes of activity five days a week to maintain normal blood pressure. To understand the specifics of blood pressure readings, refer to this chart from Mayo Clinic.
2. Ideal Body Weight and BMI.
Keeping tabs on your height, weight, ideal body weight and BMI will help you stay on a healthy path. Though regular dates with your scale may not always be appealing, it’s important to have a good feel for these numbers. Having a normal BMI and body weight is vital to your long-term health. Being within 10 percent of your ideal weight decreases your blood pressure, lowers your risk for developing diabetes, and reduces the risk for arthritis of the hips and knees. You can easily track your BMI weight on your own using this BMI calculator.
3. Lifestyle Choices
Do you wear a seat belt? Do you drink too much? Do you drink and drive? Do you text and drive? These risky behaviors can affect your overall health and life span. Excessive drinking can lead to disease of the liver and contribute to other preventable conditions such as heart disease and obesity. On top of that, excessive drinking leads to behaviors, such as drinking and driving, that put you at risk for injuries and accidental death. Proper car safety including wearing a seat belt, avoiding distractions such as texting, and being safe on the road can prevent car accidents and improve your likelihood of a long life. It is important to assess your lifestyle choices when thinking about how to live the longest, fullest life possible.
4. Tobacco Use
By now you’ve heard that tobacco is flat out not good for you. Smoking can cause lung cancer and smokeless tobacco can cause cancer of the throat and mouth. The good news for those who use tobacco is that it’s not too late to quit and see health improvements. Quitting tobacco can reduce the risk for heart disease after 1- 2 years, reduce the risk of associated cancers, and in recent studies, shortness of breath and COPD-related conditions stopped progressing after tobacco use ended. So, if you used tobacco in your younger years, now is the time to kick the habit and get on the path to a healthy tomorrow.
5. Family History
Many diseases are tied to our genes. Understanding the diseases your parents and grandparents faced, along with their lifespan can help you to understand what your future may hold. If you learn that your grandfather and father both suffered from heart disease, you can use this knowledge to pay close attention to habits that affect heart health. If your grandmother had breast cancer, you may consider genetic testing to see if you are at risk for this disease. Take a little time to dig into your family’s health picture and share this information with your primary provider. It will help the two of you to determine the best prevention plan for you.
The secret to a long and healthy life is not really a secret after all. Eat well, stay active, avoid bad habits and stay in touch with your doctor. Ensure that you have a good read on what your body is trying to tell you about your health and follow it. After all, no one knows you better than you do. Cheers to your next 40 years.