Whether it’s being able to bend like Madonna, having the uber-energy of Goldie
Hawn or the gorgeous glow of Yasmin Le Bon, like a fine wine, we’d all like
to get better with age. And luckily the key to achieving it is simple – you
just need to plan ahead.
“Many health problems are age-related, so our risk goes up or down according
to our life stage,” says Dr Ellie Cannon. “While some illnesses are
hereditary, many that we face in the future can be prevented by making good
diet, exercise and lifestyle choices today.”
We’ve spoken to experts who have highlighted the key health issues that are
age specific and worth preparing yourself for sooner rather than later.
Here’s what you should take note of now, for years of super-hero-style,
In your 20s
BONES: The higher your bone density, the lower your risk of
osteoporosis – the brittle bone disease that’s common in women
post-menopause. And believe it or not, this decade is the perfect time to
start future-proofing against it as, according to women’s health specialist
Dr Marilyn Glenville: “You can only increase your bone mass until the age of
Future-proof: “Eat plenty of green, leafy
veg and low-fat dairy as they’re high in bone-building calcium,” says
dietician Dr Carrie Ruxton. “Vitamin D is also great for bone strength.” You
can get both from Solgar Ultimate Bone Support, £18.16, from independent
health food stores.
EXCESS WEIGHT: As you hit your 30s you’re more at risk of piling on the
pounds as your metabolism naturally slows, so you need to start holding off
on the pizzas in your 20s. Being overweight increases your risk of heart
disease, diabetes and cancer.
Future-proof: “The easiest way
to fend off flab is to make exercise a habit throughout your 20s,” says
personal trainer Stuart Amory. “Do 30 minutes of moderate intensity at least
five times a week.”
FERTILITY: It’s scary but true, chances of conceiving decline rapidly
after 35, and risk of miscarriage and birth defects increases. So your 20s
are a good time to maximise your chances of a baby-filled future.
“Zinc is vital for nourishing your reproductive organs so up your intake of
fish and snack on pumpkin seeds,” says Dr Glenville. Recent research by the
Scottish Spina Bifida Association suggests all women of childbearing age
(any woman who is sexually active) should take a 400mcg supplement of folic
acid daily to protect against spina bifida in case they fall pregnant. Find
this, and zinc, in a daily multivitamin and mineral formula like Wellwoman,
£6.50 for 30 capsules, Vitabiotics.com.
In your 30s
BREAST CANCER: The most common cause of cancer deaths for women in
their 40s is breast cancer – around 2,000 deaths a year. While the risk
increases with age, you need to get into the habit of being vigilant in your
Future-proof: “Know how your breasts look and feel so
you can detect changes,” recommends Dr Cannon. Visit Breakthrough.org.uk/tlc
for more advice on how to check them. To find out more about your own risk
of breast cancer, and if you might need early screening, take the quiz at
PELVIC FLOOR MUSCLES: According to the NHS, incontinence affects one in
five women in their 40s. Caused by childbirth and age, it’s all down to your
pelvic floor, so start working those muscles! “Pelvic floor muscles help to
support your bladder,” says Dr Sue Williams. “Childbirth can stretch and
loosen them, which can lead to incontinence and, in severe cases, a pelvic
prolapse – when the muscles are too weak to support the pelvis.”
Pelvic floor exercises will tighten the muscles – aim to do 10 sets a day. A
physiotherapist can show you how to do them correctly, while core muscle
exercises at the gym will also help. Visit Bladderandbowelfoundation.org for
METABOLIC SYNDROME: “This is a term doctors use to describe a
collection of conditions – type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, abdominal
weight gain, high blood pressure and insulin resistance. They’re each linked
to heart disease but if you have several of them, you’re considered to have
metabolic syndrome, which dramatically ups your heart-disease risk,” says Dr
Future-proof: Hold off on the takeaways and follow a
diet low in saturated and trans fats, so think wholegrains, lean protein,
pulses and lots of fruit and veg. “Oats, soya products (like tofu and miso)
and oily fish have all been shown to reduce cholesterol,” says Dr Cannon.
In your 40s
HEART DISEASE: The heart-protecting plus points of oestrogen decline
after the menopause, so the risk of heart disease rises sharply. Scarily, it
kills four times more women a year than breast cancer at this age.
“If you don’t smoke, maintain a healthy weight, eat a diet low in
saturated fats and high in fruit and veg and take regular exercise, you
score top marks for reducing your risk of heart disease,” says Dr Glenville.
Everyone over 40 should be invited to their GP surgery for a vascular risk
assessment. This checks your cholesterol, blood sugars, blood pressure,
weight and family and smoking history. Not received your invite? Make an
STIs: Think STIs are something for your free ’n’ easy past? Think
again. “Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are on the rise among 45-64
year olds,” points out Dr Cannon. Figures released last year by the Health
Protection Agency showed an increase of 160 per cent in the number of new
chlamydia infections between 1998 and 2007. Experts reckon the high divorce
rate may be to blame, as many people end up single in middle age.
If you’ve practised safe sex during your 20s and 30s, keep it up. If not,
start now. “Age is no barrier to STIs, so unless you and your partner have
had the all-clear from a sexual health clinic, use a condom,” says Dr
INSOMNIA: “Many women complain of sleep disturbance during and after
the menopause,” says Dr Cannon. “Hormonally induced night sweats,
blood-sugar dips and a generally more sedentary life may be to blame.”
Sleepless nights aren’t inevitable in the future if you become a gold-star
sleeper now! “Make a regular bedtime routine – going to bed and waking at
the same time each day – and make your bedroom as comfortable as possible,”
says Dr Cannon. If you have problems nodding off, it can help to have a
relaxing bath or a warm, milky drink before you hit the sheets. Avoid
watching TV shortly before bed as this stimulates the mind. For more tips,
In your 50s
BOWEL CANCER: Figures from Cancer Research UK show that 83 per cent of
bowel cancer cases occur in people aged 60 or over. And as digestive and
bowel problems – which can lead to bowel cancer – become more common later
in life, it’s best to start protecting yourself now.
Levels of ‘friendly’ bacteria in the gut fall naturally with age and taking
a daily probiotic may help prevent indigestion, bloating and constipation.
Try Solgar Advanced 40+ Acidophilus, £11.79, from independent health food
DEMENTIA: Most cases of Alzheimer’s occur in the over 80s, but the risk
starts to increase much earlier. Your 50s are the time to try to take action.
“Dementia is caused by mass loss of brain cells and many experts believe
staying as mentally active as possible can help prevent this,” says Dr
Ruxton. “Doing things like mental arithmetic or puzzles could help.” Sudoku
at the ready, ladies!
OSTEOARTHRITIS: Cartilage on the end of your bones can wear down with
age and injury, causing painful, stiff and inflamed joints and problems with
Future-proof: Losing weight will significantly
reduce wear and tear on your hips and knees. “We know supplementing with
glucosamine and chondroitin – natural substances found in cartilage – can
help to protect and regenerate cartilage and reduce pain,” says sports
nutritionist Jane Griffin. Try Jointace Glucosamine and Chondroitin, £15.61
for 60 tablets, Vitabiotics.com.
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