Feeling Your Best: Women’s Health Through the Years
By Nermin Lazarus, DO, Primary Care Physician – Virtua Women’s Primary Care
There’s no denying it—we change as we get older. Calories we’d easily burn off when we were young now seem to hang on our hips. Controlling our blood pressure becomes more important than binge-watching that show on Netflix.
As your body changes, your yearly well-woman visits and health focus will evolve to meet your needs. Whether you see a gynecologist or your primary care provider for your checkups, here’s what to expect, decade by decade.
Your 20s and 30s
Your 20s and 30s are a time to set a baseline for your health, a time to establish healthy habits now and for down the road. This includes eating a heart-healthy diet, exercising at least 30 minutes a day, getting a good night’s sleep, and managing stress.
Be sure to:
- Get your blood pressure checked regularly. Depending on the results, you may need these tests more often and make lifestyle changes to lower your levels.
- Have an annual pelvic exam and a cervical cancer screening every three years if you are age 21 to 29 and every three to five years if you are age 30 to 64.
- Perform monthly breast self-exams so you are familiar with how your breasts look and feel.
- Talk with your doctor about when to be tested for diabetes and thyroid function.
Symptoms of thyroid problems can be nonspecific, but the thyroid plays a major role in how our bodies function. An imbalance in your thyroid hormones can affect your energy level, weight, metabolism, heart rate, menstrual cycle, bone strength, and cholesterol.
You’re 40 and fabulous! Besides physical breast exams, begin having yearly mammograms no later than age 45 (your doctor may recommend starting earlier). Forty-five is also the magic year to have your first colonoscopy—the best way to detect colorectal cancer.
In addition, you may be noticing a shift in your menstrual periods. Your flow may change in heaviness, stick to less of a schedule, or even skip a few months. This is called perimenopause, the lead-in to menopause. Your hormone levels are changing, you’re not always ovulating, and you may be having hot flashes and trouble sleeping. Talk with your provider about how to cope with the physical and emotional changes you may be experiencing.
Your metabolism will slow and your weight gradually shifts from your hips and thighs to your abdomen, shoulders, and chest. Regular aerobic exercise and strength training can help you maintain a healthy weight and muscle tone.
And, don’t forget to schedule an annual exam with a dermatologist to check for skin cancer.
Your 50s, 60s, and 70s
You’re going strong, but age impacts your risk for illness. As with men, plaque and calcium narrow and harden your arteries. But hormone changes from menopause, high blood pressure and diabetes experienced during pregnancy, smoking, and a family history of heart disease all greatly heighten your chances of heart attack and stroke. Be sure to learn your unique symptoms of these emergencies, too.
Menopause can also contribute to low bone density and increased fall risk. A bone-density test at age 65 can help assess your bone health.
Urge incontinence, that “gotta go right now” feeling, is common in post-menopausal women as well. A number of treatments are available.
The most important thing is, no matter your age, see your health care provider regularly. We’ll help you stay on track with your screenings, catch problems early, and answer questions so you can live a long, enjoyable life.
Here for You at Every Age
You deserve to feel your best at every phase of life. Learn how Virtua is here for you. Ready to connect with a Women’s Health Navigator to schedule an appointment? Call 856-499-5599.
Updated January 14, 2022