Women’s Health, Decade by Decade
Women, listen up: Staying vigilant about your health makes for happier, healthier years
In general, women are most concerned about their sexual health when they see a doctor at this age, says Dr. Amanda Schmehil, OB/GYN with Associated Physicians. “They want to be screened for STDs and HPV. They also have concerns about their ability to get pregnant and contraception. We try to do pre-conception counseling if women are interested in getting pregnant in the next year.”
Women in their 20s should keep an eye on their blood pressure and their cholesterol levels, says Jane Nelson-Worel, a nurse practitioner with Meriter Medical Group and board member with the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association. “Earlier on, women can certainly have high cholesterol and blood pressure. If women develop high blood pressure or blood sugars during pregnancy that’s indicative of a higher heart disease risk as they age. Also, we encourage women in their 20s and 30s that smoking and use of oral contraceptives is a high-risk combination for blood clots which can lead to serious heart and lung complications.”
Tests to Get:
• Blood pressure every two years (if normal; more often if abnormal)
• Pap test every two years starting at age 21 (if normal; more often if not)
• STD screening for gonorrhea and chlamydia yearly until age 25
• Baseline cholesterol and fasting glucose, especially if overweight, in the early 20s
Life-work balance issues become more prevalent in the 30s, says Schmehil. “I talk to a lot of women about stress management and that balance when they have kids. I also get a lot of questions still about sexual health and pregnancy.”
To lessen stress and maintain a healthy body be sure to squeeze in physical activity when you can. Current recommendations are
moderate-intensity cardio at least 30 minutes a day five days a week, or vigorous activity 20 minutes three times per week, plus strength training twice a week. Eat right, too: “The more people can get in the habit of exercising regularly, limiting fats, lean meats, fiber and whole grains, the less risk you’ll have to worry about when you age of heart disease and diabetes. We used to educate people more as they got older about heart disease, but it’s become more important as we age to keep those factors under control,” says Schmehil.
Tests to Get:
• Blood pressure, same as in the 20s
• Pap test, every three years
• Cholesterol may need more frequent checks if abnormal, otherwise every five years
Cancers including breast, colon, cervical, ovarian and endometrial can start to affect women in this age range, says Nelson-Worel. She notes that if a woman’s mother had cancer in her 40s, she’ll start being screened a decade earlier for that same cancer.
Heart disease risk for women goes up with age and menopause, and cholesterol and hyper-tension should be evaluated more frequently near the end of the 40s as well: “Part of that is the loss of estrogen and other metabolic changes as women go through menopause. We see the biggest changes in cholesterol and blood pressure in the late 40s and early 50s,” says Nelson-Worel.
Keep up that physical activity too: “If age 25 is our baseline, every decade after that we burn 100 fewer calories by doing the same activity. By age 40 we burn 200 fewer calories. Even if we maintain the same level of activity, we’ll gain weight with each decade. We also lose muscle—that’s why we need to focus on strength training, too.”
Tests to Get:
• Blood pressure, Pap and cholesterol same as in the 30s
• Yearly mammogram, starting at age 40
• STD screenings (Schmehil notes that those who are divorced may be back on the dating scene; re-test with new sexual partners)
50s and Beyond
Be vigilant about getting those health screenings done: “As women go into menopause they’re at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes,” says Nelson-Worel. “Women with diabetes tend not to do as well as men with diabetes. Men get more risk factors earlier on, women catch up about ten years behind men.”
As women age, they should also consume less sodium—about 1,500 milligrams per day. Women with high
cholesterol should look into a Mediterranean-style diet, as well as consume Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish, nuts and ground flax seed) and monounsaturated fats, and limit full-fat dairy products and trans fats.
Blood pressure tends to go up in the sixties and seventies, even in women who’ve had normal blood pressure, because blood vessels stiffen, which is due to a loss of estrogen.
Tests to Get:
• Blood pressure, Pap,cholesterol and mammogram, same as in the 40s
• Colonoscopy every 10 years starting at age 50
• Bone density test recommended at least once by age 65
Shayna Miller is multimedia and style editor of Madison Magazine.
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