Mills-Peninsula Health Blog

Be Well, Be Well Informed

How to Stay Healthy at Every Age

Posted on Jun 9, 2014 in Prevention and Wellness

Older man carrying child on his shoulders.

While few of us may live past 100, there are plenty of steps we can take to improve our chances for a long, healthy life.

Follow this expert advice from our Mills-Peninsula primary care doctors to do the best for your health at each life stage.

Childhood and Teen Years

“I think one of the most important things parents can do is help their kids cultivate wellness behaviors right from the start,” Radhika Varma, M.D., a Mills-Peninsula family medicine doctor, says.

Habits developed in early childhood are much more likely to be carried into adulthood. So it’s important to minimize or eliminate junk food and soda in favor of fresh fruit and vegetables, and encourage exercise.

“But you can’t just talk about these things with your children,” she says. “You need to actively participate. Take a walk as a family instead of watching TV. Be a healthy role model. It’s the best gift you can give your kids.”

Of course, regular check-ups at the doctor are vitally important, as are immunizations. Throughout childhood, kids should be vaccinated against a host of diseases including polio, diphtheria, measles, mumps and rubella.

Healthy sleep habits are also important. “There needs to be a ‘lights out time’ for computers, tablets and cell phones,” Lisa Hladik, M.D., a Mills-Peninsula internal medicine doctor, says. Otherwise, kids can easily stay up all night playing online games, texting or hanging out on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Also, make sure children learn early on to be safety conscious. That means using seat belts in the car, wearing appropriate protective clothing during sports activities and donning helmets whenever they use wheels of any kind – bikes, skates or scooters.

And don’t skip the awkward topics. “As children grow into adolescence, parents need to start the discussion around risky behaviors involving drugs, alcohol and sex,” Tarini Anand, M.D., a Mills-Peninsula internal medicine doctor, says.

The “Invincible” Years

In their 20s and 30s, people often feel indestructible and in little need of medical attention. But it’s important to see a doctor routinely to be screened for depression, infections and signs of early stage disease.

“There are few, if any, symptoms associated with elevated blood pressure, cholesterol or sugar levels,” Dr. Anand says. “That’s why I stress to my patients in this life stage to come in regularly for their annual screenings and to focus on healthy habits.”

STD screenings are also important, Dr. Hladik says. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most commonly transmitted STD and can be detected by a simple Pap smear.

Between the ages of 21 and 30, women should get a Pap test at least once every three years. Between 30 and 40, your doctor may switch to once every five years.

“If you’re sexually active, you also need to have a regular chlamydia screening with each new partner,” she says.

“Chlamydia is the second most common STD. It has no symptoms and, left untreated, can cause permanent sterility. But if caught early, it’s easily cured.”

Middle Age

“At 50, both men and women should have their first colonoscopy,” Dr. Varma says. “If no problems are discovered, the test should be repeated once every 10 years.”

Fifty is also the age when men should consider being screened for prostate cancer, particularly for African American men or those who have a family history of the disease.

Heart disease is also more common in people 50 and above, so it’s crucial to eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise.

For women in their 50s, menopause can cause hormonal changes leading to mood swings, hot flashes and sexual problems. A doctor can provide a variety of tools to help combat these symptoms.

Risk for cancer increases in the 40 to 60 age range. For women, annual Pap smears are important to screen for cancer of the cervix. Regular mammograms are also recommended to detect breast cancer early.

Sixty-somethings should make sure their vaccines are up-to-date, and to talk to their doctors about immunizations for shingles and pneumonia. And, “If you haven’t stopped smoking by now, quit!” Dr. Hladik says.

70s and Above

“Watch your alcohol intake,” Dr. Hladik says. A surprising number of older adults have a problem with alcohol, which causes liver disease.

If you’ve made it into your 80s and above, “You must be doing something right,” Dr. Anand says. At this stage, a social support network is just as important as good medical care.

“Set up a daily routine and consider attending programs at an adult care center regularly,” she says. “Staying active and interacting with other people is key to maintaining mental and physical health.”

For more advice on how to proactively improve your health, check out the 2014 Health Maintenance Guidelines.