With each decade, a woman faces a slew of medical issues and concerns.
From HPV screenings to family planning to breast cancer screenings, women need to develop healthy habits early to work toward a lifetime of good health and disease prevention.
Here are some things women need to look out for at each major stage of life development:
Women in their 20s should develop good basic health habits – from maintaining a healthy diet to developing a consistent exercise regimen. Making these habits an ingrained part of daily life sets a woman up for a lifetime of good health, Dr. Diane Helentjaris, a physician with the American Medical Women’s Association, said. She recommends 30 minutes of exercise – including some type of weight-bearing exercise – once a day, everyday.
This is also the age where a woman should choose a regular primary care physician who can become familiar with her personal and family medical history, lifestyle and risk factors for certain diseases such as breast cancer.
A woman should develop a comfortable relationship and be honest with with her physician about her lifestyle. Lying about issues such as sexual history or a poor diet might cause a doctor to overlook a patient’s risk for disease or weight gain.
The 20s are also a good time to start self-breast exams. Women should start familiarizing themselves with their breasts so they don’t miss lumps in breast tissue that could signal cancer.
Women who haven’t yet received the Gardasil vaccine should do so by age 26. The vaccine protects women against the two types of Human Papillomavirus that cause up to 75 percent of cervical cancer cases. Regular pap tests are also a must.
Women who want to have children should prepare before they conceive, Helentjaris said. If a woman is trying to have a child, she should add a folic acid supplement to her diet. The B-complex vitamin prevents major birth defects in a baby’s brain and spine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC recommends that all women get at least 400 micrograms of folic acid each day.
Women should also plan to space their pregnancies about 18 months apart, Helentjaris said.
“The pregnancy itself takes a toll on your body,” she said. “Women who space their babies end up having healthier babies. You want to make sure that each pregnancy is as healthy as possible.”
Women should also continue to practice the healthy habits they developed during their 20s and stay away from unhealthy substances such as alcohol, tobacco and drugs – including prescription medication. Take medicine only as prescribed by your physician.
This is the age where a woman’s risk for breast cancer tends to go up. While women with a high genetic risk for breast cancer should talk to their doctors early about mammogram testing, breast cancer screenings for all women in their 40s is a good idea.
A study published in the medical journal “Radiology” by Judith Malmgren from the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine found that breast cancer diagnosed via mammograms in women in their 40s have a better prognosis than those found by doctors or women themselves.
The American Cancer Society suggests that women begin breast cancer screenings at the age of 40.
Women should consult with their doctors to figure out the frequency for breast cancer screenings, Helentjaris said.
50s and up
Like puberty, menopause brings bodily changes. Osteoporosis tends to strike women during the time immediately before menopause, so women should make sure they are consuming adequate amounts of calcium, which promotes strong bones and prevents fractures, Helentjaris said.
The CDC recommends 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day for women 50 and older.
The National Institutes of Health estimates that heart disease and stroke are responsible for about 40 percent of deaths in women.
Adequate exercise and nutrition are the biggest preventative measures.
-Compiled by Tori Hamby