Your Healthiest Self: A Decade-by-Decade Guide

Your health is your most valuable asset, and it’s important to take steps to protect it at every age. I have had many conversations with patients, family members, and friends regarding preventive medicine and strongly encourage self-advocacy. Screening tests can save lives, period! Having a pap smear or colonoscopy at the right time can detect abnormal, precancerous cells that can be addressed. The first step in your health care journey is cultivating a good relationship with your health care provider and this is something that should take place early in your twenties. Secondly, being informed and having dialogue to ensure that you are maximizing your health benefits during engagement with your provider. Arming yourself with knowledge is the key to overall health and provides a sense of control over your well-being. Here are some important healthcare recommendations decade by decade, starting at age 21:

Age 21-30

Healthcare Advocacy and Self-Ownership for 21-30 Year Olds

Your twenties are a time of great change and upheaval. You’re moving away from home for college, starting your first job, and building relationships. It’s easy to let your health fall to the wayside during this busy time in your life. But taking care of yourself is more important than ever during your twenties. 

This is the decade when you’ll start to establish lifelong health habits. You’re also at an increased risk for certain health problems, such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and mental health conditions. That’s why it’s important to become your own health advocate and to take ownership of your health.

As a parent of a twenty-one year old, I’ve seen firsthand the importance of healthcare advocacy and self-ownership for this age group. College, first job, relationships, getting married—all of these things can take away from managing your health and putting things off. That’s why it’s so important to create patterns of healthy living and establish relationships with the healthcare system during this decade.

Here are some tips for becoming a health advocate in your twenties:

  • Get to know your body. Pay attention to how you feel on a daily basis. What makes you feel good?What makes you feel bad? Learning about your body will help you to identify potential health problems early on.
  • Establish relationships with your healthcare providers. Find a primary care physician (PCP) that you trust and feel comfortable talking to. You should also find a gynecologist or urologist for regular checkups and screenings.
  • Get regular checkups and screenings. This is the best way to detect health problems early on, when they’re most treatable.
  • Be informed about your health. Read about health topics that are important to you. Don’t be afraid to ask your healthcare providers questions.
  • Be assertive. Advocate for yourself and your health needs. If you’re not comfortable with something,speak up.

Here are some specific health concerns that you should be aware of in your twenties:

  • STIs: STIs are common among young adults. It’s important to get tested for STIs regularly, even if you’re in a monogamous relationship.
  • Mental health: Mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, are also common among young adults. If you’re struggling with your mental health, talk to your PCP or a mental health professional.
  • Substance abuse: Substance abuse is a serious problem among young adults. If you’re struggling with substance abuse, talk to your PCP or a substance abuse counselor.

Creating patterns and establishing relationships with the healthcare system are important in the 21-30 age decade.

  • Create patterns of healthy living. This includes eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep. Establishing these patterns will help you to maintain good health throughout your life.
  • Establish relationships with your healthcare providers. Get to know your PCP and other healthcare providers. This will make it easier for you to get the care you need when you need it.

Your twenties are a time to focus on your health and well-being. By becoming a health advocate and taking ownership of your health, you can set yourself up for a lifetime of good health.

  • Get regular checkups and screenings. This includes getting a Pap test and HPV test every three years (or more often if you’re at high risk for cervical cancer), getting tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and getting a blood pressure check and cholesterol test every year.
  • Establish a relationship with your primary care physician (PCP). Your PCP is your first point of contact for all things health-related. They can help you manage your chronic conditions, provide preventive care, and answer any questions you have about your health.
  • Make healthy lifestyle choices. This includes eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and managing stress.

Age 31-40

  • Continue to get regular checkups and screenings. In addition to the screenings listed above, you should also start getting screened for colon cancer at age 45 (if you’re at average risk).
  • Talk to your PCP about your family health history. This will help them identify any potential risk factors you have for certain diseases.
  • Get vaccinated against HPV and other preventable diseases.
  • If you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant, talk to your PCP about prenatal care.

Age 41-50

  • Continue to get regular checkups and screenings. In addition to the screenings listed above, you should also start getting screened for breast cancer at age 40 (if you’re at average risk).
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. If you smoke, talk to your PCP about quitting.
  • Manage stress. Stress can take a toll on your physical and mental health. Find healthy ways to manage stress, such as exercise, relaxation techniques, and spending time with loved ones.

Age 51-60

  • Continue to get regular checkups and screenings. In addition to the screenings listed above, you should also start getting screened for osteoporosis at age 65 (if you’re at average risk).
  • Stay active. Regular exercise is important for maintaining a healthy weight and reducing your risk of chronic diseases.
  • Eat a healthy diet. A healthy diet includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It’s also important to limit processed foods, sugary drinks, and unhealthy fats.

Age 61 and over

  • Continue to get regular checkups and screenings. In addition to the screenings listed above, you may also need to get screened for other conditions, such as glaucoma and hearing loss.
  • Stay active and eat a healthy diet. This is important for maintaining your health and independence as you age.
  • Get enough sleep. Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep per night.

Being Your Own Healthcare Advocate

It’s important to be your own healthcare advocate. This means taking responsibility for your own health and being involved in your healthcare decisions.

Here are some tips for being your own healthcare advocate:

  • Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask your PCP questions about your health, your medications, or any treatments or procedures they recommend.
  • Do your research. If you’re facing a health decision, take the time to learn about your options and the risks and benefits of each one.
  • Get a second opinion. If you’re not comfortable with a treatment plan your PCP recommends, get a second opinion from another doctor.
  • Be assertive. Don’t be afraid to speak up and tell your PCP what you want. You’re your own healthcare advocate, and it’s important to feel comfortable with your healthcare decisions.

Cultivating a Relationship with Your Primary Care Physician

Your PCP is your partner in health. They are there to help you manage your chronic conditions, provide preventive care, and answer any questions you have about your health.

Here are some tips for cultivating a good relationship with your PCP:

  • Be honest and open with your PCP. This includes telling them about your family health history, your lifestyle habits, and any concerns you have about your health.
  • Be prepared for your appointments. Bring a list of your medications, any questions you have, and any new symptoms you’re experiencing.
  • Be patient. It takes time to build a relationship with your PCP. The more you see them and the more open you are with them, the stronger your relationship will become.

Your health is your most valuable asset, and it’s important to take steps to protect it at every age. Preventive medicine and self-advocacy are two of the most important things you can do to stay healthy.

Preventive medicine is the practice of preventing disease and promoting health. It includes things like getting regular checkups and screenings, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and managing stress.

Self-advocacy is the practice of communicating your needs and wants to your healthcare providers. It’s important to be an active participant in your healthcare and to ask questions about your care.

Screening tests can detect disease early, when it’s most treatable. Some important screening tests include:

  • Pap smear and HPV test for cervical cancer
  • Colonoscopy for colorectal cancer
  • Mammogram for breast cancer
  • Prostate exam for prostate cancer
  • Cholesterol test for high cholesterol
  • Blood pressure test for high blood pressure
  • Diabetes test for diabetes

It’s important to talk to your doctor about which screening tests you need and when you should start getting them.

Here is a decade-by-decade guide to preventive medicine and self-advocacy:

Age 21-30

  • Get regular checkups and screenings, including a Pap test and HPV test every three years (or more often if you’re at high risk for cervical cancer), STI tests, and blood pressure and cholesterol tests every year.
  • Establish a relationship with your primary care physician (PCP).
  • Make healthy lifestyle choices, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep,and managing stress.

Age 31-40

  • Continue to get regular checkups and screenings, including colon cancer screenings at age 45 (if you’re at average risk).
  • Talk to your PCP about your family health history.
  • Get vaccinated against HPV and other preventable diseases.
  • Get prenatal care if you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant.

Age 41-50

  • Continue to get regular checkups and screenings, including breast cancer screenings at age 40 (if you’re at average risk).
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Manage stress.

Age 51-60

  • Continue to get regular checkups and screenings, including osteoporosis screenings at age 65 (if you’re at average risk).
  • Stay active.
  • Eat a healthy diet.

Age 61 and over

  • Continue to get regular checkups and screenings, including glaucoma and hearing loss screenings.
  • Stay active and eat a healthy diet.
  • Get enough sleep.

Self-advocacy tips:

  • Be prepared for your appointments. Write down a list of your questions and concerns.
  • Ask questions about your care. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification or to ask for a second opinion.
  • Be assertive. Tell your doctor what you want and need.
  • Be your own best advocate. No one knows your body better than you do.

Preventive medicine and self-advocacy are essential for maintaining good health at every age. By following the tips above, you can reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases and live a longer, healthier life.