Although there may not be a fountain of youth, there are plenty of things you can do to improve your chances for a long, healthy life.
Follow this expert advice from our Palo Alto Medical Foundation 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, ” says Radhika Varma, M.D., a family medicine doctor at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.
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, ” says Lisa Hladik, M.D., an internist at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. “Otherwise, kids can easily stay up all night playing online games, texting or hanging out on social media sites.”
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, ” says Tarini Anand, M.D., an internist at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.
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, ” says Dr. Anand. “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.”
“At 50, both men and women should have their first colonoscopy, ” says Dr. Varma. “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.
Adults over 60 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!” says Dr. Hladik.
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