From your twenties to your sixties, experts give tips to protect your health ‘now’ for the years ahead.
With over half of the British population believing that all is well on the inside if everything looks okay on the outside1 , it’s increasingly important to understand, and safeguard against, the effects that today’s choices have on our future health.
Half of people admit that they’d only change their lifestyle if they had a warning from a doctor; but Bupa Health Clinics experts, GP – Dr Luke Powles, Dermatologist – Dr Stephanie Munn, GP – Dr Ann Robinson and Behaviour Change Adviser – Juliet Hodges, warn that the results of present bad habits may only show themselves decades later, when the damage could be irreversible.
To help Britons stay on the right side of healthy, this panel of experts offer advice on how to future-proof your health decade by decade:
Your 20’s – Establishing healthy habits are key to a healthy third decade
Sun exposure, smoking, alcohol intake and poor mental health are the biggest risks associated with this age group which have an enormous, and often hidden effect, until later life.
Bupa Health Clinics GP, Dr Luke Powles, says: “Responsible alcohol intake is important throughout every stage of life – the less the better. Current guidelines advise both men and women should keep their consumption under 14 units a week. Minimising alcohol intake can help reduce a range of health problems including liver disease, heart disease, obesity and some cancers.
“Liver disease is the fifth top cause of death for 20-34 year olds in both genders, the second leading cause of death for women aged 35-49 and third for men of this age group. It continues into later life, too, with it being the third leading cause for women and fifth for men in the 50-64 age group.”
Dermatologist, Dr Stephanie Munn and GP, Dr Luke Powles share tips for twenty-somethings to protect their health from issues in their thirties and beyond:
1. Evidence suggests that extreme sun exposure before the age of 40, particularly if you frequently burn in the sun, puts people at more risk of developing skin cancer than exposure after the age of 40. Avoid sun beds and wear high factor sunscreen in the summer months and on holiday to keep your future self safe.
2. Acne is an issue this age group suffers from, aggravated by using whey protein as part of an exercise or nutrition programme. If someone suffers from acne, it’s best to cut it out and to use non-pore blocking and oil free products to avoid long term scaring or persistent acne.
3. It’s important for this group to begin looking after their mental health. Sadly, suicide is the leading cause of death among people aged 20-342 so it’s important to be aware of your mental wellbeing. If you feel anxiety or stress affecting you, seek help and ask your GP in the first instance if you’re unsure where to turn. Getting the right help and support can ensure you’re well-armed with ways to manage your mental health for the decades to come.
4. Stop smoking. As well as the lasting damage it can cause to your health, any amount of smoking can drastically damage elastin in the skin, and smoking in your twenties will mean your skin will age faster as you get older. Stopping smoking (or not taking the habit up in the first place) is really the best thing this age group can do to protect their future health.
Behaviour Change Advisor, Juliet Hodges believes that our twenties are the best time to form habits that last a lifetime; “The habits we form in our twenties, good or bad, are likely to stay with us into later life. It takes an average of 66 days to form a habit3 , although this number can vary greatly between individuals, so whether it’s giving up smoking, exercising or wearing sunscreen, persevere for two months and you’ll be on the road to creating a long-term pattern of good behaviour.”
Your 30’s – Safeguard against cervical and testicular cancer
It’s important to continue with the good habits made during your twenties continue to look after your mental health and avoid smoking.
However, for both men and women, the thirties have some additional health matters to consider. Dr Luke Powles says, “For women, cervical screening is critical in this age group. From age 25 to 49, women should have a smear test every three years. Early detection of anything unusual can hugely increase the survival rate.
“One in 20 women have a smear test result that comes back abnormal, and while this doesn’t mean they have cancer, investigating can help reduce the risk, and can detect harmful viruses like subtypes of HPV (Human Papilloma virus) which can lead to cervical cancer in later life. I can’t say it enough – these screening tests really do save lives.”
This is also the decade where wrinkles and early sun damage will start to appear. For example actinic keratosis (rough patches of skin caused by damage from years of sun exposure) can appear before the age of thirty on those with very pale skin or who have had excessive sun exposure, but it is more common to present itself in the 30s and 40s.
Many women will start to have children at this age too and pregnancy can sometimes result in stretch marks and skin pigmentation issues, which can be a concern for some.
Dr Stephanie Munn shares advice for women:
1. Use a moisturiser every day (and one with sunscreen between May and October).
2. Wash your face daily with a non-soap cleanser and remove make up and pollutants each night, then moisturise again before you go to sleep.
3. Pregnancy stretch marks can take up to a year to come through after your baby arrives, so ensure you’re moisturising your whole body regularly during, and after, pregnancy.
Dr Luke says: “For men, although testicular cancer is relatively rare with the risk being just under 1 in 200 in the UK, it appears to be rising, so men need to be more aware of the symptoms. It can occur at any age but it is the most common type of cancer for men between the ages of 20 and 35.”
Dr Luke shares these signs to watch out for when it comes to detecting testicular cancer:
1. Pain or discomfort in a testicle or the scrotum.
2. A painless lump or swelling on either testicle.
3. A change in the way a testicle feels, or a change in its texture.
4. Sudden build-up of fluid in the scrotum.
5. A pulling sensation in your scrotum.
6. A dull ache in your groin or lower abdomen.
Your 40’s – Keeping a fighting fit heart to ensure a healthy brain is the focus
Dr Ann Robinson, says: “Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for two thirds of all dementia, actually starts around twenty years before any symptoms appear. It’s important to consider this and be aware earlier in life how certain life choices can increase the chances of dementia.
“Smoking and diabetes at any age increases our risk, as does high blood pressure, high cholesterol, being inactive and being obese. Essentially, what is good for your heart is good for your brain.”
Dr Luke Powles says, “There is a spike in deaths related to heart disease from fifty onwards so one of the biggest focuses for people in their forties should be keeping their hearts healthy – this applies to both men and women. While oestrogen protects women from many forms of heart disease, menopause in their late forties and early fifties means that they need to be as vigilant as men in this age group.”
Dr Luke’s top tips for men and women in their forties:
1. Book a heart health check either with your GP or through a Bupa Health Clinic. At Bupa Health Clinics we look for evidence of heart disease and identify the main riskfactors for each patient. A check like this also offers practical advice for making positive lifestyle changes.
2. Breast cancer is the biggest cause of death for women in this age bracket, so it is essential that women become breast aware, frequently check themselves and go to their GP if they have any concerns.
3. This is also the time to start protecting joints that will become increasingly prone to injury as we age.
4. Weight management is key at this stage of life, as is keeping active. Bupa Health Clinics GP, Dr Luke Powles, says: “To bring the importance of exercise to life, statisticsshow that 60-80% of people will get significant back pain in their lifetime, and 95% of cases will be resolved by exercise and managing posture.”
Your 50’s – Listen to your body, look for change and act
For people in their fifties, Bupa experts advise a holistic and vigilant approach to health. Dr Stephanie Munn, says, “Your skin reflects what is going on inside. You often hear people say ‘you just don’t look well’…that’s because the skin is showing the effect of something that’s not quite right in your body or even your mind. When you’re exercising regularly, eating and sleeping well and drinking in moderation, your skin will look better and you will feel better.”
Whilst skin cancer can occur at any age, the most common age to develop this is in your 50s and 60s.
Dr Stephanie Munn says: “Whilst we should all keep an eye on our moles, it’s particularly important for those in their fifties. If new moles appear or they change shape, have different colours, are bigger than the size of the top of a ball point pen, become itchy, crusty or start bleeding make sure you see your GP or dermatologist.”
Menopause also has its effects on the skin. It can make your skin really dry and your nails can become brittle, so use plenty of moisturizer, hand cream and cuticle oil.
As well as looking after skin and managing changes Dr Luke Powles advises that people in their fifties need to stay in tune with their bodies:
1. Act on any niggles straight away. For example, if you have a cough that persists for longer than three weeks, it’s really important to go and seek health advice – particularly if you smoke or used to.
2. It’s also important to protect your bones at this age: weight bearing exercise is a good thing to keep up and try to keep your weight in check. Book in a health assessment,which will consider all aspects of your lifestyle and give practical, personalised advice on keeping bones strong and healthy.
3. Stay social! It’s easy to let regular contact with friends slide as you get older, and family and work pressures mount. However, maintaining these relationships in your fifties means you are safe-guarding your mental health for a time when you may not work as much or at all. Evidence shows the quality of our close relationships, be they community, social or romantic can be a greater predictor of our health in our older years than certain genetic and lifestyle factors4.
Your 60’s & beyond – Keeping an active brain is paramount
For this decade, health is very focused on the brain. Dementia is the leading cause of death amongst women and the third biggest amongst men. While there is a genetic component which is out of our control, there is no doubt that keeping the brain engaged and healthy helps reduce the risk. While lifestyle choices throughout one’s life will impact on our brain health it is important to take preventative measures at this stage of life as well.
Dr Ann Robinson, says: “Taking care of our brain health should start much earlier in life, but it is still important that during the sixties we keep our brain active. This may increase its vitality and it could even build its reserves of brain cells and connections, so you could even generate new cells.”
Dr Luke Powles, says: “For this age group it is important to stay physically as well as mentally active. We know that when older adults lose their mobility their physical and mental health can often follow. This also applies to older adults who retreat into inactivity in their later years so it is vital that those in their sixties should try to do something, even if it is just heading out for a walks every day.”
Dr Luke Powles shares his tips for those in their sixties:
1. Stay curious and involved, always look for something new to learn, research or read about.
2. Crosswords and other puzzles are an excellent way to engage daily. Now is the time to take up Sudoku!
3. Learn a new skill, or language, or go and see a theatre play – these activities can all be fun and relaxing ways of staying mentally active and alert.
4. Do something active every day – walk a dog, walk to the shop, gardening, cycling – whatever it might be!
1 51% – according to a survey of 1,000 people in the UK commissioned by Bupa and carried out independently by Censuswide in October 2016.