We can't deny it: Time passes, and our bodies change. Our day-to-day health is kind of like the weather. Like sunny days or passing storms, colds come and go. So do sniffles, aches and pains, and pimples and blisters. Our overall health, though, is more like the climate. It's an accumulation of lots of different factors - genetics, chance, and the lifestyle choices we make - and has more impact on our lives in the long run.
Some of the factors that affect our health are out of our control, like our family's medical legacy. If your mother or sister have had breast cancer, you might be more likely to have breast cancer, too. Accidents, injuries, and genetically unforeseen conditions can sideswipe us and set our health off-balance, too.
But we can control the lifestyle choices we make, and these choices certainly do accumulate and either enrich or endanger the quality of health we enjoy through the years of our lives. Decisions you make, like whether to smoke or not, what sort of foods you eat, and how much physical activity you fit into your life, may make or break your health.
Each one of us is a unique specimen, and the aging process will touch us each in different ways. In general, to be the healthiest you at any age, you will need to understand the ways your body may change. You also need to keep up with a few routine preventive health screenings and integrate beneficial, age-defying habits into your life. Time passes, so make the most of the time you have, no matter what your age.
Your 30s can feel sort of bittersweet. Just as you're coming more into your own and feeling stronger in your identity, your body begins to show some of the first subtle signs of aging. And just as you're achieving more stability in your career or personal life, you may discover the stresses that sprout from that stability. Of course, for some women these things will have less impact than for others. But there are some common concerns among thirty-somethings.
Your 30s can be the time when you pay the price for too much fun or too much sun. Years of happy, healthy living kept you smiling? You may notice crinkling around your eyes. Those wrinkles of joy come naturally, as your skin ages right along with you, becoming less elastic and less regenerative as time passes. And if you spent time basking or tanning when you were younger, the effects of photoaging will become a little more evident now.
One of the more common stresses among women in their 30s is finding time to stay fit. It seems like all of that stress - from keeping up with work, relationships, or your children - would keep you active enough! Maintaining a fit, strong, lean body will make you less prone to weight gain and loss of muscle mass and tone. Not to mention that regular physical activity can decrease your risks of heart disease, diabetes, and the symptoms of stress and depression.
During this decade, you may grapple with baby questions, like "Should I have one?" or "Should I have another one?" The peak fertility years may be the 20s, but many women have healthy pregnancies and give birth to healthy babies well into their 30s. Past the age of 35, there is an increased risk of birth defects, pregnancy difficulties, and miscarriage. It can also become a bit more difficult to become pregnant, and the reasons are natural.
As you move through your 30s, your body continues its path along the reproductive continuum. Adolescents have several hundred thousand egg cells, but only about 400 mature into eggs, and by the time you've reached your 30s, you've shed roughly half of those. This ebbing egg trend can affect a woman's health in a lot of different ways, difficulty conceiving being one of the most common and emotionally challenging.
The shift in hormones could also cause some changes to your menstrual cycle. Heavy bleeding may also be due to fibroids, uterine tumours that are not cancerous. If you've had children, you may also experience some degree of urinary incontinence.
All these changes sound like a real party, huh? But don't despair, thirty-something female, keep reading for lots of ways you can make your 30s much less bitter and much sweeter.
Shift gears with fitness and nutrition. Once you hit your 30s, you may notice some shifts in your weight - how much weight you gain and where you gain it. To battle back, do some shifting of your own: a downshift in caloric intake and an upshift in activity level. As you age, your body requires fewer calories. Depending on your body mass index (BMI), a woman of 30 who is not very active needs 1,600 to 1,800 calories per day. For each year past the age of 30, subtract 7 calories from your total. If you are more active, you will need more calories per day. Explore ways you can balance the amount of energy you take in (through calories from eating and drinking) with the amount of energy you burn up (through activity).
Move it. The stress avalanche of modern life may leave little time or enthusiasm for exercise. Rather than settling for a workout that fails to inspire, freshen up your routine with new moves - any moves will make a difference! You could try the countless forms of dance, yoga, or martial arts. Leave your desk for 15 minutes in the afternoon and go for a walk. Play with your kids: jump rope, shoot hoops, or hop on the latest fitness video game console. Swim, hike, or join a soccer or softball team. Explore the many variations on aerobic exercise classes at gyms these days - hula hoop, pole-dancing and strip tease, spin, or step, to name just 5 of the 5 zillion kinds out there.
Find order in the food chaos. By the time you reach your 30s, you've heard a lot of news about food: Eggs are bad, eggs are good, superfood-this, omega-that. Whether you're feeding the whole family, eating for two or eating just for you, keep in mind a few basic ideas. Freshen up your fridge with colourful, seasonal fruits and veggies. Clear your pantry of empty calorie culprits, including soft drinks and sugary juices, and stock up on nourishing essentials and wholesome go-to snacks. Cook in healthy oils, choosing canola or olive over options with more saturated fat. Focus on foods rich in vitamins and minerals, paying special attention to your intake of folate, calcium, and iron if you plan on getting pregnant. Do what you can to maintain a healthy weight and cholesterol level, and avoid the foods that cause you stomach upset or heartburn.
Sit pretty on strong bones. In your 30s, you lose more bone than you produce. Losing too much bone mass now heightens your risk of slumping into osteoporosis. Balance bone loss by doing weight-bearing exercises and eating a diet rich in calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, and folic acid. While you're still years from worrying about the fabled dowager's hump, you may notice a sag in your posture after years of sitting at desks, carrying pregnancy weight - or the weight of those children once they're born. Strength training, especially focusing on your abdominal core, will help you maintain natural, aligned posture. Yoga and Pilates could also help, as the stretching exercises elongate the muscles and support the joints.
Be good to your breasts. A woman's relationship with her breasts is a complex one. As a thirty-something, you've gone from the pre-adolescent wondering phase and the getting-to-know-you phase of early adulthood. Now, perhaps you're noticing changes in your breasts, whether you've had children or not. To keep the girls in peak form, practice some breast TLC. Wear a supportive, well-fitted bra, and don't be too shy to go in for a professional fitting. Eat an antioxidant-rich diet to fight back breast cancer risks. You should be familiar with the look and feel of your breasts by now - continue to get to know them so you can scan for any lumps. Some lumps you may find could just be benign cysts. Fibrocystic breast disease is thought to occur due to hormonal changes. Considering breast-feeding? Turns out it's as good for you as it is for your baby: studies suggest breast-feeding may actually lower your risk - and your child's future risk - of breast
Support your skin. There's no escaping time. It marches right across our skin, leaving its imprint. When you look in the mirror now, you may spot the first visible signs of time's passage - slight wrinkles, especially around your eyes and mouth. You may also glimpse dry, dull skin or, as a cruel twist, adult acne. Keep your skin properly hydrated, and exfoliate regularly to remove dry, dull skin. Use products infused with antioxidants (like CoQ10 or vitamins A, C, and E) to repair damage done by sun, pollution, stress, and the natural process of aging.
Plumb for a balance. In yoga, teachers encourage students to find their centre or their plumb line. When they do, difficult balancing poses can become restful or revitalizing. A plumb line may swing or turn sometimes, but it always finds its centre. In your 30s, strive to find your plumb line for living, a centre that you can swing back to when you've swung too far toward worry or depression. To find your centre, examine your stress-list, reconsidering all of your must-do's. Can you scratch any out, leaving more time for the things you really need? Don't let stress ravage your sleep, your sex life, or any of the other things vital to our healthy, happy survival.
Use this check-up checklist to stay on top of the tests and examinations you need all through your 30s.
- Blood pressure and cholesterol: You're not at too much risk of elevated levels now, especially if you're following healthy heart habits like exercising regularly, eating a nutritious diet, and not smoking. Anytime you go in for any health care visit, your blood pressure will be gauged, and you should get a cholesterol work-up every few years. If you fall into certain risk groups, your doctor may screen your levels more frequently. You may be at risk if you have diabetes or a large waist circumference, or if you smoke.
- Pap test and pelvic exam: By the time you've hit 20, you should be having routine pelvic exams and Pap tests. Pap tests screen for cervical cancer, while the pelvic exam allows your health care provider to examine your cervix and vagina and to get a sense of the health of your uterus. Your health care provider might also look for signs of infections.
- Breast exam: Breast cancer is a very common cancer among women. Your health care provider may do an exam when you go in for your Pap test and pelvic exam. If not, ask your doctor whether you should have a breast exam, and if so, how often. You should also become familiar with the look and feel of your breasts so you know what's normal for you.
- Skin check: Anyone at any age can develop skin cancer. In addition to minimizing your risk with healthy sun habits, your health care provider should do a thorough skin check to screen for new or changed moles or marks. You can also do a skin check yourself (or with a helpful partner). Remember the letters ABCDE when looking at skin growths:
If anything seems out of the ordinary or alarming, contact your doctor.
- Asymmetry (not round)
- Border (irregular)
- Colour (uneven, changing, different from other moles)
- Diameter (larger than a pencil eraser)
- Evolving (changing in size, shape, or colour)
- Dental check-ups: Visit your dentist for preventive check-ups and routine cleanings. The frequency of visits will really depend on individual needs, though most authorities on the subject recommend at least once or twice a year.
- Eye exams: Even if your vision is 20/20, you should have your eyes examined every one to two years. After all, optometrists check for other things besides how good your vision is - like signs of glaucoma. If you have a condition like diabetes, high blood pressure, or a family history of vision problems, your optometrist will let you know if you need more frequent eye exams and check-ups.
- Immunizations: You think shots are just for kids? Certain vaccinations you received as a child may need to be updated, while other immunizations are available that can protect you from needless health issues. Ask your doctor if you're due for any of these:
- Get shots to protect you from measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) if you've never had the vaccination before. Should you find yourself in certain risk situations, you'd also need the MMR vaccination. Those risky situations include working in health care, attending college, and travelling to certain countries.
- The tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine is recommended for anyone whose last Tdap shots were more than 10 years ago. Others who should get the Tdap include those who work in close contact with infants, those who plan on becoming pregnant, and those who have received a "dirty" wound (e.g., from a rusted nail).
- Each year, get the influenza vaccine. The flu shot is especially important if you have medical conditions that put you at risk of complications from the flu.
- Considering world travel? Consider being vaccinated against meningitis and hepatitis A and B, and consult with a travel clinician or your doctor in regards to other risks of particular destinations.
- If you never had chickenpox as a youngster, you should get vaccinated against it now. And if you're unsure whether you did, go ahead and get the vaccination, just in case. It's a good idea to get it, too, if you're hoping to get pregnant sometime in the future. Hold off, though, if you're already pregnant (or hope to be within several weeks of vaccination).