Want to know the secret to tip-top wellness whatever your age? We’ve spoken to leading experts for the best science-backed advice on maxing your wellbeing. Here’s how to help stave off future health problems and keep your body and mind in peak condition, decade by decade.
There’s no denying it: as time passes, our bodies and minds change. While there are some factors of our health we can’t control, it’s amazing how the simple lifestyle choices we make affect how long we live and how happy we are. “Science now shows us that only 10% of our health outcomes are due to genetics,” says Dr Rangan Chatterjee, a GP and author. “The rest is influenced by our lifestyle and environment, which is incredibly empowering.” It’s time we took a proactive 360 ̊ approach to our health at every age – from what we eat to tackling our stress levels.
Here’s how to…
Protect yourself in your 20s
Now’s the time to establish healthy habits that can carry you through a long, healthy life.
1. Jump on injuries
“An injury to muscles or joints may not seem concerning but don’t hesitate to get it treated properly by a doctor or physiotherapist – that may help prevent osteoarthritis later in life,” says Dr Rod Hughes.
2. Think about skin cancer
Yes, already. “This is the age to start protecting your face from the sun every day,” says Dr Anjali Mahto. “The most common form of skin cancer – basal cell carcinoma – usually occurs on the face later in life, so protecting your skin now will help prevent this. You’ll also reduce signs of ageing such as wrinkles and pigmentation. If your skin is sensitive and reacts to standard SPF, try mineral-based sunscreens containing titanium or zinc.” You should also get into the habit of a monthly mole check, says Mahto. “See a doctor if you notice any change in an existing mole or a new mole.” A mole screening can be helpful to put your mind at rest – and understand what you should be looking out for.
3. Get to know your cycle
It can be helpful for women to familiarise themselves with what’s normal for them when it comes to their menstrual cycle, especially if they want to start a family one day. “In particular, pay attention to heavy periods,” says Dr Tania Adib. “Sometimes they can be a sign of fibroids [benign growths in the womb] and potentially lead to anaemia. Regular pain could suggest endometriosis, so see a doctor if you’re concerned. And go for regular smear tests.”
4. Power down
“It’s not just kids that need a routine,” says Chatterjee. “Many of us expect to be able to finish off our work emails and then go to bed straight after and drop off instantly, but that’s unrealistic.” Introduce good sleep habits now and you’ll benefit for years to come – try a relaxing bath, dimming the lights or reading.
5. Eat for healthy bones
“This is your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build bone mass, so eat plenty of calcium-rich foods such as tinned fish containing bones, dairy and dried fruit,” says Bond. “You also need vitamin D for healthy bones as it helps your body absorb calcium – oily fish and eggs both contain it.” If you’re vegan, the NHS recommends reaching for fortified unsweetened soya and oat drinks, sesame seeds, pulses and bread (calcium is added to the bread flour).
Inform yourself in your 30s and 40s
Ask questions, keep up with medical appointments and get to know your body as much as you can.
1. Swap alcohol for vinyasa flow
“One glass of wine contains 250 calories so if you’re starting to gain weight more easily, cutting down on alcohol is a simple way to manage it,” says Hughes. “On top of that, alcohol reduces muscle strength at a time you’re already losing it by 4% every year. Yoga and Pilates are good exercise options for stretching and strengthening muscles.”
2. Focus on B vitamins
“At this age, you may be multi-tasking, juggling work with other things such as parenthood or other life changes,” says Bond. “Foods containing B vitamins help your body release energy from food and fight stress. The best way to get enough is to eat a varied diet, including wholegrains, fortified cereals, oats, green vegetables, lean meat seafood and eggs.”
3. Think about retinol for skin
“By 40 consider using a retinoid cream at night to boost collagen production and improve fine lines,” says Mahto. “See a dermatologist for a prescription-strength retinoid or use an over-the-counter product containing at least 0.1 per cent retinol.”
4. Give more compliments
“Stats show people in their thirties are the loneliest,” says Linda Blair. “They over-rely on social media for connecting, but the brain needs the physical presence of other humans to feel safe. Start complimenting someone every day – it helps forge a sense of connection.”
5. Get up, stand up
“Prolonged sitting has serious health implications and can contribute to inflammation within the body, which is linked with type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in the longer term,” says Dr Rangan Chatterjee. “Research suggests you can’t offset this entirely with gym sessions, but a Dutch study found breaking up sitting with getting up and doing light activities through the day does make a difference. Fidgeting, getting up to make tea and get water, and standing rather than sitting on public transport all help.”
Reset yourself in your 50s and 60s
Take the chance to understand the changes in your body and cultivate physical and mental resilience.
1. Take a joint supplement
“Nearly everyone over 50 has osteoarthritis somewhere in the body,” says Hughes. “A special joint supplement can help – I like GOPO Joint Health, (£18.99/120 caps), which contains rosehip to ease inflammation.”
2. Strengthen up
“Loss of muscle power accelerates at this age, and loss of muscle mass is associated with shorter life span, so start doing some strength training, if you aren’t already,’ says Chatterjee. “Cycling, indoor climbing, using weights and doing certain types of yoga can all contribute to building strength.”
3. Love your heart
“Women’s risk of cardiovascular disease rises to one in three at this age, the same as men’s,” says Bond. “Eating a Mediterranean-style diet, with lots of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds and some oily fish, has been proven to help lower your risk.
“Fibre may not be fashionable but eating three servings each day is beneficial for your cardiovascular health and can help maintain a healthy weight. Avoid processed carbs and instead go for quinoa, oats, rye, bulgar wheat, couscous and barley.” This is a good time to have a heart health check to pick up any problems and get advice on lowering your personal risk.
4. Diarise ‘me time’
“At this age you may feel pulled in all directions, caring for elderly parents, perhaps with children still at home, and the demands of work,” says Blair. “You need time for yourself as well, whether that’s for exercise, a massage or dinner with friends. Put that in your diary alongside work meetings and visits – setting aside a time slot helps you commit to it.”
5. Get help with post-menopausal symptoms
“Research suggests 50% of women experience vaginal dryness after menopause, which can be stressful and affect relationships,” says Adib. “There’s no need to put up with it as there are lots of treatments available, from lubricants and topical oestrogen creams to oestrogen replacement and laser treatment. Speak to a specialist gynaecologist for help.”
Restore yourself at 70+
Maintain your sense of purpose and keep your mind and body strong with exercise and a colourful week.
1. Check for bone problems
“You need to take steps to keep your joints and bones healthy,” says Hughes. “A bone density scan can be important to check for signs of osteoporosis. And it may be useful to have tests for deficiencies in vitamins such as vitamins D and B12, which can cause muscle and joint problems.”
2. Eat a rainbow (for your eyes)
“Green, leafy vegetables such as kale, lettuce, spinach and broccoli, eggs, and brightly coloured fruits and vegetables such as oranges, tangerines, carrots and corn could help protect your eyes from a common condition called age-related macular degeneration, which can affect vision,” says Bond. “They’re all rich in the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are thought to help protect the cells in the macular of the eye.”
3. Walk more
“The benefits of walking include reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, cancer, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and improved mental wellbeing,” says Dr Chatterjee. “It’s never too late to start and I’ve found most of my patients, whatever their age, can manage 10,000 steps a day – but doing as much as you can is always beneficial. Get a pedometer or Fitbit to count steps and remember, you don’t necessarily have to go on a big walk – walking up and down in your living room or around your garden all helps notch up steps.”
4. Know your skin
“It’s not just about checking for new or changing moles – the most common skin cancers – squamous and basal cell carcinomas – can appear as lesions that don’t heal,” says Mahto. These are common as you get older so look out for them – while less serious than melanoma, they can cause disfigurement if they’re left.
5. Get creative
“It’s essential to fill your life with meaning and the things you love at any age, but in later life this is especially important,” says Blair. “Begin a creative hobby, such as painting or writing, join a local club or sign up for volunteering in the community to help boost your mood and reflect.”
Words: Charlotte Haigh