Be Healthy in Your 20s, 30s, and 40s

In Your 40s

Top Health Concerns

  1. Perimenopause. This refers to the 6 to 13 years leading up to menopause -- and most women notice the symptoms in their early to mid 40s. "During that time, your metabolism slows even more, and levels of estrogen and progesterone begin to fluctuate," says Dr. Goldstein. This can lead to changes in your cycle, as well as to symptoms like irritability, memory changes, and sleep problems.
  2. Heart disease. Your odds of getting this condition don't peak for a decade or so, but now is the time to take preventive action. "More than half of women over age 45 have high blood pressure, which increases your cardiovascular disease risk." says Nieca Goldberg, MD, chief of women's cardiac care at Lenox Hill Hospital, in New York City. What's more, "as your estrogen levels naturally decline, your cholesterol tends to go up and you become more prone to hypertension."
  3. Type 2 diabetes. Your risk for this health problem increases now as well. According to the CDC, 1.7 percent of Americans age 20 to 39 have the disease. Between the age of 40 and 59, that number jumps to 6.6 percent. Often called "adult onset" diabetes, it can result from being overweight, having poor diet and exercise habits, or having high blood pressure and cholesterol.
  4. Breast cancer. Women in their 40s account for about 18 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses; 77 percent, by comparison, occur in those over 50. So while your risk isn't enormous, it's there, says Dr. Manson -- particularly if you have a family history, are overweight, or have a poor diet.

Your Stay-Healthy Checklist

  • Curb refined-carb intake. A diet loaded with white bread, crackers, and sugary snacks increases glycemic stress in the body by causing blood sugar levels to spike and plummet repeatedly. This can wear on your system, setting the stage for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
  • Drink less, move more. Research shows that having more than one alcoholic drink a day ups your breast cancer risk. Exercise, on the other hand, lowers your odds of getting the disease, so incorporate walking into your day.
  • Watch your waistline, literally. "Gaining weight, particularly around your middle, is a marker for type 2 diabetes and heart disease," says Dr. Goldberg.

Tests to Have Administered

  • An annual physical, which tests blood pressure and cholesterol. Starting at age 45, you should also get a fasting blood glucose screening, which tests for diabetes.
  • Annual mammograms; monthly BSEs.
  • A yearly Pap smear.
  • An annual skin check.
  • A thyroid function test.

Freelance writer Shaun Dreisbach is based in Essex, Vermont, and has two children.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, February 2007.

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