Its easy to find general health tips, but this in depth guide will see you well throughout your life
And half the 1,000 adults polled by healthcare company Bupa Health Clinics said they would change their lifestyle only after being given a warning by a doctor.
But the results of bad habits may only become apparent decades later, at which point the damage to health could be irreversible.
So follow these guidelines to future-proof your health – decade by decade.
In your twenties
This is a period of rapid change. You might be living away from home for the first time, starting work and in your first serious relationship.
Maintain your mental health: “Suicide is the leading cause of death among people aged 20 to 34 so it’s important to be aware of your mental wellbeing,” says Bupa Health Clinics GP, Dr Ann Robinson.
The huge adjustment period that is our 20’s can give way to a lot of stress
Getting the right support can ensure you’re well armed with ways to manage your mental health for the decades to come
“If you feel anxiety or stress affecting you, seek help from your GP. Getting the right support can ensure you’re well armed with ways to manage your mental health for the decades to come.”
Beware of booze: “Liver disease is the fifth cause of death for 20 to 34 year olds in both genders,” says Bupa GP Dr Luke Powles.
So avoid “pre-loading” before going out and alternate between alcoholic and soft drinks.
Stop sunbathing: “Extreme sun exposure before the age of 40, particularly if you frequently burn, puts you at more risk of developing skin cancer,” warns Bupa dermatologist Dr Stephanie Munn. “Avoid sunbeds and wear high-factor sunscreen in the summer months and on holiday.”
Boost your bones: Bone density is determined in this decade so don’t let the excesses of independence take their toll on skeletal health.
Avoid faddy diets, saving calories for alcohol and fizzy drinks or salty fast foods that leach calcium from bones. Aim for 700mg of calcium a day (milk, cheese, yoghurt, green leafy vegetables and tinned bony fish).
Don’t smoke: “The habits we form in our twenties, good or bad, are likely to stay with us into later life,” says Bupa behaviour change adviser Juliet Hodges.
“It takes an average of 66 days to form a habit, so whether it’s giving up smoking, exercising or wearing sunscreen, persevere for two months to create long-term pattern good behaviour.”
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In your thirties
This is a busy time. You may be trying for a baby or already have a family and will probably feel stressed, sleep deprived and pressured by work.
Safeguard against cervical cancer: “One in 20 women has an abnormal smear test result,” says Dr Powles. “While this doesn’t necessarily mean cancer, investigating can help reduce risk and detect viruses like subtypes of HPV (human papilloma virus), which can lead to cervical cancer.”
If you want children: Now is the time to conceive. Biologically speaking, the quality and number of eggs a woman has declines quite rapidly after 35. Lifestyle factors such as BMI, diet and smoking also have a significant impact on fertility.
Put your health first: This will pay dividends in the future. Eat fresh food, drink more water and fit some type of activity into each day.
Make exercise a routine: Three times a week get your heart pumping with a brisk walk, a swim or a run.
Look after your skin: “This is the decade when wrinkles and early sun damage will start to appear and stretch marks and skin pigmentation may result from pregnancies,” says Dr Munn.
“Moisturise both face and body every day (use products with sunscreen from May to October) and remove make-up each night.”
Your 30’s are a good time to focus on building on your health
In your forties
The chances are you’ll go through several life changes in this decade, possibly through bereavement, divorce or illness.
Protect your brain: “Alzheimer’s actually starts about 20 years before any symptoms appear,” says Professor Graham Stokes, global director of dementia care at Bupa. “Smoking and diabetes increases our risk, as does high blood pressure, high cholesterol, inactivity and obesity. Essentially, what’s good for your heart is good for your brain.”
Watch your weight: Changing hormone levels affect fat storage and lost muscle mass affects how much energy we burn, says Dr Robinson. Keep up your metabolism with regular exercise and watch your portion sizes at mealtimes.
Know your numbers: One in eight adults have undiagnosed high blood pressure, putting them at risk of a heart attack or stroke.
People aged between 40 and 74 are eligible for free NHS health checks – but the annual take-up rate for this “midlife MOT” has remained at 48.4 per cent since the scheme was launched in 2013.
Watch your eyes: “Our eyesight worsens as we age and you may well need glasses by the time you reach your mid-forties,” Dr Robinson says.
“Regular eye tests will detect any issues early.”
Jump around: Protect the bone you’ve banked in your twenties and thirties with weight-bearing and resistance exercise, which causes muscles to contract against your bones, stimulating them to become stronger and denser.
Deal with stress: Prolonged stress has a huge impact on health. Consider yoga or Pilates to help with de-stressing breathing techniques, give you valuable time out, tone your core and maintain your flexibility.
In your fifties
A century ago the average 50 year old was decidedly elderly but these days it is probably fair to say that 50 is the new 40.
Listen to your body, look for change and act: “If something just isn’t right or persists, see your GP. For example, if you have a cough or bowel changes that persist for longer than three weeks,” advises Dr Powles.
Manage the menopause: “On average, menopause starts at the age of 51 in the UK,” says Dr Robinson. If you’re struggling with symptoms, talk to your GP about hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or ask about alternative herbal remedies.
Love your heart: The drop in heart-protecting oestrogen with the menopause means your heart-disease risk increases rapidly in this decade, says Dr Robinson.
Take bone-building exercise: Twice a week, try running, skipping, tennis, aerobics or anything that provides an “impact force” on the body. “Women lose bone density rapidly in the first few years after menopause and are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis than men,” Dr Robinson says.
Remain sociable: It’s easy to let regular contact with friends slide as you get older and family and work pressures mount, according to Dr Powles.
“However, maintaining these relationships in your fifties means you are safeguarding your mental health. 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 factors.”
Keep an eye on moles: This is the most common age for skin cancer to develop, warns Dr Munn.
“If new moles appear or existing ones change shape, have different colours, are bigger than the size of the top of a ballpoint pen or become itchy, crusty or start bleeding, make sure you see your GP or dermatologist.”
Impact exercise in your 50’s helps to ward off the onset of osteoporosis
In your sixties
This is the decade in which we look forward to working less, welcoming grandchildren and, hopefully, having more free time.
Keep your brain active: “Stay curious and involved, always look for something new to learn, research or read about,” advises Dr Powles.
“Take up sudoku or crosswords and other puzzles or learn a new skill or language. And do something active every day – walk a dog, do some gardening – anything to get you up and out.”
Lubricate your joints: “By now our joints have endured years of wear and tear,” says Dr Robinson.
“As a result, everyday activities can become a little harder. Incorporate some muscle-strengthening exercise into your daily regime and eat healthy nutrients.”
Get screened: Attend screenings for heart check-ups, bowel cancer and eye and hearing tests and request a bone scan if you’re concerned about osteoporosis.
Hip fracture is the most common serious injury in later life.
Relax: Studies show even short but regular meditation may be an effective strategy for counteracting the cognitive decline associated with ageing. Just five minutes of sitting or lying while trying to calm your mind will help.
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Your seventies – and beyond
Maximise your memory: “As we get older our brains shrink and our reflexes slow down,” says Dr Robinson.
“Our short-term memory is often affected first. The key is to keep learning new things to keep your brain active.”
Deal with joint pain and muscle loss: Studies suggest adults can lose up to eight per cent of muscle mass each decade after the age of 40, warns Dr Robinson.
“When you lose muscle you also lose physical energy, which means we are more likely to gain weight, become frailer and more prone to disease and accelerated ageing.”
Work on your balance: “Sight and hearing difficulties, arthritis, heart or blood circulation problems or long-term diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s can all affect balance,” warns Dr Robinson.
Activities like walking or dancing can help as well as strengthening exercises to keep the core and back muscles strong.
Get out and about daily: Avoid sitting for too long and get fresh air, exercise, social interaction and immunity-boosting vitamin D.