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This is what it takes to age healthily through every stage of life

20 Feb 2019

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Here are our top tips for healthy living (and ageing)

Our 20s…

In our 20s, we are filled with youthful energy and vitality. But the transition into adulthood can also be an unsettling time filled with stress, so this can be a prime age for the development of mental health concerns.

According to The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, mood and anxiety disorders have an earlier age of onset than most other medical conditions, with the majority of anxiety disorders starting around the age of 21.

Further to this, lifestyle issues such as the high prevalence of alcohol and drug abuse (25 per cent of New Zealanders who drank in 2017/18 had a potentially hazardous drinking pattern, says alcohol.org.nz) may exacerbate this problem.

It is very important to establish healthy habits early on to ensure we are laying the foundation for good health in our future years. You can do this by:

  • finding a healthcare professional that you trust, who can keep you on track with relevant health screenings (such as pap smears and checking for early signs of an enlarged prostate)
  • addressing arising mental health concerns by adopting stress management and mindfulness techniques
  • staying physically active and following a healthy, balanced diet, and minimising sugar and junk food intake
  • practising sun-smart behaviours including wearing high-SPF sunscreen and covering up in peak UV periods
  • moderating alcohol intake and avoiding binge drinking and drug use

Our 30s…

This is a time when we are likely more secure in our career and are possibly ready to start a family.

Yet as we begin to prepare for this exciting chapter in our lives, many of us encounter some fertility trouble.

According to research from Fertility and Sterility, a woman’s fertility gradually decreases from the age of 32, and more rapidly from the age of 37. Some of the issues to keep an eye out for include endometriosis, cancers and early menopause.

Men should also be aware of their reproductive health, as the average age for a testicular cancer diagnosis is around 33 years.

But it is not all bad news. Many fertility woes are influenced by modifiable lifestyle factors, such as alcohol, smoking, being overweight, physical inactivity and environmental toxicity, suggests research from Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology.

So continue with your healthy habits and consider screening for early signs of potential reproductive hurdles, to avoid (or overcome) any health hiccups during this life stage.

Our 40s and 50s…

For many, these can be described as some of the happiest years. Often we are settled in our careers, we know what we want out of life and we tend not to sweat the small stuff anymore.

Maintaining health during these decades is central to enjoying these years, as many age-related physical changes become noticeable, and our risk for disease may start to increase.

For women, early signs of menopause, or perimenopause, become apparent, which can include symptoms such as hot flushes, mood swings, anxiety and joint pain.

And interestingly, some men, from around the age of 40, experience the male equivalent, often referred to as ‘andropause,’ which is characterised by declining testosterone levels.

Like menopause, the hormonal drop-off causes many physical and emotional changes, including changes in sexual function, altered sleep patterns, increased body weight and mood changes. In a publication by Translational Andrology and Urology, it is estimated that a man in his 40s has a 40 per cent chance of suffering erectile dysfunction, and the prevalence continues to increase by 10 per cent every decade after that.

While there’s not much we can do to prevent hormonal changes, healthy habits can help stave off non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, which become significantly more common in these years.

Indeed, according to the Heart Research Institute of New Zealand, heart disease is the single biggest killer in the country, while diabetes is one of the nation’s fastest growing chronic diseases.

Buck the trend and enjoy the fruits of middle-age by adopting these simple lifestyle habits which slash the odds of disease:

  • Reduce alcohol intake and stop smoking
  • Stay physically active
  • Eat a nutritionally-dense diet and maintain a healthy weight
  • Manage your stress and anxiety
  • Prioritise your sleep
  • Seek support from family members and the community.

Our 60s and beyond…

You may notice a few extra wrinkles, or perhaps your hair has turned slightly grey. These changes are expected as we grow older, and should be embraced as character-moulding features. But conditions like osteoporosis and arthritis shouldn’t be.

Despite the fact that these conditions’ account for a staggering 13 per cent of total health loss in the country, according to the New Zealand Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors study, they can largely be prevented, if we take preventive action.

Maintain mobility well into your senior years with the following tips:

  • Keep active. Combine different exercises into your routine, including swimming and weight-bearing activity such as walking, as well as strength-building activities.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Carrying extra weight puts pressure on your skeletal structure.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Eat a balanced and nutritious diet. Also, speak to your doctor about the suitability of calcium and vitamin D supplementation.

Getting regular health check-ups and routine screenings is also essential to detect early warning signs of disease.

And it’s worthwhile working with your doctor or specialist to treat any health issues that may be bothering you or disrupting your quality of life.

Important things to know

Information correct as at February 2019