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Build a Foundation for a Lifetime of Good Health

Welcome to your 30s! You may not feel or look much different than you did a few years ago, but your body is changing bit by bit. These changes are a normal part of growing older. You may feel like you're slowing down a bit—or you could feel like you're in the prime of your life.

Each woman is unique and so are her health concerns. Now, you may be more concerned about:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Keeping your skin looking fresh and more youthful
  • Reproductive issues, anything from getting pregnant—or not—to finding a birth control method that matches your lifestyle
  • Preventing bone loss
  • Reducing stress

Regular medical checkups and health screenings continue to be very important. Good health habits and preventive medical care can help you continue to enjoy wellness of mind and body and build the foundation for good health over many decades.

How Your Body Might Be Changing

Many women begin to gain a few pounds in their 30s as their metabolism slows. To maintain a healthy weight, it's important to have an exercise program that includes aerobic activities such as walking, jogging, biking or swimming, and to eat a well-balanced healthy diet, low in saturated fats, full of fruits and vegetables and light on processed and junk foods.

Your skin may seem a bit duller and you may be developing fine wrinkles into your 30s. That's because new skin cells don't form as quickly as they used to. This is a normal part of aging, and will continue throughout your lifetime. Using mild cleansers and moisturizers and being sensible about sun exposure will help you look your best.

Although you can't see it, bone loss begins in your 30s and can lead to the bone-thinning disease known as osteoporosis later in life. Your muscles also will start losing their "tone," which can eventually affect fitness, strength and balance. You can help prevent bone and muscle loss and reduce your risk for developing osteoporosis by taking these steps:

  • Make sure your diet is rich in calcium—the mineral that keeps bones and teeth strong and healthy
  • Stay or get active with aerobic weight-bearing exercises (jogging, dancing, for example). For ultimate health benefits and to manage weight, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends 30 to 60 minutes (preferably, 60 minutes) of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, most days of the week. In addition, participate in strength-training (lifting weights) two to three times per week.
  • Ask your health professional for more information on how to keep your bones strong and healthy, how to make your diet calcium-rich, for example, and whether or not to take vitamin and mineral supplements.

Many women today wait until well into their 30s to have children, when they feel more confident and financially secure. If you're in good health, have early prenatal care and practice healthful lifestyle habits, you're more likely to have a normal pregnancy and a healthy baby. But there are risks associated with pregnancy at this age. Fertility decreases in your 30s, particularly after age 35, so it may take longer to get pregnant than it would for a younger woman. The chances of miscarriage and pregnancy-related health problems increase, especially in women aged 35 and older, as do risks for birth defects in babies born to older women. Ask your health care professional for more information.

You may be referred to a high-risk obstetrician if you are 35 or older, or have a history of pregnancy-related complications. If you are under age 35 and you don't get pregnant after one year, talk to your health care professional or a fertility specialist. If you are 35 or over, talk to a specialist if you don't conceive after six months of trying.

You may feel stressed out more often than not. In your 30s, you may be juggling a career, parenting and caring for aging parents. Practicing good health habits will give you the edge you need to stay on top and stay healthy. Eat nutritious, low-fat foods, exercise regularly and don't smoke. If you do smoke, ask your health care professional for help to quit. If you drink alcohol, limit yourself to one drink or less per day. And, don't forget to make time for personal activities that can help reduce stress. These might include yoga, gardening, reading and spending time with friends. If stress becomes overwhelming, ask your health care professional for guidance.

Create a Family Medical History

By now you should have a primary health care professional and medical specialists as needed to help keep you on the road to good health. It's not uncommon, however, to change health care coverage if you change employers or relocate to a different area. That could mean starting over with new health care providers.

That's just one of the many reasons why it's so important to prepare a family health record that outlines your own medical history, as well health details for other family members, and share it with your health care team. This valuable document will help your health care professional to determine which health conditions you may be at greater risk for developing and recommend the preventive steps you'll need to take to stay healthy.

To make this task easy, check out the "My Family Health Portrait," created by the U.S. Surgeon General's office in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Visit https://familyhistory.hhs.gov to download this free computerized form to organize your family tree and identify common diseases that may run in your family.

You'll need to ask your relatives about any health conditions they have had, including history of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease; pregnancy complications, such as miscarriage; and any developmental disabilities. Get as much specific information as possible. If you are planning to have children, you and your partner should each create a family health portrait and show it to your health care professional.

Include information about parents, brothers and sisters and your children. It's also helpful to include grandparents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews and half-brothers and half-sisters. If possible, also include cousins and great-uncles and great-aunts.

Remember, family members can't always be specific about medical conditions that occurred long ago, so it can be helpful to record descriptions rather than medical terms, if they're not forthcoming. For example, "spent days in bed in dark room," rather than "suffered from migraine headaches."

Once complete, you'll have a snapshot of your family's health history from one generation to the next. Be sure to store your document in a safe place, and make copies available to your health care professionals. Keep it updated as circumstances change.

Questions to Ask Your Health Care Professional

As an educated health care consumer, you should feel like a partner in your medical care. Learn all you can. Ask questions. Speak up. Build a health partnership with your health care team.

Get in the habit of writing down your health questions when you think of them. Keep them in a notebook or with your family medical history, and take it with you to every visit. Never leave a medical appointment confused about a health issue.

Be sure to ask these 10 questions, and add your own personal ones, as necessary:

  1. How can I improve my diet and/or exercise program to have a healthier lifestyle in my 30s? Ask for examples of activities that are best for you at this age. (To help your health care professional give you the best guidance, keep a diary listing what you eat daily and your regular exercise routine for a week. Then, bring it with you to your appointment.)
  2. When should I have regular checkups and which screening tests should I have and when?
  3. Should I do a monthly breast self-exam? If so, how should I do it?
  4. How can I prevent osteoporosis? How much calcium and vitamin D should I get each day?
  5. How should I care for my skin to help reduce signs of aging? How do I perform a monthly mole check?
  6. (If smoking is a health issue): Can you recommend a program to help me and/or my partner quit smoking?
  7. Should my contraceptive method change in my 30s? Or if I plan to get pregnant, are there special considerations at this age?
  8. How can I reduce stress?
  9. Will insurance pay for the screening test you're recommending? If I don't have insurance, what are my options?
  10. Whom should I call to find out test results (such as a Pap test) and when? (Remember: Always ask for and get a complete report on any medical tests you have. Don't fall into the "No news is good news" trap. Medical reports can be misplaced or not reported. Be sure to follow up.)

Preventive Health Screenings You Need

Here are guidelines for preventive health screenings and immunizations generally recommended for women in their 30s. Many will be familiar to you, but there are some additional screenings women in their 30s should consider. Guidelines vary by medical specialty. Talk to your primary health care professional if you are at high risk for, or have, diabetes, heart disease or other health issues. You may need specialized care or more frequent screenings not listed here.

Blood pressure test for hypertension: Have your blood pressure taken at least every two years and more often if it is at or above 120/80.

Cholesterol: Have your blood cholesterol tested every five years or more frequently if you have risk factors for heart disease.

Clinical breast exam: Have this exam about every three years. Your doctor or other health care professional will examine your breasts for any abnormalities. This exam often is part of the annual gynecologic examination. Breast self-exam (BSE) is an option to consider in addition to these clinical exams; however, research has shown that BSE plays a small role in finding breast cancer compared with finding a breast lump by chance or simply knowing what is normal. If you choose to perform a monthly BSE, ask your health care professional to show you how to perform one.

Dental exam: Visit the dentist regularly. Checkups can detect early signs of oral health problems and bone loss. Professional tooth cleaning is also important for preventing oral problems and is usually done every 6 to 12 months.

Diabetes screening: Ask your health care professional about your risks for diabetes. The blood glucose test typically isn't done until age 45, but, based on your personal health history, your health care professional may recommend a blood test that measures your blood glucose (sugar) to determine if you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, a condition that increases your risk for developing diabetes. You may be screened if your blood pressure is higher than 135/80 or if you take medicine for high blood pressure. This blood test is done after having no food and only clear liquids for 12 hours.

Eye exam: Get a complete eye exam twice between ages 30 to 39. Exception: If you have vision problems, family history of eye problems, history of an eye injury or have diabetes, you should be seen more frequently by an eye care specialist.

Pap test and pelvic exam: Get a Pap test every three years or both a Pap test and an HPV test every five years (you can get both tests at the same time). Exception: if you have risk factors such as previous abnormal screening results, multiple sex partners, HIV infection, a weakened immune system or a history of DES exposure in utero, you should be screened annually. Talk to your health care professional about what's right for you.

Remember: Don't confuse your annual or semi-annual Pap test with a gynecologic examination. The Pap test screens for abnormalities that could indicate pre- or early cervical cancer. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that all women age 18 or older and sexually active teens younger than age 18 have a gynecologic examination, including a pelvic exam, annually.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs): If you have a history of chlamydia or STDs or you or your partner have had multiple sex partners, ask your health care professional about whether you need to be screened for STDs, including gonorrhea and HIV.

Thyroid test (TSH): Recommendations vary. The American Thyroid Association recommends having this screening test at age 35 and then once every five years. The American Academy of Family Physicians does not recommend screening patients before age 60. And, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force states that there's not enough evidence that TSH tests are beneficial for prevention of thyroid disease to recommend for or against thyroid screening in adults. Ask your health care professional for guidance.

Skin exam for skin cancer: The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that you have your skin examined annually by a dermatologist. Other recommendations include doing a monthly mole self-exam and practicing sun safety to reduce your risk of damaging your skin and developing skin cancer. If you have had skin cancer or have a relative with a history of melanoma, ask your health care professional for guidance.

Weight: Obesity screening is now considered a preventive checkup. Ask your health care professional for more information on healthy weight guidelines or weight-management strategies.

Immunizations:  

Hepatitis A: Recommended for adults who live, work or travel in areas where Hepatitis A is endemic and periodic outbreaks occur, or users of injection or street drugs, military personnel, institutionalized persons and those working in those institutions. Hepatitis B: All pregnant women should be screened for hepatitis B at their first prenatal visit. The Hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all children and adolescents not previously immunized and for all adults at high risk for infection; high risk individuals include persons who are injection drug users and their sexual partners; anyone with a history of multiple sexual partners in the previous six months or who has recently acquired a sexually transmitted disease; recipients of certain drug products; individuals with a health-related job with frequent exposure to blood or blood products; and travelers to countries where hepatitis B virus (HBV) is of high concern.

Influenza (flu): You need a dose every fall (or winter) to protect you and those around you from the flu.

Pneumococcal: You need one to two doses if you smoke or if you have certain chronic medical conditions.

Tetanus: You should have tetanus-diphtheria booster shots every 10 years.