If you’re 40 or just about to turn ‘the big 4-0’, there are a few health checks you need to do to optimise your wellness for years to come. Dietitian Melissa Meier explains.
By the time you reach 40, your body might be showing a bit of wear and tear if you haven’t focused on fitness and nutrition in your youth. The scales could be creeping up, or you might find yourself huffing and puffing more walking up a flight of stairs.
Over recent years, your lifestyle could have changed dramatically and negatively impacted your metabolism. The busy school run might have replaced early morning gym sessions, and walking catch-ups given way to coffee (and banana bread) in the park with the littlies.
Poor eating habits can start to settle in around this time, too, as fussy eaters make their voices heard and you trade vegie-packed dinners for family-friendly foods like spag bol or a few too many takeaways.
All of which makes turning 40 a great time to stocktake your lifestyle and consider changes that will improve your long-term health. If you’ve been a bit lax lately, don’t stress — treat it as a wakeup call to set yourself up for a long and healthy life!
Nudging your daily habits can be a real game changer. What you eat, how often you move your body, and the amount of sleep you get can lay the foundations for your long-term health. So, let’s start with some key things to check …
Eating patterns in your 40s
A healthy diet gives your body what it needs to function at its best and helps to protect against heart disease, diabetes and even cancer. Make vegies, fruit, legumes and whole grains the majority of your diet, with small amounts of lean protein and dairy or alternatives. You can also see an Accredited Practising Dietitian for individualised advice.
Exercise routine in your 40s
Thirty minutes a day is all you need to reap impressive health perks — but only 15 per cent of adults now meet the recommended level of physical activity. Regular exercise improves your cardiovascular system and strengthens bones. It protects you against diseases like diabetes and cancer, and also supports mental health.
Body weight in your 40s
It’s not exactly a habit in itself, but a direct reflection of your diet and exercise routines. A healthy body weight is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) between 18.5 and 25. Being a healthy weight improves your quality of life and can reduce your risk of a range of conditions like heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnoea and infertility.
Sleep in your 40s
Around 45 per cent of us get inadequate sleep. Catching enough shut eye is essential for health and life, because sleep can play a crucial role in everything from cardiac function to your brain development. Prioritise those seven or eight hours in the land of nod each night!
Mental health as we age
Mental and physical health are intrinsically linked. People who have mental illness are prone to experience weight gain, elevated blood pressure, high blood sugar and raised cholesterol levels, which predisposes a person to a variety of chronic diseases. If you’re not feeling yourself lately, now could be a good time to see your GP.
Check in with your GP
Any big birthday, whether 40th, 50th or 60th, is a good time to book in for a head-to-toe health check-up to prevent illness down the track. Common check-ups include …
Eye health in your 40s
Why? Your eyes can often deteriorate gradually over time, making it difficult for you to notice subtle changes. Regular eye tests are a good way to identify problems early, allowing you to seek treatment and prevent permanent damage.
What? An optometrist assesses your capacity to see at different distances, as well as testing your peripheral vision. They also measure eye pressure and how your eyes react to light or to movement, and examine your eyes under a microscope to assess retina and macular health.
How often? Yearly.
Why? Having high blood pressure can increase your risk of suffering a heart attack, but the scary thing is, if you have high blood pressure, you probably wouldn’t know. There are no obvious symptoms, so getting it checked regularly is important.
What? Your doctor will wrap an inflatable cuff around your arm to measure blood pressure. A healthy reading is less than 120/80. Anything above 140/90 is high.
How often? Every second year until your 50th birthday, then its yearly after that.
Why? Skin cancer is among the most common cancers in the world, with around 300000 people diagnosed with melanoma and over 1 million people diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancers in 2018 alone. The good news is that many skin cancers can be cured if found early, so your 40s is a good time to start regular screening, if you haven’t already.
What? Speak to your doctor about any small lumps or new spots, or existing spots that have changed in any way. Get your GP to give you a thorough examination — they will treat some spots if able to, or refer you to a specialist.
How often? Yearly.
Why? Cholesterol is a type of fat that circulates in your blood. There are two main types: LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol, which can build up and then clog your arteries, and HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol, which supports heart health.
What? A simple blood test can check your cholesterol levels. If you’re otherwise healthy, a total cholesterol reading under 5.5mmol/L is considered to be safe.
How often? If otherwise healthy, every 5 years.
Blood glucose levels
Why? Diabetes most often develops in people over the age of 40, but early detection and lifestyle intervention can greatly improve your long-term health prospects.
What? Your blood glucose (sugar) levels are tested by using a simple blood test. Diabetes can be diagnosed in three different ways:
- The presence of symptoms and a fasting blood glucose reading of 7mmol/L or more
- A random fasting blood glucose reading of 11.1mmol/L or more
- A glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) reading of 6.5% or more
How often? If otherwise healthy, every 3 years.
Important over-40s health checks for women
Why? Breast cancer is the most common cancer that affects females. If detected early, your chance of survival increases.
What? Women should check their breasts regularly for any changes to their normal look and feel, such as lumps or redness. A regular mammogram is an X-ray that detects subtle changes in breast tissue that cannot be identified through look and feel.
How often? You should self-check monthly. Women over the age of 40 are offered a free mammogram every two years.
What? Most cases of cervical cancer occur in those who have not been screened. Again, early detection will greatly increase your chances of survival.
Why? The Cervical Screening Test replaced the Pap Test in 2017. It checks the health of your cervix by testing for the human papillomavirus, which causes most cases of cervical cancer.
How often? From the age of 25, the Cervical Screening Test should be performed two years after your last Pap Test. If your result was normal, a re-test is recommended every five years after that.
Important over-40s health check for men
Why? Bowel cancer affects both men and women, but the rates are slightly higher in men. Regular screening is essential — people who partake in regular screening programs have 16 per cent less chance of dying from bowel cancer than those who don’t. While your risk of bowel cancer increases significantly after you turn 50, rates are increasing in the younger population.
What? Those with a low risk of bowel cancer can do a simple, non-invasive, at-home stool test called a Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT), which tests for traces of blood in the stool. If you have a family history of bowel cancer, you’re recommended to have regular colonoscopies to detect abnormal tissues in the bowel.
How often? In many countries, the FOBT is currently provided free of charge every two years for those aged 50–to–74 years old.
Article sources and references
- Australian Government Department of Health. 2016. Diabetes. Accessed April 2020https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/australian-national-diabetes-strategy-2016-2020
- Australian Government Department of Health. 2017. National Cervical Screening Program. Accessed April 2020http://www.cancerscreening.gov.au/internet/screening/publishing.nsf/Content/cervical-screening-1
- Better Health Channel. 2014. Cholesterol. Accessed April 2020https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/cholesterol
- Bowel Cancer Australia. 2020. What is bowel cancer? Accessed April 2020https://www.bowelcanceraustralia.org/what-is-bowel-cancer
- Skin cancer statistics Melanoma of the skin is the 19th most common cancer worldwide. World Cancer Research Fund Accessed July 2020https://www.wcrf.org/dietandcancer/cancer-trends/skin-cancer-statistics