Many people claim that your 40s are the best decade of your life. You’re old enough that you’re past the personal, career, and financial insecurities many people experience during their 20s and 30s, but you’re young enough that aging (probably) hasn’t taken too much of a toll on your body. But that doesn’t mean this decade is without its potential health issues. If you want to feel good and maintain your health through your 40s and beyond, it’s important to be aware of how your body is changing and maintain a dialogue with your doctor to catch any potential issues before they spiral.
Let’s take a look at some of the health issues you need to keep on your radar—and the questions you need to ask your doctor to ensure happiness and healthiness throughout your 40s.
How’s my blood pressure?
High blood pressure can cause serious damage to your body and lead to life-threatening problems such as strokes, blood clots, and heart attacks—and it’s frighteningly common. “High blood pressure affects nearly one in every four people, and it can occur as early as age 40,” says Adam Perlman, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.P., an integrative health and well-being expert at Duke University.
A healthy blood pressure for adults is 120/80 or below. If your blood pressure is higher, you’ll need to take action to get back in a healthy range. This could include anything from lifestyle changes such as starting a regular exercise routine or reducing stress, or in more severe cases, medication. If it has been a while since your last blood pressure check, and you think it might be high, schedule an appointment with your doctor ASAP. “The physical symptoms [of high blood pressure] can include severe headaches, fatigue, vision problems, and an irregular heartbeat,” Dr. Perlman says.
Is my blood sugar in the normal range?
Type 2 diabetes is an epidemic, and your risk of developing it increases dramatically during your 40s. According to the Center for Disease Control, only 4 percent of adults between the ages of 18 to 44 are diabetic. But that number jumps to 17 percent between the ages of 45 to 64.
The scariest part? Nearly one in four people living with diabetes don’t even know they have it. “Type 2 diabetes is usually discovered after age 40, with early symptoms ranging from frequent urination, weight loss, low energy, [and] poor dental health,” Dr. Perlman says.
Additional symptoms of type 2 diabetes include increased thirst, fatigue, blurred vision, and changes in appetite. If you experience any of these, ask your doctor to test your blood glucose levels. A fasting blood-sugar test will let your doctor know if you fall in the prediabetic or diabetic range. If so, you can come up with a plan to get your blood sugar back to a normal level. “Diet and lifestyle changes will help tremendously,” Dr. Perlman says.
Can you check out this spot on my skin?
“Over 5.4 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are treated annually in the U.S., more than breast, prostate, lung, and colon combined,” says Tsippora Shainhouse, M.D., F.A.A.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Dermatology Institute and Skin Care Center in Los Angeles. “Over 76,000 cases of melanoma [were] expected to be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2016—over 10,000 of which will be lethal.”
Skin cancer is incredibly common. “One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime,” Dr. Shainhouse says. Plus, your risk only increases as you get older. If you spent your younger years basking in the sun (or even if you didn’t), your 40s are a key time to start checking your skin on the regular. “It is imperative to check your skin every month or so to know your baseline moles and spots,” Dr. Shainhouse advises.
Ask your doctor to check your skin for any suspicious growths, and if they find anything, make an appointment with a dermatologist for further testing. “Your doctor should examine all of your skin at your routine physical. If you find a non-healing scaly or bleeding lesion or a mole that is new or changing in size, shape, or color, see your dermatologist for further evaluation and possibly a biopsy,” Dr. Shainhouse says.
What can I do to strengthen my bones?
You’re probably not thinking much about bone health in your 40s, but if you want full mobility (and no broken hips) in the future, you need to start protecting your bones today. “Bone mass/density peaks at age 30. After that, more bone mass is lost and less is replaced unless preventive measures are taken,” says Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D., medical advisory board member, Nutritional Magnesium Association.
What are the best preventative measures you can take to protect your bones? Exercise and the right supplement routine. “Weight-bearing exercise … [and] assuring you get enough calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium [is important for bone health],” Dr. Perlman says. Dr. Dean adds, “Magnesium works synergistically with calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin K so that calcium is absorbed into the bones to make them stronger.”
How can I keep my weight in a healthy range?
If you’ve been noticing the scale slowly creeping upward, you’re not alone. “Metabolism slows down in our 40s. For most people, this means more difficulty maintaining a healthy weight or losing weight,” Dr. Perlman says. “Muscle mass may begin to decline, and appetite may even increase. … Both men and women might notice weight gain.”
Ask your doctor how to combat your metabolism changes and keep your weight in a normal range throughout your 40s. This could mean switching up your eating habits, eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, and/or adding more exercise into your schedule.
Where is this pain coming from?
As you get older, you’re probably noticing more aches and pains than usual. To a certain extent, that’s a natural part of the aging process. “The risk for knee and joint pain, along with arthritis, back pain, and other conditions such as tendonitis, definitely increases with age,” Dr. Perlman says.
But whatever kind of pain you’re feeling, it’s essential to work with your doctor to determine where exactly it’s coming from. Once you know the source of the pain, you and your doctor can work together to figure out the next step, whether it’s getting tested for an autoimmune condition such as arthritis or going to physical therapy a few times a week, to manage your pain and prevent it from getting worse.
So, what can I do to stay healthy throughout my 40s—and beyond?
The decisions you make in your 40s will impact how you feel in every subsequent decade, so it’s important to choose the things that will support your health and improve the quality of your life. “It starts by taking care of yourself, eating healthy foods, getting enough exercise, [getting] ample sleep, keeping in touch with people who are important to you, and finding time to do things you enjoy,” Dr. Perlman says. “Do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week. Physical activity can go a long way toward helping you manage your stress and keeping you young.”
You also need to really listen to your body and adjust your health and wellness strategy as necessary. For example, “Your body may not tolerate strenuous exercise or physical activity as well [in your 40s]. Injuries can happen easily if you don’t adjust,” Dr. Perlman notes. “The same goes for the late nights with little sleep or the amount of alcohol you can tolerate.”
But the good news is: “Your 40s can be the best and healthiest time of your life if you take the time for self-care, recognize how your health may be changing, and ultimately become an expert on you,” Dr. Perlman says.