40 Things Doctors Say Affect Your Health After 40
Make your 40s your golden years in terms of health.
So many different elements play a role in how healthy you are as you age. As you get older, your immune system weakens, your mental health can take a hit, and your risk for certain diseases increases. The good news is there's still plenty of time to make changes that ensure you're still thriving in the future, and who better to get advice from than doctors, the people who help patients turn their health around every single day? Here are 40 things they wish their patients would pay attention to after turning 40.
Your interpersonal relationships, romantic or otherwise, play a significant role when it comes to your mental health and wellbeing, especially as you get older. "After 40, the most important thing to focus on, both for your health and your happiness, is the quality of your relationships," says California-based physician and relationship expert Alexandra Stockwell, MD. "Research shows that the quality of your relationships at 50 is a better predictor of health at 80 than cholesterol levels and other screening tests. If you haven't done any personal growth training, life coaching, or therapy, it's definitely time."
Your activity levels.
You don't need to be a gym rat to better your body over 40. You just have to be more active, period—which is also important for your mind. "The majority of inspirational 80-, 90-, and 100-year-olds engage in meaningful exertion almost every day, but don't wait until you are that age," says Stockwell. "Whether it's dance, body-building, or hiking, find an activity where you move your body and learn new skills on a regular basis. It's the key to physical health and wellbeing, emotional resilience, and flexibility in thinking."
Your phone usage.
Your cell phone can seriously harm your health. It can give you tech neck, cause weight gain, up your anxiety, and even affect your sleep. "Social media can have a profound effect on sleep. You have the intention to check Facebook or Instagram for five minutes, and the next thing you know, 50 minutes are gone," Jerry Bubrick, PhD, a clinical psychologist in New York City, told the Child Mind Institute. "You're an hour behind in sleep, and more tired the next day. You find it harder to focus. You're off your game, and it spirals from there." Check in on how much time you're spending on your phone every day, then work on cutting down to better both your mental and physical health.
Your gut health.
How often do you focus on your gut health? As you age, it should be at the top of your to-do list. "After they turn 40, many of my clients regret not paying attention to their gut health. Things like constipation, chronic diarrhea, heartburn, and belching can all become the new normal," says Inna Lukyanovsky, PharmD, a functional medicine practitioner and gut health expert in Marlboro, New Jersey. "These can be signs of chronic silent inflammation that can eventually become more problematic, later manifesting as serious skin conditions, chronic fatigue syndrome, nutritional depletion, and decreased quality of life."
Don't push your emotions away. If you pay more attention to them and bring them to the forefront as you age, you can better your overall health. "Some of my clients after 40 wish they spent more time understanding their emotions instead of bottling them up, which is a direct way to illness," says Lukyanovsky. "Dealing with emotions properly can help your physical and mental health. There are different methods and tools to learn to address emotions, so choose the ones that work for you."
Your stress levels.
Chronic stress could impact more than just your mental health if you let it get out of control. "Where your attention goes, your energy flows: 90 percent of all doctor's office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints," says Keira L. Barr, MD, a holistic dermatologist in Gig Harbor, Washington, and the founder and chief wellness officer of Resilient Health Institute. "Stress can play a part in issues such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety."
Your collagen and elastin production.
When you hit your 40s, your body is breaking down collagen faster than it's producing protein. But it's hardly too late for your skin. "Collagen is integral to the health and looks of your skin, as it forms part of the connective tissue in the body and gives skin firmness. Elastin is another protein found throughout the body that gives skin its flexibility and is also important to the skin's functions," says Manish Shah, MD, a plastic surgeon and skin expert in Denver. "The decrease of these proteins can cause the skin to look older, wrinkles to become deeper, and skin to appear less vibrant. To preserve the collagen and elastin you do have, stay hydrated, moisturize, use sunblock, and eliminate damaging habits, like smoking and eating unhealthy."
Your skin in general.
How often do you thoroughly examine your skin? And nope, we don't just mean standing in front of the mirror looking for new wrinkles. "Skin cancer is the most common cancer worldwide, and in the United States there are more new cases of skin cancer each year than all other cancers combined. Because of that, getting familiar with your skin and what's on it could save your life," says Barr. "Every month on the date of your birthday, check your skin from head to toe, including all the nooks and crannies and bottoms of your feet for any 'uninvited guests,' like new spots that stand out from all the others, or existing spots that have grown, changed, or are consistently itching or bleeding."
It's not uncommon to spend your time trying to get out of your head when you're in mid-life. Constantly thinking about your bills, drama happening at work, and tension in your personal relationships can be huge stressors. But by being more mindful and working on your mental health, you could feel like a total gly new person. "The brain is the most vital organ, and paying attention to our mental health is on top of my list," says Maryam Bakhtiyari, DDS, a dentist based in Manhattan Beach, California, and the founder of BLAfit. "Meditation and yoga are truly like physical workouts for our brain. Studies have shown meditation to be effective in reducing stress and increasing mental agility and health."
Who you're giving your energy to.
If you always feel mentally drained, it might be time to look into who you're spending your time with—and possibly making some changes to your inner circle. "A very important component to your mental health is surrounding yourself with family and friends who are your biggest fan and are energy fuel to your self-esteem," Bakhtiyari says. If those around you aren't building you up, you need to reevaluate the company you keep.
Your happiness at work.
Just because you're in your 40s doesn't mean you're stuck in a career you hate. If you're not happy, it's never too late to make a switch. In doing so, you could greatly better your mental health. "Keeping a healthy work environment is very important. We spend eight hours of our daily life at work, so finding a job you have a passion for and enjoy is critical," says Bakhtiyari. "In addition, being around coworkers who are team-oriented, effective communicators, positive, and dependable is just as integral to mental health."
You might have noticed your metabolism slowing down as you age. It happens. According to Niket Sonpal, MD, New York-based internist and gastroenterologist, the efficiency of your metabolism is dependent on your level of physical activity, among other things, which is all the more reason to get moving.
"Are you sitting at a desk all day? Are you walking in the afternoons? Are you partaking in at least three sessions a week of mild to intense cardio? Are you performing some sort of resistance training every week?" he asks. "As we age, we lose muscle mass. Piled on top of age and reduced time available for working out and staying active, that can affect the way our body metabolizes the food we consume. Staying active, eating a diet composed mostly of vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins, and working to maintain muscle mass can all help keep your metabolism form dipping into inefficient."
You might not have cared about whether your digestive system was working properly or not in your youth, but if you take care of your digestion in your 40s, you'll be much better off. "In college and throughout our 20s, we feel as though we can eat everything we want, and our body will digest it all in the wink of an eye. But with age, our bodily functions slow down," Sonpal says. "The muscles of the digestive tract can stiffen and weaken with age. All of a sudden, in your 40s, indigestion and constipation can become more common. You may also suffer health conditions like diverticulitis and hemorrhoids."
That's why he says it's important to hone in on things like your activity schedule and food consumption. "You need fiber to help clean your gut, probiotic intake to maintain the diversity within your intestinal microbiome, and supplements for any deficiencies in your diet," he notes.
Your carbohydrate intake.
One thing everyone can agree on? Carbs are the best. But with the changes your body is going through as you enter your 40s, it may be time to cut down. "For those of us in our 40s, we can agree our metabolic activities have been reduced and need to compensate with a better-regulated diet and exercise regimen," Bakhtiyari says. "Eating a low-carbohydrate diet—coupled with an increased intake of vegetables and routine exercise—is crucial to stay fit and healthy."
Your water intake.
When it comes to bettering your health, upping your water intake is one of the best—and easiest!—things you can do. Not only for your body in order to keep everything working properly, but also for your skin. "As we enter our fourth decade of life, our skin elasticity will decrease and our facial skin sags," Bakhtiyari says. Drinking more water will keep your skin radiant from the inside out.
Your belly and waistline.
Gaining weight is common as you age. But it's also something to watch out for—not for vanity's sake, but because it can signal potential health problems ahead. "Excessive abdominal fat—aka the love handles and the beer-belly or 'dad-bod'—is especially harmful and puts you at even more of an increased risk for heart disease, heart attacks, and diabetic complications," says Daniel Kim, DO, an otolaryngology specialist with Medical Offices of Manhattan in New York City. "That's why it's very important to actively focus on losing the belly fat by controlling your diet and participating in regular aerobic exercise."
Symptoms of depression.
If there's one thing Kim wants people to stop doing, it's treating mental health as a separate entity from physical health. They go hand-in-hand—and looking out for any changes is incredibly important. Especially those who tend to push their feelings away, something he sees often in men. "As men get older, they tend to become tougher and more stubborn. Oftentimes, this leads to a true lack of insight into their own feelings and emotions," says Kim. "It's important to be in-tune with your emotional needs, be able to identify symptoms of depression, and to discuss this with your physician."
Your sleep hygiene.
If you don't set yourself up for a good night's sleep, you're not going to get one. "There are practices that, if followed, can [promote good sleep], like not eating three hours before bed, avoiding bright lights or screen time before bed, reducing the amount of coffee you're drinking, and avoiding stress or arguments before bed," says Fiona Mao, MSN, APRN, FNP-C, a functional medicine nurse practitioner in Dallas. "This will help improve the quality of sleep, address sleep irregularities, and allow your body to self-regulate and heal itself as opposed to [getting a] long sleep that's of poor quality."
Your sun damage.
You've probably laid out in the sun without sufficient sunscreen more often than you'd like to admit in your four decades on this earth. But it's especially important to protect your skin from UV rays from here on out. "If you're not currently utilizing sunscreen within your beauty routine, you need to start immediately," says Gretchen Frieling, MD, a dermatopathologist in the Boston area. "Sunscreen is essential because as we grow older, our bodies have already begun their organic aging process. You don't want to pile on the effects of unprotected sun exposure. Sun damage can cause premature aging and affect your DNA to the point of causing melanoma."
If you thought your body went through major changes in your teen years, just wait: Round two comes for women as they enter their 40s. "In this decade, it's possible you'll start to experience symptoms of menopause, and that can be stressful as our bodies go through hormone changes and an increasingly intense aging process," says Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, a neuropsychologist in New York City.
Symptoms of anxiety.
There are many reasons why your anxiety levels could rise to an all-time high in your 40s. "At work, you may be climbing up the responsibility ladder, leaving you with less personal time and more to oversee. Hormonally people change, big life events can cause trauma, aging itself can be a difficult pill to swallow, and people can begin to feel suffocated by the routine," Hafeez says. "All of these possibilities can contribute to the anxiety and stress people feel around the 40th year mark."
Changes in your sleep patterns.
If you're experiencing changes in your sleep patterns, it might be something you should share with your doctor. That way, you can figure out what's not allowing your mind and body to fully rest and recharge, says Hafeez.
"Hormonal and schedule evolutions in our 40s can cause changes in our sleeping patterns. If you're not sleeping well, waking up in the middle of the night, or are too stressed to fall asleep, these are things you should share with your doctor," she says. "Don't glance over a problem because of age. Lack of sleep can cause cognitive capabilities to decrease, it can make you more irritable and less aware, and it can affect every function in your body. Insomnia is a common problem for people over 40, and usually doctors have to help patients find the root cause for it in order to treat it."
Your annual physical.
If you haven't gathered yet, it's increasingly important to make sure you're going to the doctor consistently in your 40s and beyond. "As we get older, we're more likely to develop a chronic disease, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, so it's important to schedule annual physicals to screen for these conditions," says Ramzi Yacoub, PharmD, a pharmacist based in Boca Raton, Florida, and the chief pharmacy officer at SingleCare. That way, if something looks off, your doctor can help you get back on the right track.
Your blood pressure.
High blood pressure is more common as you age, and if you don't control it, the National Institute on Aging says you could be putting yourself at risk of stroke, heart disease, kidney failure, eye problems, and more. "It's a good habit to check your blood pressure whenever you go to the pharmacy, or even when you have time at the grocery store," Yacoub says. "Preventative health is very important as we get older to help detect and manage these chronic conditions before they could lead to more serious complications."
Side effects of medications.
You know those long lists of side effects said quickly over upbeat music in every pharmaceutical commercial? Well, it's time to start paying attention to them. "Once you reach 40, you're more likely to take more medications, either prescribed or over the counter (OTC). Before starting a new medication, it's important to understand that they can sometimes have adverse effects," Yacoub says. "Some OTC drugs may contain similar ingredients in prescription medications or have drug interactions to medications you're already taking and may result in a side effect. Before taking a new prescription, OTC medication, or a supplement, discuss it with your pharmacist or doctor so they can advise if the medication is safe for you."
The flu vaccine.
You might not have been too worried about getting your flu vaccine in the past. But not getting poked could be putting you at a higher risk for health problems. "All adults should get a flu vaccine annually, but it becomes more important as we age," Yacoub says. "As we get older, our immune system weakens and can lead to complications. The flu vaccine helps prevent us from getting the flu and can reduce the severity if we do get the flu."
Your "heavy metal toxicity."
Most people have never heard the words "heavy metal toxicity." But paying attention to the heavy metals in your body could help keep you feeling your best as you age. "Heavy metals in the body inhibit mitochondrial function in the body, and they also assist in the development of illnesses like cancer and diabetes, among others," says Maggie Berghoff, MSN, FNP-C, a functional medicine nurse practitioner in Fort Wayne, Indiana. "It's important to lower one's exposure to heavy metals and periodically check throughout one's lifetime for the buildup of them."
Your heart disease risk.
As you get older, your risk for heart disease increases. Because of that, it's the first thing your primary care doctor will want to check on when you're in your 40s and beyond. "The goal here is to prevent cardiovascular disease and reduce the risk of myocardial infarction, also known as a heart attack," Rose Taroyan, MD, a family medicine doctor in Los Angeles, told Keck Medicine of USC. "If anything looks out of the ordinary, your physician will be able to provide tips and instructions on how to manage any health concerns."
Your tobacco use.
According to the American Cancer Society, only a small number of people are diagnosed with lung cancer under the age of 45. After that, your risk increases exponentially and most cases are diagnosed at 65 and older. So if you're still smoking, now is a great time to drop the bad habit. "Your doctor will be asking about your use of tobacco, providing counseling if necessary, and discussing pharmacotherapy invention if needed," says Taroyan. "Pharmacotherapy invention is basically medication to help end tobacco use, for instance, nicotine gum, the patch, or prescription pills."
Your drinking habits.
There's a major difference between an occasional glass of wine at night and feeling compelled to get drunk every evening. "Your primary care physician is going to want to check for alcohol misuse through a screening and behavioral counseling interventions," says Taroyan. Aside from asking about how much you drink, they might also ask you a series of four questions to identify your CAGE score, which can show an alcohol dependency.
Your risk of diabetes.
If you haven't been screened for diabetes, your 40s are a good time to start. "This goes on regularly from the ages of 40 to 70," says Taroyan. "There are many risk factors for diabetes, such as being overweight, obese, or experiencing hypertension or hyperlipidemia. Based on your results, your doctor will be able to provide treatment options."
Most people don't calculate their BMI—or body mass index—on the regular. The number "indicates how healthy your weight is" for your height, says Taroyan. "During this process, your primary care physician is going to do an obesity screening. If this value seems out of the ordinary, counseling will be provided."
Having healthy teeth and gums aren't just important for your smile. They're also key in keeping the rest of your body in top condition, as poor dental hygiene leads to heart health issues, too. To protect yourself against any problems with your teeth and gums, Lisa Simon, DMD, a dentist and instructor at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, recommends scheduling regular visits to the dentist. "All older adults should have recurring dental exams to identify, diagnose, and treat potential problems before they become severe," she told Harvard Health Publishing.
The American Cancer Society says starting between 40 and 44 years old, women can start screening for breast cancer every year. And for men, screening for colorectal cancer is a must, seeing as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 90 percent of new cases occur in those 50 or older. "Each individual should talk to their doctor first, who will then be able to take the personal and family history into account and suggest the screening test that's right for you," Sadaf Mustafa, MD, a primary care physician in Baltimore, Maryland, told MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital.
The possibility of sleep apnea.
According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, up to 80 percent of those with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) don't know they have it, and being undiagnosed could be impacting their health. If you're experiencing any symptoms—including daytime fatigue, lack of energy, loud snoring, or excessive sleepiness—talk with your doctor.
"Obstructive sleep apnea is a significant risk factor for heart disease. The prevalence of hypertension in people with sleep apnea ranges between 30 to 70 percent and is similar in men and women," Fiona C. Baker, PhD, a sleep physiologist, told the National Sleep Foundation. "However, when taking BMI into consideration, some gender differences emerge. Men with OSA who are markedly obese have a two-fold higher risk of hypertension than obese women with OSA."
Your sodium intake.
You might not think about the sodium in your food, but according to the CDC, 90 percent of Americans consume too much of it. Even though it's recommended to consume fewer than 2,300 mg a day, the average daily sodium intake among adults in the U.S. is more than 3,400 mg. While salt isn't harmful for everyone, Steven Nissen, MD, a cardiologist with the Cleveland Clinic, says there are some instances in which you should cut back.
"Some individuals do need to monitor their salt consumption. For example, if you have high blood pressure or are borderline for the condition, or have congestive heart failure, a low-salt diet should be part of your overall health plan," he told the Cleveland Clinic. "If you have other medical conditions, a diet high in salt could put you at higher risk for cardiovascular disease or heart failure. Be sure to talk with your doctor and follow his or her recommendations."
Your sugar intake.
When it comes to your health, snacking on natural sugar from fruit is going to benefit you much more than reaching for something packed with harmful added sugar. "The effects of added sugar intake—higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease—are all linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke," Frank Hu, MD, PhD, a researcher at Harvard University, told Harvard Health Publishing. "Basically, the higher the intake of added sugar, the higher the risk for heart disease."
Chronic inflammation doesn't just cause damage to your joints, internal organs, tissues, and cells, says Keenan A. Walker, PhD, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. In his 2019 study from the American Academy of Neurology, he also found that those who experience chronic inflammation in middle age may develop cognitive issues in the years to come. "The additional change in thinking and memory skills associated with chronic inflammation was modest, but it was greater than what has been seen previously associated with high blood pressure in middle age," Walker said in a statement.
If you're not already going to comprehensive eye exams on a regular basis, it's a must as soon as you turn 40. That way, your doctor can handle any changes in your eyes and vision that come as you age. Another crucial step in keeping your eyes healthy is taking care of other aspects of your health, too, including not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising regularly.
"As individuals, our bodies age differently from each other," Albert Jun, MD, PhD, an ophthalmologist in Baltimore, told Johns Hopkins University. "However, an abundance of evidence indicates that keeping yourself in good health as you age decreases the occurrence or effects of age-associated eye problems."
Prevention over treatment.
According to Stockwell, prevention is always better than treatment. "Eat healthy foods, exercise often, have new experiences, and tend relationships with your loved ones," she says. "If you're already experiencing symptoms, it's almost never too late to improve your nutrition, emotional wellbeing, and mindset. They're the key to a long, purposeful and healthy life. If you make better choices now, you will soon be feeling better!" And to find out what not to do in your 40s, check out the 40 Worst Habits for People Over 40.
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