Right now, in my mid-20's, I feel healthier than ever. But, it is easy to slip into the mind-set of immunity -- or thinking that common health problems will never happen to you. I made that mistake when my appendix ruptured, and it nearly cost me my life. Each decade of life brings new challenges, and if we want to be well prepared then we have to start building a healthy body now!
In your 20's:
Bone density is the major concern during this decade of life. By age 30 your bones are done growing, and it is important to make them as dense as possible before then. In later years your body will lose some of that bone, so load up on as many dairy products, beans, leafy greens, almonds and canned salmon that you can stand. Also, opt for the calcium-fortified juices and cereals!
In your 30's:
For women, this is usually when motherhood comes into play. Folic acid will be high on the list of nutrients during this decade to help prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.
Since 1998, cereal grain products in the United States have been fortified with folic acid. Fruits and vegetables are foods naturally high in folate, which is the natural form of folic acid.
You may hear your 30's being referred to as the "prevention decade" by health specialists. This is when healthcare providers start to encourage patients to make changes that can prevent chronic disease in later life. Foods high in omega-3's and monounsaturated fats help improve blood cholesterol, which can decrease the risk for heart disease.
In your 40's:
Let the aging process begin. If you haven't heeded your healthcare providers advice, this is when you may start to notice the effects.
An important nutrient during this decade is fiber, which can help protect against heart disease and certain types of cancer. Focus on upping your fruit and vegetable intake, which are also packed with essential vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Whole grains and beans are other good sources of fiber.
Adults need at least 2 cups of fruit and 2½ cups of vegetables a day.
In your 50's:
Big changes are around the corner with menopause, hormone fluctuations and changes in metabolism. For women, it becomes harder to shed weight and the number on the scale may start creeping upward. It may be time to start decreasing calorie intake and increasing physical activity.
Vitamin D is also a nutrient of interest near midlife. It is used by every cell in the body, is essential for bone health, and can reduce the risk some cancers, heart disease and infectious disease. Sources of vitamin D include fortified milk, juices, salmon and tuna. Also, 15 minutes of sun exposure helps the body activate vitamin D in the skin.
60's and beyond:
You may begin to experience muscle loss at this stage in the aging process. Protein and strength building exercises become important during this time in life, and may be linked with bone health.
Women, on average, need about 5-6 ounces of protein foods per day. Sources of healthy protein include meats (beef, chicken, fish, pork, lamb), eggs, beans, tofu and nuts. Also, protein can be found in low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese and yogurt.
Another important nutrient during this time is vitamin B12. This vitamin helps the body make new red blood cells and protects the brain and nervous system. Good sources of B12 include animal products such as meat, milk, or eggs. Unfortunately, as we age our ability to absorb vitamin B12 decreases, so you may want to talk to your healthcare provider about supplements.
Raising awareness is the first step in preventive medicine. Every decade brings with it a new host of challenges. We can't turn back time, but we can work together to make it easier.