Optimal health is not about waiting for disease to occur and then scrambling for a combative regimen. In your 30s, it’s easy to put off exercise and good nutrition. Doctor visits are usually done for the occasional cold or injury, not for discussing preventive tests or vitamin programs. The reality is, you should invest time and energy in your health just as you would in planning for retirement, or even your next vacation. As the diet and lifestyle of developed nations continues to spiral downward and revolve around convenience, it is your individual responsibility to take charge of your body. The information below is meant to inspire and empower you to prevent chronic illness and move toward optimal health.
Begin at the dinner table, or better yet, at the grocery store. This can be complicated. Stick to basic ground rules. Focus on fruits, vegetables and healthy proteins like beans and lean meats. Those with diets consisting of just 5 total fruits and vegetables a day show significant decreases in cancer and heart disease. As relationships, work schedules and children enter your life, your dietary habits can become compromised. Plan your dietary schedule and take time to evaluate the healthy options and have them available at home and work.
Exercise begins to take on greater importance in your 30s. Without regular exercise, your metabolism will start to slow and bone density, which reaches its peak at 30, will decline. Exercise is one of the best remedies to prevent bone decline, and a natural antidepressant and stress reliever. Fitness is also an important way to decrease your risk of cancer. Most patients cease an exercise program because they choose an exercise they don’t like or feel there is no time. There is always time. Find a program that you enjoy and start with small time increments. As your exercise becomes a habit, your schedule will conform to your exercise, and not the other way around.
The next step in prevention is to study your family history. Focus on your parents, siblings and grandparents. What types of illnesses affect your family? Are there specific types of cancer? Does anyone have a history of stroke, heart disease or diabetes? Consider the age at which the person was affected with the illness. A heart attack at age 75 is important, but having a parent who suffered at age 45 holds even greater bearing when deciding your prevention strategy. Low risk women in their 30s do not need screened for any specific cancers, but if you have a family history or specific concern, talk to your physician.
There are several groups that develop cancer screening recommendations. You should always discuss options with your physician. The United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendations are provided below as a guide:
- Cervical Cancer. A pap smear should be performed every 1-3 years. If your physician uses a liquid-based test, like ThinPrep, it can be done every 2 years. If you have had 3 normal paps consecutively, you may extend this to every 3. Testing for human papillomavirus (HPV) should only be done as a result of an abnormal pap test.
- Breast Cancer. The USPSTF found insufficient evidence to recommend self breast exams and clinical breast exams. Discuss these options and your risks with your physician. Mammograms are recommended every 1-2 years, starting at 40.
- Ovarian Cancer. Routine screening is not recommended.
Prevention also means collecting some laboratory information to identify potential risk factors. Cholesterol panels have long been used for this purpose. Other tests are now available to assess your risk factors and help design a treatment plan. The list below is suggested for otherwise healthy individuals who are concerned with disease prevention.
- 25-OH vitamin D (25 hydroxy-vitamin D). Vitamin D is becoming so important it has its own educational page on this site. The target level is at least 50 ng/ml. Optimal levels of vitamin D improve bone density, cancer risk and brain health. It’s worth knowing if vitamin D levels are low and whether supplementation is needed. Note that there are several types of vitamin D labs available, but the 25-OH vitamin D level is considered the most accurate. Vitamin D is given free courtesy of the sun, and inexpensive as a supplement.
- C-reactive protein (CRP). This test measures inflammation in the body, a marker for heart disease. A good result is less than 1 mg/L. Elevated levels are treated with fish oils, CoQ10, magnesium and vitamin D.
- Homocysteine. This is a product of protein metabolism. The concern is, if the homocysteine level gets too high, it can actually lead to blood vessel damage, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, macular degeneration and depression. The nutritional goal for homocysteine is less than 9 units. Elevated levels can be balanced with a higher intake of vitamins B-12, B-6 and folic acid.
- Fasting insulin levels. Insulin is the body’s natural hormone to help lower the level of sugar in the blood. Insulin also provides insight to potential problems tied to blood sugar management. Adult-onset diabetes is the decreased efficiency of insulin to manage blood sugar resulting in an excess of sugar in the blood. Before the blood sugar rises to the classic diabetic markers, the insulin levels will rise, demonstrating the early signs of the body’s inability to handle the sugar it’s ingesting. If the lab reading is above the goal, you have an indicator that you are getting too much refined sugar in your current diet. Ranges may be from 0 -14, but try to keep your levels around 7 units or less.
Any supplement regimen should be determined by your health history, lab tests, family history and wellness goals. Very few nutrients are necessary for everyone. One nutrient to consider is fish oil for the highly beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, as many Americans don’t get 1-2 servings of fish per week and risk inadequate levels of these healthy fats. A good multivitamin will help supply a base of the vitamins B complex, C and E, and a mineral foundation.