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Women: your health through the ages

Tuesday 6 March 2018


We spoke to Queensland women about how they're taking control of their health.

As we age, our health needs change. From what check-ups we need to get, to which preventative measures we should take to safeguard our wellbeing in the future, throughout life our health needs shift and evolve.

Below, we’ve collated information on the general health tips and check-ups you should focus on during each decade. We also asked Queensland women to share what their health priorities are, and how they’re looking after themselves at different ages.

In your 20s

You might not think of your 20s as a time when health is a concern, but the choices you make in your 20s can impact your health for decades to come.

What to focus on

Brush up on your nutrition knowledge, try to eat a wide range of healthy foods and make a habit of drinking plenty of water each day. If you consume alcohol, keep the levels within the guidelines.

Physical activity is important in your 20s, helping you to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, strengthening your bones and promoting a healthy cardiovascular system. While you’re working out your muscles, remember that it’s never too early to start focusing on keeping your pelvic floor muscles healthy and strong, too.

At this age, a lot of your health priorities will be preventative. You should practise safe sex to help prevent symptoms and complications from sexually transmitted infections and learn about the types of contraception available to avoid unplanned pregnancies.

If you smoke, quitting will benefit your immediate health and long term health. Find a range of tips and tools to help you quit smoking here. Smoking while pregnant or breastfeeding can be harmful for your baby. If you are planning to become pregnant, are pregnant, or breastfeeding, you should quit now. You can call Quitline (13 78 48) to access a specific program tailored to help pregnant women quit smoking.

Protect yourself from possible premature aging and cancer-causing skin damage from the sun by remembering to Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide. Be skin aware, get to know your own skin and check it regularly; if you notice any new spots or moles or if there are changes to existing spots or moles have them checked by your doctor.

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. If you’re not feeling well mentally, even if that’s just not ‘feeling like yourself’, for two weeks or more, talk to your doctor about what’s going on. Look after your mental health by reducing unnecessary stress and setting up strategies that will help you stay healthy and happy.

One of the best ways to safeguard your health is to know your body and recognise any unexpected changes and talk to your doctor without delay. Be breast aware, knowing the normal look and feel of your breasts throughout your cycle, and see your doctor if you notice any changes. Become familiar with your vulva (the external female genitals) and let your doctor know if you find any changes to the appearance or begin to experience any sensations like burning, itching or stinging.

Check-up checklist

In your 20s, you should have these check-ups and screenings:

What real women say

Yuriko stands smiling at the camera in her workplace.

Yuriko, 20s, Bamaga (Northern Peninsula)

“Working in a mental health organisation, I recognise the importance of having a healthy mind. My main health focus is ensuring that I have the energy and ability to fulfil my role at work and as a mother. Through reading, mindfulness and exercise, I am able to keep my mind on track and keep a balance between my personal and professional life.”

Hannah stands in front of a tree on a cloudy day.

Hannah, 20s, Roma

“I prioritise making time for exercise, not only for physical health but peace of mind. If we don’t, we will have time for illness later in life.

I enjoy any time of exercise, everything from walking my dog, going to the gym and coaching and play netball. Everything about me – mind and body – functions better when I’m healthy.”

In your 30s

Your 30s are a great time to shore up healthy habits, as well as keeping on top of your preventative health and regular screenings and check-ups.

What to focus on

For many women, the 30s are all about finding that work/life balance. Looking after yourself doesn’t have to require fancy gadgets or hours of work, just focusing on a few key areas can help you stay healthy and well.

Try to eat a wide range of healthy foods, including plenty of vegetables and fruit. When it comes to beverages, drink plenty of water each day. If you consume alcohol, keep the levels within the guidelines.

Aim to be active on most, preferably all, days of the week. This will help you to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, maintain bone mass and promote a healthy cardiovascular system. While you’re working out your muscles, remember to exercise your pelvic floor muscles, too, especially around pregnancy.

Practise safe sex to help prevent symptoms and complications from sexually transmitted infections and learn about the types of contraception available to avoid unplanned pregnancies.

If you smoke, quitting will benefit your immediate health and long term health. Find a range of tips and tools to help you quit smoking here. Smoking while pregnant or breastfeeding can be harmful for your baby. If you are planning to become pregnant, are pregnant, or breastfeeding, you should quit now. You can call Quitline (13 78 48) to access a specific program tailored to help pregnant women quit smoking.

You might have started seeing the effects of sun damage on your skin, like fine lines and pigmentation. Protect yourself from further possible cancer-causing skin damage from the sun by remembering to Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide. Be skin aware, get to know your own skin and check it regularly; if you notice any new spots or moles or if there are changes to existing spots or moles have them checked by your doctor.

Your 30s can be a busy time, with women often juggling work, family and other life commitments. Make time to look after your mental health, reduce unnecessary stress and try activities like meditation or mindfulness practice to help you calm your mind and stay healthy. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. If you’re not feeling well mentally, even if that’s just not ‘feeling like yourself’, for two weeks or more, talk to your doctor about what’s going on.

One of the best ways to safeguard your health is to know your body and recognise any unexpected changes and talk to your doctor without delay. Be breast aware, knowing the normal look and feel of your breasts throughout your cycle, and see your doctor if you notice any changes. Become familiar with your vulva (the external female genitals) and let your doctor know if you find any changes in appearance or experience sensations like burning, itching or stinging.

Check-up checklist

In your 30s, you should have these check-ups and screenings:

What real women say

Sarah stands outside in front of a tree, smiling for the camera.

Sarah, 30s, Charleville

“It’s all about social and emotional health and wellbeing for me when it comes to health priorities. Managing and reducing stress, tension and anxiety, getting a good night’s sleep and having a positive attitude to personal and professional life are important.

I practice mindfulness and yoga; participate in both intentional and opportunistic exercise; commit time to enjoying my hobbies including art and gardening; enjoy an energetic and busy social life; go outdoors to get fresh air and sunshine; spend time with friends and family (pets included) and try my very best to ensure a work life balance. All of which have the added benefit of contributing to my overall physical health and fitness.”

In your 40s

During your 40s your metabolism can slow down and you might notice that your menstrual cycle starts to change as you head towards menopause. While things might shift in your 40s, you should still be feeling fabulous during this decade.

What to focus on

Eat a wide range of healthy foods every day and keep drinking plenty of water each day. If you consume alcohol, keep the levels within the guidelines.

Your metabolism slows as you age, which can make it easier to put on weight and harder to lose it. As well as eating healthily, being physically active can help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Exercise will also help you maintain bone mass, and keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels healthy. Keep your pelvic floor muscles healthy and strong by learning how to exercise them if you’re not already.

Safe sex isn’t just for teens – make sure you use protection to help prevent symptoms and complications from sexually transmitted infections and learn about the types of contraception available to avoid unplanned pregnancies. Many women have healthy pregnancies during their 40s, though there are increased risks of miscarriage and birth defects.

If you smoke, quitting will benefit your immediate health and long term health. Find a range of tips and tools to help you quit smoking here. Smoking while pregnant or breastfeeding can be harmful for your baby. If you are planning to become pregnant, are pregnant, or breastfeeding, you should quit now. You can call Quitline (13 78 48) to access a specific program tailored to help pregnant women quit smoking.

Protect yourself from possible cancer-causing skin damage from the sun by remembering to Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide and talk to your doctor if you notice any changes to your skin.

Take some time to look after your mental health and check in with how you’re feeling. Reduce any unnecessary stress and set up strategies that will help you stay healthy and happy.

One of the best ways to safeguard your health is to know your body and recognise any unexpected changes and talk to your doctor without delay. Be breast aware, knowing the normal look and feel of your breasts throughout your cycle, and see your doctor if you notice any changes. Talk to your doctor about when you should start having regular breast screens . Become familiar with your vulva (the external female genitals) and let your doctor know if you find any changes in appearance or start to experience sensations like burning, itching or stinging.

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. If you’re not feeling well mentally, even if that’s just not ‘feeling like yourself’, for two weeks or more, talk to your doctor about what’s going on. Too much stress can impact your mind and body, so if you find yourself feeling wound-up, try some strategies to help manage your stress.

Check-up checklist

In your 40s, you should have these check-ups and screenings:

What real women say

Jean sits in her yard holding her two children.

Jean, 40s, Brisbane

I’ve always taken pretty good care of my body but since having children recently it’s become even more important to me – I want to be the best role model I can for them. I try to really think about the foods feed them and I eat in front of them so they grow up to value healthy eating

In your 50s

Most women can expect menopause to start during their 50s, and you might notice other changes in your body and lifestyle over this decade as well. Paying attention to your self-care during this decade can keep you fit and healthy, and able to enjoy whatever is on your plate.

What to focus on

One of the best ways to safeguard your health is to know your body and recognise any unexpected changes and talk to your doctor without delay. Your doctor might start advising you to have more regular tests and checks done during this decade. Once menopause begins, your bone density begins to decrease as your body produces less oestrogen. Your doctor might recommend a bone density test to monitor your bones, especially if you have a family history of osteoporosis. Your doctor will also advise you to have a breast screen every two years, and you should start to complete a bowel cancer screening kit every two years which is sent to you in the mail.

Being physically active has numerous health and social benefits, including achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, helping you maintain your bone density, decreasing your risk of developing diabetes and increasing your flexibility and balance. Doing any physical activity is better than doing none – aim to be active on most, preferably all, days of every week. Why not make it a goal to try a new form? From swimming to cycling, gym classes, bushwalking or even gardening, there are a lot of ways to add activity into your day.

It’s never too late to quit smoking: quitting at any age has immediate and long term health benefits. If you smoke, find a range of tips and tools to help you quit here.

Keep an eye on your skin and check regularly for signs of possible skin cancer. Depending on your risk, your doctor may also check your skin regularly or refer you to a specialist for skin checks.

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. If you’re not feeling well mentally, even if that’s just not ‘feeling like yourself’, for two weeks or more, talk to your doctor about what’s going on. Too much stress can impact your mind and body, so if you find yourself feeling wound-up, try some strategies to help manage your stress.

Check-up checklist

In your 50s, you should have these check-ups and screenings:

  • a Cervical Screening Test every five years
  • a skin check from your doctor
  • a dental check-up as often as advised by your dentist
  • an eye health test as often as advised by your optometrist
  • a breast screen every two years with BreastScreen Queensland and a check-up from your doctor if you notice any unusual breast changes in between screening.
  • a bowel cancer screening test every two years
  • bone density test as advised by your doctor
  • vaccinations as needed for travel and boosters, and the yearly influenza shot
  • a sexual health check at once a year if you’re sexually active, or if you think you might have an STI or have had unsafe sex
  • vulvar health check
  • regular blood pressure and cholesterol checks by your doctor.

What real women say

Tosmina stands outside her work, smiling in her Queensland Health shirt. Tomasina, 50s, Hammond Island (Torres Straits)

“My personal health goals are to live a healthier life in the remote islands of the Torres Strait. To achieve this I am working towards changing my diet and increasing my exercise to maintain a healthier body weight. I also realise that this will give me other health benefits such as reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke which are predominant morbidity issues on both sides of my Aboriginal (mother) and Torres Strait (father) family.”

Donna stands in front of the Australian Aboriginal flag.

Donna, 50s, Dirranbandi

“Like many other people I find it hard to balance the demands of life but I do find it helps to re-assess my health priorities regularly.

At the moment, my key goals when it comes to my health are to keep work at work and continue to be physically active. A healthy work-life balance is important to me and creating a boundary between work and personal time helps prevent burn-out and stress.

I also love to play golf, a sport which I find not only fun but really relaxing.”

In your 60s and beyond

Age shouldn’t be a barrier for doing all the things you want in life in your senior years, but poor health might be. Continuing to live a healthy lifestyle will help you get all you want out of life and stay fit and well.

What to focus on

As you age, your risk of developing some cancers increases. You should continue with regular cancer screening, and let your doctor know if you are feeling any other symptoms that seem unusual or notice any changes in your body that are unexpected.

Continue to eat a healthy, varied diet and drink plenty of water each day. Eating well and being active can help you stay on your feet and be full of energy, so make a plan to fit some movement into each day, too. Not sure what you can do? Try this guide for exercises you can do at home that will improve your strength, balance, flexibility and endurance.

Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of Australian women. Your doctor should regularly check your blood pressure and cholesterol, and can help you make lifestyle changes to keep them at healthy levels.

It’s never too late to quit smoking: quitting at any age has immediate and long term health benefits. If you smoke, find a range of tips and tools to help you quit here.

Keeping mentally active is one way to ward off diseases like dementia and look after your mental wellbeing at the same time. Keep your brain busy by learning new skills, engaging yourself with puzzles or crosswords, socialising, volunteering or pursuing creative interests.

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. If you’re not feeling well mentally, even if that’s just not ‘feeling like yourself’, for two weeks or more, talk to your doctor about what’s going on.

Check-up checklist

In your 60s and the decades that follow, you should have these check-ups and screenings:

  • a Cervical Screening Test every five years until you are 74
  • a skin check from your doctor
  • a dental check-up as often as advised by your dentist
  • an eye health test as often as advised by your optometrist
  • a breast screen every two years until you are 74 with BreastScreen Queensland and a check-up from your doctor if you notice any unusual breast changes in between screening.
  • a bowel cancer screening test every two years until you are 74, and then as advised by your doctor
  • bone density test as advised by your doctor
  • vaccinations as needed for travel and boosters, and the yearly influenza shot
  • a sexual health check at once a year if you’re sexually active, or if you think you might have an STI or have had unsafe sex
  • vulvar health check
  • regular blood pressure and cholesterol checks by your doctor.

What real women say

Del smiles for the camera.

Del, 60s, Thursday Island

“As a 64-year-old Mer (Murray) Island woman, I aim to ensure I eat healthy food daily, exercise regularly and drink plenty of water to maintain my physical health.

From a mental health point of view, I also focus on my family, on maintaining a safe living environment, communicating effectively and nurturing my cultural and spiritual belief system. That and continuing to improve myself through study, which underpins my personal identity and ensures I remain well-grounded both mentally and physically no matter what each day brings.”

Pat stands next to a creek on a bushwalk.

Pat, 60s, Cairns

“I’m about to enter my sixties and with each new decade I come to appreciate my body more and understand the need to care for it. Living in the Far North with fair skin means sun protection is an everyday part of my life – I stay out of the sun, wear sunscreen every day and always cover up. I also make sure I get regular skin checks – I’ve had a few cancerous spots removed, so keeping on top of any potential changes is vital.”

Valerie smiles for the camera.

Valerie, 70s, Mount Isa

“I’m 76 years old, and in the last two years I’ve broken a hip and had a stroke! I have been working with an exercise physiologist to improve my balance and stay mobile. I go to exercise sessions at the hospital once a week and at the PCYC every Wednesday and Friday. We are a large, noisy, happy group exercising together!”

More information

For more information about looking after your health at any age, visit the links below:

Women’s health through the decades

Get Healthy

Last updated: 14 March 2018