Health Checklist for People Over 40 - Seven Tests Every 40 Year Old Should Consider
The older I get, the faster birthdays seem to come around. When I was a child, it took forever to go from 12 to 13. The year before my 18th birthday felt like two. But as I've passed through my 20s, 30s and 40s, years seem to fly by so fast I can barely keep track.
One of the things my doctor taught me is that there are conditions you should start having checked when milestone birthdays are reached. The first of the "older" milestones is 40. You're officially middle-aged and your body has gone through many changes. If you're like the majority of people, you've slowed down and you're putting on a little extra around the middle. Aches and pains are more frequent and the things that worked in your 20s and 30s aren't doing the trick anymore.
When you hit 40, there are seven medical tests you should have done, plus some things you can do after you get the results. Get the tests even if you're in good condition, to make sure you don't have any hidden issues. Typically, the earlier you find a problem, the easier it is to deal with it.
Start with an exercise stress test. They're used to see how much stress your heart can handle before developing an abnormal rhythm and to make sure you're getting enough blood flow to the heart muscle.
There are several variations of the test including a nuclear stress test, a stress echocardiogram, a Dobutamine or Adenosine stress test and a treadmill stress test. The treadmill test is the first choice for people who can walk and have a normal EKG, but the other variations are available based on physical ability and information needed.
Check your blood pressure. The normal range is around 120 for the systolic number and 80 for the diastolic number. If you have numbers higher than 140/90, you're at increased risk of a heart attack or stroke. Repeat this test as often as your doctor recommends.
Take a blood test for cholesterol, especially if you have a family history of high cholesterol. While that's being done, your doctor may suggest measuring your triglyceride levels too. If the levels are normal, you should repeat the tests every three to five years.
A blood sugar (or blood glucose) test at 40 is a good idea as well. Elevated levels can indicate diabetes or pre-diabetes, which often goes undiagnosed. Doctors will also make sure the levels aren't too low.
Women should start annual breast examinations at 40. That doesn't mean a mammogram. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) doesn't recommend regular mammograms for women until they turn 50, and then only once every two years unless something is detected. The USPSTF says, "Women younger than age 50 should talk to a doctor about when to start and how often to have a mammogram."
Men should have a yearly digital rectal exam to check for abnormalities. Enlargement of the prostate or urinary problems indicate potential problems your physician can help you understand.
Depending on the results of your tests, talk to your doctor about some kind of cardio program. Initially, that might mean nothing more than walking a couple days a week. As you improve, move to jogging, running, biking, skating, swimming or even more strenuous activities like interval training.
Have your doctor weigh you, and discuss that number. If you're overweight, figure out a realistic amount you need to lose. The same goes if you're underweight. By recording the number, you'll have a baseline you can compare to on follow-up visits.
To make better food choices, have your doctor refer you to a nutritionist. Then put together a diet program designed around the foods you're used to eating. If you eat meat at every meal, it may be unrealistic to attempt a vegetarian diet. Find healthier versions of the things you already like.
Get the tests and use them as encouragement to start living a healthier life.
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