weather icon Clear

Doctors’ advice for staying healthy after age 40

Sorry, millennials: You’re getting older. Typically, the 40-year mark of life creeps up on us because we’re just so busy doing and focusing on other things. But as we get older, our health concerns change and, in many contexts, grow.

The No. 1 thing that doctors say you should never do, after your 40th birthday, if you want to stay healthy and feel younger than your years? Skip your annual physicals.

“Since all people are different, and they have individual perspectives on their health, it is impossible to identify one item which everyone needs to focus on to stay healthy,” says Dr. David Cutler, a board-certified family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “But there is one thing that everyone should do regularly after they turn 40 to protect their health as much as possible: have a routine preventive examination by their primary care physician.”

“The importance of going for an annual checkup becomes even more significant as you age,” adds Dr. Elizabeth Landsverk, a geriatrician who’s board certified in internal, geriatric and palliative medicine.

And if you are avoiding annual physical exams because you haven’t found a doctor you click with, keep looking.

“One of the most important keys for maintaining excellent health care is having a good and caring primary care doctor in your corner,” Landsverk says. “And don’t be afraid to doctor shop. While nurse practitioners can be very helpful, they do not have the same training as physicians to fully understand disease processes and risks, though they may be more approachable and could point you in the right direction. Personally speaking, it took me four years and four different ear, nose and throat specialists before I finally found the one who could surgically correct my sinusitis.”

Six other over-40 health tips

Act your age: A major key to staying healthy is not being in denial about your age. All the tretinoin in the world may keep your visage youthful, but you’re still getting older everywhere else.

“When people get to age 40, most have a hard time believing they have reached ‘middle age,’ ” Cutler says. “They generally feel young and healthy. But the reality is that 40 is halfway to 80, and the degenerative process of aging has already set in. While there are many diets and activities measured to slow aging, we still haven’t figured out how to stop aging completely.”

Ask your doctor questions: A big part of your annual physical should be asking your physician questions about your overall health — and you shouldn’t put it off until your doctor is on their way out the door. Landsverk recommends asking the following, depending on your specific concerns:

■ How can I sleep through the night without interruption?

■ How can I relieve my stress?

■ What lifestyle changes could improve my life?

■ How will my family’s medical history affect my future?

■ Do the combinations of medications I’m taking have any undesired effects?

■ Are there ways to treat my condition without having to resort to taking medication?

■ Will the over-the-counter medications I’m taking have any ill effects on my health? Could they be interfering with my prescribed medications?

■ How can I alleviate my pain?

■ I like my nightly cocktails at the end of the workday. How much drinking is too much?

■ Do you have any suggestions about what kind of exercise program I should adopt?

Don’t skip vaccines and boosters: While you’re at your annual physical, ask your doctor to get you up to date on your shots.

“There is no greater single medical intervention in history which has contributed more to improved health, decreased disease and delayed death than vaccines,” Cutler says. “COVID and flu vaccines are two obvious and timely examples, but vaccines for travel like hepatitis A and yellow fever can also be addressed.”

Landsverk also points out that COVID has been associated with increased dementia risk, which obviously will be a growing concern as you age.

Don’t forget about COVID: Landsverk emphasized the importance of patients protecting themselves from the ongoing risks of COVID-19, noting, “Especially as we age, getting COVID can be particularly concerning when you consider that long-term COVID causes more inflammation of the brain, which can increase your dementia risk, as well as pose problems for your heart, lungs, kidneys, nerves, etc. You might think about it like permanent scarring for which there is no cure — once damaged, forever damaged.”

Don’t skip colon cancer or breast cancer screenings: More people are being diagnosed with colon cancer at younger ages, making it increasingly crucial to get regular screenings. According to Landsverk, it’s especially important to talk to your doctor about colon cancer risk if you have a family history of the disease. And if you’re a woman, don’t forget that you should be getting an annual mammogram starting at age 40.

Don’t mess with your heart: We’re not talking about avoiding Tinder dates. We’re talking about your heart health. Landsverk says sticking to a plant-based diet and exercising for half an hour a day is one of the best things you can do for your cardiovascular health.

“Doing so will decrease your risk of heart attack, stroke and dementia by 50 percent,” she says. “While taking a multivitamin each day may offer some benefit, we do know that vitamin D helps fortify bones and vitamin B12 helps with nerves. As far as expensive supplements that make bombastic claims, there is no scientific evidence that they provide any substantial health benefits, and remember: The FDA does not regulate this industry.”

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Which Medicare plans cover emergency care overseas?

Medicare does not cover emergency medical care during foreign travel. It is an added benefit that a supplemental plan (Medigap) provides.

Glen Powell stays down to earth despite soaring success

“It’s good to feel a bit uncomfortable. I’m always interested in reinvention,” says the actor, whose latest film, “Hit Man,” is in theaters now.

Beach Boys reunite through music, memories

Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Al Jardine met up last year to work on a new documentary called “The Beach Boys.”