Pay attention to your health – now!

Paying attention to your health now will pay you back for years to come

Body Forecast
Paying attention to your health now will pay you back for years to come


You chug half a dozen bottles of water daily, you’re as lithe as Gisele in your Sevens and you see your doctor for an annual Pap—so you’re in primo health, right? Sure, you may appear über-healthy, but you could be doing more to make sure you stay that way for years to come.

If you’re a twenty- to thirty-something woman—busy lobbying for that promotion at work, raising kids and mastering that new yoga pose—taking steps to protect future health isn’t always top of mind. Or perhaps you think you’re simply too young to even think about preventing conditions such as osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes or heart disease. Think again. Fact is, your bones start weakening right around your 30th birthday and the time to start building bone (and halting bone loss) is when you’re young. It’s also possible to get type 2 diabetes at a young age, particularly if you’re inactive and overweight. And while women tend not to get heart disease before menopause, cardiologist Dr. Beth Abramson, spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, says, “I have many young female patients who have coronary heart disease. It’s important to take charge of your health and know what your risks are.” Indeed, the experts say that making the right health moves—from eating the right foods to squeezing in the right kinds of exercise—could make all the difference down the road. Here’s the scoop on what you need to do today to ward off tomorrow’s health threats.

Shake the family tree
To some degree, your likelihood of developing osteoporosis, diabetes or heart disease is in your genes. So if you have a father, a mother or a sibling who has one of those conditions, you’re at an increased risk. Talk to your doctor now, while you still have years to make the lifestyle choices that will minimize your risk. If you have a family history of a disease such as colon cancer, you may want to get screened earlier than most.

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Focus on fitness
Since your bone-mineral density starts slowly decreasing around age 30, weight-bearing exercise—such as walking—is a must at that age, says Caroline Snobelen, a personal trainer in Toronto. “[Because it] stimulates bone growth, weight-bearing exercise, where the muscles support the body’s weight in motion against gravity, is the very best thing you can do for your body,” she says. Snobelen recommends walking at a brisk pace at least four or five days a week. And since walking is not weight bearing for your upper body, which can get weak from sitting, strengthening your upper-back muscles 2–3 times weekly is important, too. “If you have strong muscles in your upper back, they will support your spine and keep your posture erect.”

It’s also important to schedule regular exercise during your 20s and 30s (and at every age, really) to prevent diabetes and maintain heart health. “It’s easy to let it slide because you think you’re young and healthy,” says Dr. Abramson, “but you really need to start these healthy patterns at a young age.”

Balance the scales
Gaining weight around your middle certainly makes it challenging to find perfect-fitting jeans. But compared to a hippy, pear-shaped physique, an apple-shaped body also increases your odds of developing diabetes and heart disease, as there is a relationship between abdominal obesity and metabolic diseases. “Read labels to make healthier food choices and try to keep your weight within the healthy range using the BMI [body mass index] scale,” says Donna Lillie, vice-president of research and professional education at the Canadian Diabetes Association. That means not being underweight, either. Bulimia, anorexia and too much exercise can halt menstruation, thereby limiting the production of estrogen, an important hormone for maintaining bone health, according to Osteoporosis Canada.

Eat disease-fighting foods
To reduce your risk of osteoporosis, limit those morning espressos—caffeine increases the loss of calcium. Make sure you’re consuming at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily (about three glasses of milk). “If you’re a healthy woman in your 20s or 30s and you eat enough calcium in your diet, there’s no need to take calcium supplements,” says Dr. Simon Carette, rheumatologist and professor of medicine at the University of Toronto. Not a dairy fan? Take a calcium supplement.

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Concerned your occasional chocolate overindulgence might lead to type 2 diabetes? “Not to worry,” says Lillie. It’s not one or two sugar feasts that will push you over the edge. A diet that’s low in salt and fat and has plenty of fruit, vegetables, fibre and fish will help keep your weight in check and also help stave off heart disease. And, according to the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, avoiding trans fats along with eating polyunsaturated fats (found in tuna, salmon and nuts) and more whole grains may also help prevent diabetes.

Take the test
You know the importance of getting your annual Pap and doing regular breast self-examinations. That’s not all you should be doing. “Women can start to have a tendency toward high blood pressure at a young age, so you need to get your blood pressure checked at least yearly—if you have no risk for heart disease—and more frequently if you have some risk or it’s found to be high,” says Dr. Abramson. “If you have a family member with heart disease, you should talk to your doctor about getting your cholesterol checked.”

If you’re younger than 40, overweight and have one or more of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes (these include a family history of the disease or a sedentary lifestyle), ask your doctor for a fasting-blood-glucose test or an oral glucose-tolerance test. If you develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, “it’s a red flag that you’ll be at a higher risk for diabetes in the future,” says Lillie.

Butt out
While you may be smoking to stay model-thin, your heart will pay the price, not to mention the possibility of increased bone loss, according to Osteoporosis Canada. “You can look thin and apparently healthy on the outside, but if you smoke, eat fatty foods and don’t exercise, your heart and blood vessels are not healthy on the inside,” says Dr. Abramson. “You could be five or 10 pounds overweight but exercise regularly, not smoke and eat a heart-healthy diet—and that’s healthier for you.”

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