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For many women, turning 30 marks the real beginning of adulthood. You’re established in a career, and maybe in a relationship. You might be thinking about starting a family. You feel pretty good about yourself, and all the health indiscretions of your 20s — remember those all-night parties and how you still managed to make it into work the next day? — haven’t taken much of a health toll.
Let’s face it, ages 30 to 39 are prime time. “All in all, the 30s are a very positive time for health, but it’s also the time you have to start developing excellent habits as an investment in the future,” says Dr. Debra DeJoseph, medical director of The Women’s Health Institute at University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio.
In other words, the healthy lifestyle habits you ignore now could set the stage for a less than healthy life in your 40s and beyond.
Here are the six biggest health mistakes to avoid in your 30s.
1. You don't think about your muscle mass.
Although aerobic exercise is “arguably the single best thing you can do for your cardiovascular health,” and some studies show it may reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s and some forms of cancer, women in their 30s should make time for strength training, too, says internist Dr. Holly Phillips, author of “The Exhaustion Breakthrough; Unmask the Hidden Reasons You’re Tired and Beat Fatigue for Good.”
At about age 30 — even if you’re active — humans begin losing muscle mass. If you’re a complete couch potato, you can lose as much as 5 percent of muscle mass every decade after age 30.
To help keep your muscles strong and functioning well, women should incorporate strength training into their exercise regimens. “Strength training creates microscopic tears in muscle tissues,” which then triggers the muscles to rebuild and strengthen, says Phillips.
2. You ignore a metabolism slowdown.
An extra bonus of strength training is burning calories, which increases your metabolism, says Phillips. It seems that as we age, metabolism does slow down for various reasons, including genetics, hormones, and diet, to name a few. Add into the mix the fact that body fat increases incrementally after age 30, with fat accumulating around the middle, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Although the metabolic slow-down in your 30s isn’t huge, if you don’t take steps to rev it up, you could potentially pack on double-digit pounds as you age.
Keep your metabolism peppy with strength training.
“It (strength training) not only burns calories, but it increases the percentage of muscle mass in your body which boosts your metabolism in the long-term,” says Phillips, who suggests cutting out as many processed foods as possible during this decade filling up on lean proteins and omega-3s like fish and nuts. Also, make fruits and vegetables about 70 percent of your diet, she suggests.
3. You miscalculate fertility.
Very simply, age is a factor when it comes to fertility. The older you are, the tougher it is to conceive, and there is a “gradual decline” in fertility for women, starting at about age 32, which takes a sharper drop when a woman reaches about age 37, explains OB/GYN Dr. Judith Volkar of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
“In general, women don’t understand the decline in fertility and they put off child bearing thinking they have plenty of time,” she says. “But peak fertility for women is when they’re in their twenties. It can be a difficult conversation when a woman in her 30s or older is trying to get pregnant and can’t.”
To be clear, pregnancy is “absolutely not impossible” in the 30s, and many women will get pregnant, says Volkar, citing stats showing a woman’s chance of conceiving within a year in her earlier 30s is about 75 percent, dropping to about 65 percent in the late 30s.
“Education is really important, and I don’t want to alarm women, since putting off childbearing until the 30s makes a lot of sense for many women,” says Volkar. “I just want women in their 30s to be mindful of fertility.”
4. You don't make time to see the doctor.
We know you’re busy, but it’s important to make time for screening for a variety of problems that are “silent” like high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Ideally, women should start being screened in their 20s. But if you don’t know your cholesterol numbers by now, make the time to schedule a lipid panel screening, which includes total cholesterol, LDL levels (the so-called “bad” cholesterol), HDL or “good” cholesterol levels, and triglycerides. If all is good, you don’t have to have another test for about five years. But if your numbers aren’t stellar, you and your doctor can work out a plan that includes diet, exercise, weight loss, and sometimes, medication, says DeJoseph.
Regardless of your age, get a blood pressure screening every one to two years.
And, of course, don’t put off PAP testing, Starting at age 30 (through age 64), get a PAP test and HPV (human papillomavirus) test together every five years — or a PAP test alone every three years. You may have to have more frequent PAPs if abnormal results are found.
5. You treat your skin like you're still a teenager.
Adult acne is an issue for women in their 30s. “It’s almost epidemic and it might be caused by stress, diet and hormones,” explains New York City dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe.
The biggest mistake women in their 30s make is treating their acne with “. . . harsh chemicals designed for teenage skin,” she says. Instead, she recommends choosing gentle cleaners that don’t strip the skin of natural oils. Look to retinoid creams or lotions that can help with breakouts as well as reduce wrinkles — even though you may not have many yet. And if that doesn’t work, see a dermatologist who can provide a customized treatment plan.
And, of course, don’t forget about sunscreen — ever. Sun damage, wrinkles, and dullness may not show up until your forties, but “anti-aging skin care products and lasers aren’t magic,” says Krant, adding that “every day counts in reducing cumulative ultraviolet radiation damage to cells and connective tissue.” Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to your neck and chest, too.
Don’t think you’re too young for skin cancer. Familiarize yourself with skin cancer symptoms, and see your doctor if you notice suspicious moles or skin changes.
6. You light up.
Although smoking cigarettes is no longer socially acceptable, many women still light up, whether it’s to reduce stress or try to maintain weight. Although women are not as likely to smoke as men, about 18 percent of women ages 25 to 44 are smoking, according to the American Cancer Society.
“Smoking affects everything from your ability to conceive, the health of a fetus and, of course, your health even if you don’t want to get pregnant,’ says OB/GYN Volkar. “The earlier you quit, the better your health.”
Those aren’t empty words. A 2012 study of some one million women published in The Lancet showed that quitting smoking before age 40, “avoids more than 90% of the excess mortality caused by continuing smoking,” according to the authors. So, if you’re still smoking, it seems that right now — today — is a great time to quit. There are many programs and medications available to help you kick the habit for good.
This updated story was originally published in 2015.