You hear the same advice year after year–don’t smoke, eat more vegetables, exercise, and sleep more. We rely on these basics to stay healthy, yet you can’t ignore that by the time you reach your 40s, your physical body has gone through changes that you can see and feel.
What signs and symptoms should you be on the lookout for in middle age? And what tests can your doctor provide to evaluate important factors like cholesterol, heart health, and diabetes risk?
Integrative medicine is here to help you be realistic and proactive about health screenings and checkups in your 40s.
Why You Need a Checkup in Your 40s
Whether you’re shuttling kids to soccer games, killing it in your career, or indulging your travel bug, chances are your lifestyle has settled into a routine that works for you. That often means skipping workouts in favor of more important obligations or catering to picky eaters around your dinner table, all of which might put your nutrition and physical health at risk.
In your busy life, stress increases, which leads to poor quality sleep, which can cause a domino effect of low energy, and hormone changes, among other things.
Depression and other mood changes are also important to be on the lookout for, with women experiencing higher rates of depression than men. But depression is linked to worsening health, and can even increase your risk of heart disease, in both men and women.
In addition, your quick metabolism of your 20s and 30s may be starting to slow, and this can cause concern for both weight gain and type 2 diabetes. This can be exacerbated by high cholesterol or triglycerides, known as dyslipidemia.
Get an Annual screening
For men and women in your 40s, it’s all about prevention, and that starts with having a regular exam or physical.
A yearly exam allows your doctor to identify imbalances, evaluate them thoroughly, and provide early treatment if necessary. For example, identifying high triglycerides in a 40 year old man allows for diet and lifestyle changes to avoid increasing the risk for a serious heart condition later down the road.
Your doctor will assess your physical health, lifestyle and diet, and may do lab work which could include blood or urine tests, and additional screenings based on your family history.
An annual checkup would typically involve:
- Weight and Height
- Blood pressure screening
- Skin cancer screening
- Family history screening
- Diabetes risk factor evaluation
- Depression Screening
- Cancer screening
- Blood Work may be done annually and might include:
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- HDL and LDL cholesterol
- Basic or Complete Metabolic Panel
- Thyroid panel
- Liver function
- Fasting insulin
- Fasting glucose
Screenings for Women
- Pap smear (cervical cancer screening)
- Breast exam: You can perform a breast self-exam at home as well.
Screenings for Men
- Testicular exam
- Prostate exam, if family history present
10 Health Screenings You Need in Your 40s
Forty is a turning point, and nudging your daily habits can be a real game-changer during this time, so let’s take a look at what your doctor will look for, and 10 things to get a health check up on by the time you hit your 40s.
1. Establish a baseline with your doctor.
An integrative medicine doctor will take care to thoroughly evaluate your concerns, provide a detailed exam and patient history, and will likely prioritize giving you more time during your appointment.
In your 40s, prevention is key. Establishing a relationship with your primary doctor is one more tool to help you prevent serious illness from developing, and intervene early should anything troubling appear.
2. Screen for depression and evaluate mental health.
Nearly 20% of adults aged 40 and struggle with depression at some point (1). Depression increases risk for people in their 40s for problems like heart attack and stroke, as well as chronic issues like obesity, heart disease, and others (2).
Your integrative doctor will be concerned about your mental and emotional health the same way he or she will evaluate your physical health. This may include a series of screening questions, functional intervention options from Eastern medicine or holistic healing.
3. Blood pressure and cholesterol
There’s a reason high blood pressure, or hypertension, is referred to as the silent killer–because you’ll usually experience no side effects while it quietly impacts your risk of stroke and heart attacks.
Your integrative doctor will test your blood pressure as well as your cholesterol. He or she will screen for HDL, LDL, and measure your triglycerides.
Then, they’ll work with you to make lifestyle modifications to your diet and exercise routine, and if necessary, refer you to nutrition counseling, a health coach, or mental health counselor.
4. Hormone function
Both men and women experience hormone changes in middle age. The demands of daily life, like stress, poor sleep, weight gain, and a sedentary life can wreak havoc on testosterone, and other hormones like estrogen and progesterone.
Perimenopause is also on the horizon for most women in their 40s, and it’s important to discuss options like hormone replacement therapy, and the risks that accompany menopause and perimenopause.
While these symptoms like fatigue, low libido, and weight gain are common, they certainly aren’t normal, and your integrative doctor will monitor your hormones and make adjustments with you to get them back into a healthy range.
5. Pre-diabetes, insulin, and glucose.
If your blood sugar has slowly crept upward over the years, you’re not alone. Approximately 88 million American adults—more than 1 in 3—have prediabetes (3). And the majority of those don’t even know they have it.
The standard American diet, sedentary lifestyle, and increased stress can cause more weight gain, especially around the abdomen, which puts you at increased risk for diabetes and pre-diabetes.
Your functional medicine doctor can test your fasting insulin, glucose, and HbA1c to evaluate your blood sugar levels and your risk of diabetes.
6. Breast cancer and other cancers.
While the development of cancers in your 40s may be considered rare, it’s important you consider screening based on family history and risk factors in middle age.
For men, you should discuss with your doctor screenings available for screening for prostate cancer, as well as colorectal cancer, which also occurs in women, though men are at increased risk based on family history and age.
According to the Am. Cancer Society, Starting at age 45, women should be screened for breast cancer annually.
For early warning cancer screening, a thermogram is a great and non-invasive way to detect the early development of cancer. Thermography is a safe, comfortable, and effective way to detect early warning signs of cancer and other health risks years before they show up on other tests.
This FDA-approved method uses cutting edge cameras to monitor circulation, neurological function, and inflammation due to slight increases in body temperature as a result of increased blood flow to areas on the body.
Want to improve your physical, mental, and immune health? Sleep more.
Research shows that a majority of adults in the U.S. now sleep an average of less than 6 hours per night (4). Poor quality sleep is associated with increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, weight gain, and heart attack–and not surprisingly, a greater risk of mortality (5)..
8. Nutrition counseling and exercise
Your long-term health is largely determined by the small, consistent choices you make on a daily basis, and that includes the quality of your diet, your movement, and your overall well being.
Optimizing your diet and exercise is key to improving and maintaining your overall health in your 40s. Because there is no one-size-fits-all diet for any one person, we’ll work with you to individualize the right diet plan for your lifestyle and health.
9. Skin cancer
It’s never too early to be proactive about skin cancer. At your annual screening, your doctor will likely do a brief check up of any suspicious looking moles, freckles, or other skin changes that could turn cancerous.
Skin cancer is very treatable if caught early, but it’s crucial that your doctor have the ability to intervene early. In the meantime, wear sunscreen, protective clothing, and get your vitamin D through responsible sun exposure.
10. Sexual health
If necessary, or upon request, your doctor will perform any tests for STIs, and for men, perform a testicular exam to check for any abnormalities. This helps screen for testicular cancer, as well as prostate cancer or other worries.
Erectile dysfunction is a growing problem among young men, exacerbated by sedentary lifestyles, a poor diet and stress that can impact libido, sperm health, and testosterone production. Your doctor will assess your sexual health and provide interventions if necessary to maintain the health of your libido and sexual function.
For women, your doctor will perform pap smears or checks for cervical cancer or other concerns. Ovarian cancer often shows few symptoms until late-stage, so your doctor will have a conversation about any pain or abnormalities with your cycle that could indicate ovarian issues.
Benefits of Working with An Integrative Medicine Doctor
Health screenings are based on YOU, and are an opportunity to take control of your own health and wellness. A functional medicine doctor will provide the benefits of thorough exam and patient history, as well as diverse modalities from conventional and integrative medicine to help you reach your goals.
Wellness checkups in your 40s are all about prevention and early detection, and can help you optimize your physical, mental, hormonal, and emotional health through holistic interventions that put you back in the driver’s seat of your health.