Wellness at Every Age

Local medical experts offer their advice for staying physically, mentally, and emotionally fit throughout adulthood

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Each stage of life brings new beginnings, from college graduation to parenthood and beyond. As adults navigate an increasingly fast-paced existence, it can be easy to put health and well-being aside. That’s because apart from getting regular physicals and teeth cleanings, wearing sunscreen, not smoking, and drinking plenty of water, it can seem too daunting a task to manage all of the extra doctors’ appointments and lifestyle adjustments we need to stay on top of during  different times in our lives.

To help you navigate it all, we spoke with four local medical professionals—a board-certified family physician, a medical doctor specializing in holistic health care, a licensed mental health counselor, and a chiropractic doctor—to highlight some of the most important things to consider during every decade of adult life. As a new year unfolds, let’s all make a point to heed their advice and be well together.   

In Your 20s and 30s

Exercise

Widely considered the most critical years for creating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, the earliest stages of adulthood may include fewer annual screenings but several personal habit adjustments. “Thinking back to my twenties, it was important for me to be physically active,” says Dr. Kimala Aleisha Harris of Jupiter Family Healthcare. “The earlier you make that part of your lifestyle, the easier it will be to carry over into the other decades of your life. It doesn’t have to be about going to the gym; it can be whatever it is that is unique to you. Maybe that’s Zumba, or Pilates, or African dance class, or jump rope—whatever it is that gets your body moving and your heart pumping.”

Sleep

Healthy sleep habits are equally as important as routine exercise habits, according to Harris. She suggests putting all electronic devices away before bed, limiting caffeine intake during the day, going to sleep and waking at a regular time each day, and taking short naps. Snoring and sleep apnea can surface during this stage of life, in which case a doctor’s appointment might be necessary.

Spine Care

According to Dr. Jason Townsley, a chiropractor and owner of Merritt Chiropractic in Stuart, life stressors that often begin in early adulthood can cause spinal misalignments in some people. That’s why he recommends routine spinal care early on. “While it is important to eat a healthy diet, exercise, hydrate, get adequate sleep, and minimize mental and emotional stress, if nerve interference in the form of spinal misalignment is present, all of these positive lifestyle habits won’t matter because the body won’t be able to function properly from within,” he says. “If someone waits [to get a spinal adjustment] until they are middle-aged or older, they may have permanent degenerative disc disease, arthritis, and changes to spinal curves that cannot be reversed. It’s better to correct issues as they come up instead of waiting until there is already permanent damage.”

Mental Wellness

Stuart-based licensed mental health counselor Dr. Michael Ryan says many mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety, can become more apparent in our twenties. “We all have our issues, but if major life function is being significantly impaired, then you should seek help,” he says. “Ask yourself, ‘Is this something that is it impairing my ability to make a living or go to school, affecting my health, or interfering in my relationships?’ If so, you should see a professional to improve the condition so you’re not acting in a self-defeating manner.” Even if you don’t have major depression or other mental illness, it’s important to practice healthy habits to combat stress, adds Ryan. “If your life is being mildly impaired, there is a lot of self-help available,” he says. “I can’t stress enough the value of meditation because you can learn to observe your thoughts as your brain slows down. We know from research that as brain activity decreases, endorphins are released and you get that natural, peaceful feeling.” Ryan recommends meditating any time your brain is moving too fast or building up negativity. These days, there are plenty of guided meditation videos online that can help beginners learn the practice (he recommends author Eckhart Tolle’s YouTube channel).

In Your 40s and 50s

Screenings & Vaccines

In addition to an annual physical exam, women should be getting regular screenings for breast cancer beginning at age 40 and colon cancer starting at 50, according to Harris. Men should be screened regularly for prostate cancer after age 40 and colon cancer when they hit 50. “Cancer screenings are important for early detection and, therefore, early treatment,” she says. “If it’s found early, it may be easier to treat—and more successfully so.” She also stresses that it’s important for everyone over 50 to consider an annual shingles vaccine, which is administered over two or three doses, to prevent the potentially lethal disease. “As we get older, our immune system ages with us and is slower to respond, thereby increasing the chances of getting sick, which can be the case with shingles,” she says.

Proper Diet

One disease-prevention tool that becomes increasingly beneficial as we age: food. “Many chronic diseases, including Type 2 diabetes and cardiac disease, are completely reversible with diet alone,” says Dr. Michelle Carrillo-Massa, a family medical doctor and owner of Advanced Natural Medicine of Jupiter. “By eating a healthy diet with nutrient-dense foods, one can significantly lower their risk of developing these types of diseases, as well as cancer.” Carrillo-Massa recommends eating plenty of organic, non-GMO leafy greens, vegetables, and colorful fruits to boost microbiome health and give the body important minerals, vitamins, and other micronutrients (see sidebar for specific recommendations). “Foods should be in their most natural forms and not processed,” she advises. A good rule of thumb at the market, she says: “Shop in the perimeter of the grocery store and avoid the aisles, because that’s where most of the unhealthy boxed, bagged, and canned foods are.”

Nervous System

At this age, Townsley says chiropractic care provides another preventive benefit: managing the nervous system. “Since the nervous system controls and coordinates every organ and function of the human body, it is vital to keep it clear of interference,” he says. “Our bodies were made to fight off viruses and bacteria and mend broken bones; as long as our nervous system is clear of interference, the body will function properly.”

Mental Wellness

As people try to maintain a work-life balance and, often, care for aging relatives, mental health becomes increasingly important during middle age, says Ryan. He adds that suppressed memories can also arise during this stage of adulthood, which may require counseling or meditation practice. “Negative emotional impact can happen at any point,” he says. “Kids can be traumatized and bury it until later in life, and then it starts to become an issue.” As a general practice at home, Ryan advises focusing on living in the moment and recognizing that your brain is an organ just like any other—and you don’t have to listen to what it’s saying. “Our brains are programmed just like a computer, and since we’re irrational by nature, there are irrational thoughts in there that have been embedded from our culture and upbringing,” he says. “If we blindly follow that lead, we’re going to create unnecessary extra suffering. Focus inward and get your stability from being present and aware to slow the brain down.”

The Power of Food

Never underestimate the effect a healthy diet can have on your overall well-being—at any age. “Our bodies are like car engines and require the right fuel to allow them to function at an optimal level,” says Dr. Carrillo-Massa. “Eating foods that are nutrient-dense will allow the body to reap the most benefits.” Make sure you’re getting the proper fuel for your engine by choosing items from this list, provided by Carrillo-Massa, including seven to nine servings of vegetables a day.

Organic, non-GMO leafy greens: romaine, escarole,
spinach, bok choy

Organic, non-GMO vegetables: asparagus, artichokes, mushrooms, broccoli, celery, carrots

Organic, non-GMO fruits that are rich in antioxidants and vitamins: wild blueberries, raspberries, strawberries,
kiwis, pomegranates

Proteins: free-range or cage-free organic eggs and fish (salmon, sardines, cod, and other low-mercury fish)

Animal proteins: certified organic chicken and turkey and grass-fed or grass-finished beef

Fats: olive oil, avocados, seeds (chia, flax, pumpkin, etc.), and nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts, cashews)

Complex carbohydrates: quinoa or brown rice

In Your 60s and Beyond

Exercise

Late adulthood is the time to apply the techniques you’ve learned work best for you and continue to maintain an active lifestyle. Carrillo-Massa recommends people in this age group get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, depending on physical ability. “High-intensity interval training, weight training, and core exercises can be very beneficial in preventing conditions that can occur later in life, such as osteoporosis and balance issues,” she says. In addition, she notes: “Simply getting out in nature and enjoying a nice walk, jog, or cycle can change one’s mindset completely and improve immune function.”

Gratitude

Maintaining mental wellness is also important at this age, and Carrillo-Massa says one way to do that is by focusing on gratitude. “Spend time focusing on the positives in your life and counting your blessings instead of focusing on the negatives,” she says. “Gratitude is a very important practice that can bring positivity and hope when you’re not feeling well.”

Mobility

As we age and experience ailments like creaky joints, often movement becomes an issue. Townsley says a spinal adjustment can help with that too. “Getting adjusted improves function, range of motion, and overall quality of life,” he says. “First, adjustments to the spine and pelvis help improve what mobility [older adults] do have. Second, joint pain can be linked to compensations the body has imposed around misalignments in the spine, and the altered biomechanics cause irritation and inflammation of other joints as a result. A better-aligned spine and pelvis allows for maximal mobility.”

Screenings & Vaccines

Harris says now is the time to begin getting a pneumonia vaccine (around age 65) since older patients are more likely to have rapid progression of disease. She also recommends women begin osteoporosis screenings via a DEXA scan at the same age because menopause impairs the normal bone turnover cycle due to estrogen deficiency, therefore increasing their risk for the disease.

Preventative Care: 5 Musts

Regardless of age, both Dr. Harris and Dr. Carrillo-Massa recommend certain screenings for all adults (additional screenings should be requested depending on family history). Here are their general guidelines for what to discuss with your doctor during your annual physical exam.

• Vaccines (tetanus, flu, and COVID-19, when it becomes available)

• Blood pressure, cholesterol, and A1C diabetes screenings

• Sexual health maintenance, including getting routine STD screenings, practicing safe sex, getting a regular Pap test and pelvic exam (for women), and getting the HPV vaccine before age 26

• Depression and anxiety screenings

• Annual wellness panel, including a comprehensive metabolic panel, complete blood count, complete thyroid panel, inflammation markers, and vitamin levels

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