Self-Care Through The Decades

With the coronavirus at our doorstep, everyone is on high alert, taking steps to look after their health. It’s a good reminder that self-care isn’t just all about manicures and skincare masks.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

With the coronavirus at our doorstep, everyone is on high alert, taking steps to look after their health. It’s a good reminder that self-care isn’t just all about manicures and skincare masks.

Your 20s

Your body is in peak form, your resting metabolic rate is firing, and your bone density, muscle mass and heart health are in top shape. 

Ready, Set, Go!

This is the age where burning the candle at both ends doesn’t knock you out for days. But don’t let all that energy and vitality go to waste. Use it to build a strong foundation to carry you through life.

EMBRACE REAL FOOD. It’s easy to rely on processed, convenience foods. However, even at this age, you’ll soon notice less energy if your diet is full of nutrient-deficient foods. Follow recipe vlogs, and get inspired to cook using fresh ingredients. 

START MOVING. Now is the best time to explore the fitness options; find out what works for you and stick to it.

PUT OUT THE FIRE. Aside from yellowing teeth and bad breath, smoking also increases your future risk of menstrual cycle and fertility problems, osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease and stroke. It can also increase your susceptibility to infections, such as pneumonia and influenza, and lower the levels of protective antioxidants in the the blood.

LAY THE FOUNDATIONS. Your bone dentistry has nearly reached its peak age. The sooner you start protecting your bones, the more likely you are to have strong bones for life. Eating a diet rich in calcium (1000 mg daily) and ensuring you are getting enough sunlight to make vitamin D, and exercising are three key factors to help build and maintain strong bones. 

PROTECT YOUR SKIN. It’s impossible to have no skin damage as we age. But you can help delay the onset of wrinkles, sagging skin and sun damage by dilligently applying sunscreen to your face and body every day.

SQUEEZE IN SLEEP. Sticking to a balanced sleep-wake cycle might not be top of your list at this age, but it’s important for your mental and physical well-being. Studies show that people who don’t get enough quality sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, with lack of sleep also affecting recovery time if you do get sick.

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Good food, regular physical activity, plenty of sleep.


Dietitian Bronwen Greenfield says:

This is the age to focus on creating healthy habits that will set you up for life. A simple strategy: consume two servings of fruit and at least five servings of vegetables a day. This will ensure it’s a habit by the time you reach your 30s.

Iron deficiency is common at this age, so it’s important to ensure that you’re eating enough iron-rich foods, such as lean meats or non-animal sources like legumes, wholegrains and leafy greens.

Keep in mind that plant-based sources of iron are not as well absorbed. So pair these foods with a source of vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, tomato or capsicum, and consume any “iron-blockers” like coffee separately, to help increase the amount of iron absorbed.



MYTH: Only women who suffer from bladder leakage need to do pelvic floor exercises.

FACT: Everyone, including women who haven’t had a baby should be doing pelvic floor exercises.

As women age, the pelvic floor muscles - the “sling”of muscles that supports the bladder, bowel and uterus - can stretch and weaken. Frequently lifting weights at the gym may contribute to this as well. Spending a few minutes a day exercising your pelvic floor will mean you’re much less likely to experience problems later in life. 

If you’re unsure where to start, try apps that can help you with a pelvic floor exercise routine, such as the Pelvic Floor First app.

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Your 30s

Life can become more demanding and you’re likely to be juggling family and a career. It’s important to find balance and make time for healthy habits to safeguard your health.

Get That Glow!

If you practised good self-care in your 20s, you’ll land in your 30s with a bang. If not, it’s never too late to make healthy habits stick.

WORKING OUT. Your body is still strong, but your metabolism can slip into a lower gear, so now is the time to work on losing excess weight, if needed. Making exercise a regular part of your day and working on maintaining muscle strength now will mean a stronger body in your 40s and 50s, when muscle strength can start to decline. Pay particular attention to your knees, which need all the help they can get as you age – scaffold them with strong quadriceps and calf muscles.

FERTILE TIME. There is a big gap between the ideal biological age and the ideal social age of conception, according to Monash University’s Dr Karin Hammarberg. The easiest time to get pregnant is before 30. As you get older, it will take longer to conceive and the chance of having a baby decreases. A healthy lifestyle boosts your chances of a successful pregnancy – not smoking, taking care of your oral health, avoiding or limiting alcohol and caffeine, and protecting yourself from environmental chemicals.

TACKLE STRESS. Stress is often on the increase at this stage in life, and those everyday micro stressors can add up and take their toll. There’s no better time to work on keeping a lid on stress because over time, it can lower immunity, disrupt digestion and hormones, and trigger disease-causing inflammation. The most effective stress-buster is introducing a little “me-time” into each day. For at least 15 minutes every day, read a book, listen to music, have a bath, meditate, go for a walk, or whatever you find comforting. 

KNOW YOUR HEALTH HISTORY. Taking responsibility for your own health is a big step towards self-care. Start by asking immediate family members about their health issues and build your own records from that. Record your medical history, any risk factors and medications you’re taking. This system will help you (and your doctor) understand any problems that may come up in the future, prevent errors in treatment and diagnosis, and help decide what preventative tests you may need. 

KEEP BREATHING. You would be surprised how many of us don’t breathe in a healthy way – either holding our breath or shallow breathing – and the negative effects are cumulative. Boost the benefits by stopping to breathe from your diaphragm a few times a day, particularly when you’re feeling tired: Put your hand over your belly button, and as you inhale, focus on making your stomach and chest rise. This will expand your lower lungs, so you take in more air with each breath. It’s an effective fatigue buster, too!

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Maintain muscle strength, boost fertility, manage stress and learn your health numbers.

There’s no better time to work on keeping a lid on stress because over time, it can lower immunity, disrupt digestion and hormones.


Dietitian Bronwen Greenfield says:

It’s becoming more common for women to have a baby in their 30s, so if you are looking to conceive, good nutrition is a must for increasing fertility at this age. 

Ensuring that you’re supplementing with folate. Eat plenty of foods rich in iron, zinc and antioxidants. It’s also important to avoid alcohol and high doses of caffeine if you are trying to conceive. 

Your 30s is also the age at which peak muscle mass is achieved, so ensure that you’re continuing with strength training, and eating adequate protein and carbohydrates to fuel and replenish muscle stores.



Your 30s is a good time to start monitoring blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar numbers to identify the need to take action to improve your heart health. High blood pressure and/or high cholesterol often have no symptoms, so you may not realise you have a problem until something serious happens. Have a chat to your doctor who can organise the necessary checks and give you advice – from simple lifestyle changes to medication – to keep those key numbers at healthy levels.

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Your 40s

You may start to experience some subtle mid-life changes, such as having trouble sleeping or maybe you’re straining to see small text.

Clean Up Your Act

Treating yourself well is the best way to do damage control in your 40s. 

KEEP MOVING. As you enter your 40s, your body naturally slows down, but maintaining mobility is important to reduce the rate of bone loss and strengthen the muscles around the joints. Slipping into a sedentary lifestyle can lead to stiff joints, which in turn restricts your movement. Lifting weights at least twice a week can help maintain bone and muscle mass. Add yoga to your routine to increase suppleness and strength too. 

HORMONE HIJACK. Most women enter perimenopause in their 40s. This is where the body reduces the amount of oestrogen and eggs it produces. You may be starting to notice changes in your menstrual cycle – heavy bleeding is a common symptom. 

“There are many options to stop heavy or painful bleeding,” says Brisbane gynaecologist Dr Ameratunga. “You don’t need to suffer, and hormonal options are not the only solutions out there. Simple and convenient measures, such as endometrial ablations, exist. Discuss your symptoms with your gynaecologist if your period is interfering with your daily activities.”

SLEEP TIGHT. Sleep problems are common during times of hormonal change. Symptoms, particularly hot flushes and night sweats, can disturb sleep and set off insomnia. Relaxation techniques may help.

KNOW YOUR BOUNDARIES. As life becomes more demanding and you’re bouncing between teenagers, careers and your own parents, self-care means knowing what it takes for you to thrive and respect your own needs – whether that is more sleep, spending time with friends or alone. Learning to ask for support and showing self-compassion are also essential self-care strategies.

BRAIN DRAIN. It’s easy to become consumed by family, career, bills and mortgage but it’s important to have fun. Those everyday stressors can contribute to cognitive decline over time, mainly due to high levels of the stress hormones. When you reduce stress, brain cells can regenerate. Start identifying daily stressors and look at ways to add fun into your day. Also, consider some form of daily relaxation to give your brain a chance to rest and recuperate. 

Target Kilos 

Most women complain about their weight – with the average female weight gain at 500 g per year. A drop in oestrogen can cause weight to shift from your hips to your abdomen. 

Simple Truth

Dr Amanda Sainsbury-Salis gave up on fad diets a long time ago and turned her focus to the simple concept of eating the foods she likes but only when hungry, stopping when satisfied and never depriving herself. She lost weight and has kept it off for years. Check out

DRINK MORE WATER. Your metabolism slows down in your 40s, so the health benefits of staying hydrated becomes even more important. Water prevents dehydration but it also increases blood circulation – two factors that can keep cognitive decline and nerve damage at bay. Aim for eight glasses of water a day. Fill up on water-rich fruits like citrus, berries, tomatoes and watermelon, and veggies, including cucumbers and leafy greens for an added, nutrient-rich boost. 

EYES HAVE IT. At around 40, presbyopia can set in, when the eyes begin to lose their ability to focus up close. You are also more likely to suffer from digital fatigue. Use lubricating eye drops that can help to reduce dryness and redness.

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More movement, manage hormonal changes, set boundaries and drink more water.


Dietitian Bronwen Greenfield says:

This is where your metabolism starts to decline, so focus on portion control, increase your intake of protein, and high fibre and low-GI foods to make it easier to prevent any unwanted weight gain.

Eating a wide variety of fruit and vegetables to boost your antioxidant intake can help protect against the development of certain chronic diseases.

Your risk of developing health conditions like heart disease increases in your 40s. Chronic inflammation is also associated with development of chronic disease, so focusing on minimising inflammation levels through diet is crucial. 

Reduce the intake of pro-inflammatory foods, like refined carbohydrates and foods high in added sugars, saturated and trans fats, and eating more anti-inflammatory foods, such as oily fish, extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, plant-based foods, fermented foods and turmeric can contribute to reduced inflammatory markers for better health.



Early heart disease usually has no symptoms and you may not be aware that you are at risk. See your doctor regularly to ensure that your heart is healthy and to assess your risk. Blood test results will identify whether you have high (more than 15 percent); moderate (10 to 15 percent) or low risk (less than 10 percent) of a heart attack or stroke. The Heart Foundation strongly recommends having a heart health check if you’re more than 45 years old. The Singapore Health Hub recommends that a heart health checkup should be done every five years starting from the age of 18.

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Your 50s

Your 50s is the perfect time to make your health even more of a priority, and this usually means making a few tweaks to your lifestyle.

Forever Strong

Up self-care strategies and give yourself the best chance of many more decades of good health to come.

KEEP MOVING. Prevent injury by doing longer warm-up sessions when you work out. You need to maintain muscle mass and strength, and preserve bone density, so you can consider combining walking with regular strength-training exercises for at least two to three days a week.

PLAY FOOTSIES. Dedicating a few minutes every day to your feet will help prevent common problems. Check your feet for any redness, swelling, blisters, dry patches, bumps and sores, moles and freckles as well as discolouration underneath the nails. Seek help from a health professional if you’re concerned, and keep your feet and leg muscles and joints flexible with regular stretching. Heel pain is common at this age, and is very often caused by plantar fasciitis when tissue is damaged or torn due to too much pressure. See a physiotherapist to help stabilise the ankle and heel.

BONE AGE. On average, women lose up to 10 percent of their bone mass in the first five years of menopause. The good news is that you can reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis with a few lifestyle changes, such as avoiding excessive alcohol intake, not smoking as it has been associated with a higher risk of developing osteoporosis and avoiding excessive caffeine.

BOOST YOUR MIND. Learning a new language or taking on other mentally stimulating activities has been shown to strengthen brain cell networks and help preserve mental functions. The cumulative effects of common life factors like chronic illnesses or loss of loved ones can lead to depression and anxiety. Don’t suffer in silence, seek help from a therapist and keep up with relaxation techniques. Yoga has been shown to have a positive effect on anxiety and depression, largely due to deep-breathing techniques, which reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and regulate your heart rate. 

Work it out

Regular exercise has many proven health benefits and can help prevent, delay or manage many of the most common chronic diseases – think heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and obesity – which affects adults 50 and older. 

Prevent injury with longer warm-up sessions when working out

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More movement, mentally stimulating activities and more calcium.


Dietitian Bronwen Greenfield says:

Menopause is a time of rapid bone loss, so calcium needs to be increased in your 50s. 

Get calcium from food sources like milk, yoghurt and cheese as well as plant-based sources like nuts, seeds, tahini and leafy green vegetables. Our ability to absorb dietary calcium can also be enhanced by achieving adequate vitamin D levels.

Hormonal changes also occur with menopause, which can lead to weight gain. At this age, requirements for grains and cereals decrease from six to four serves per day. Also make sure you’re getting a small amount of protein at each meal and snack.


An all-ages show

No matter your age, brushing, flossing and regular dental check-ups help to safeguard your oral health. The same applies to a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water and exercising to keep your body - and your mouth - healthy.

Mind your mouth

Healthy teeth are free of cavities and diseases, and healthy gums are pink, and most importantly, don’t bleed when brushed or flossed. But certain medications, teeth grinding and careless brushing and flossing can all compromise the conditions of teeth and gums. Here’s a quick guide on how to keep your oral health in peak condition:

Brush at least twice a day

Floss daily

Use fluoride toothpaste

Limit sugary foods and drinks

Have regular dental check-ups

Don’t smoke

The link between oral health and disease

Most of the bacteria in your mouth - and other areas of your body - are harmless, but when you neglect your oral hygiene, levels of bacteria can increase to a point where they cause infections that lead to tooth decay and gum disease. With research pointing to oral bacteria and the inflammation associated with periodontitis - a serious form of gum disease - as potential contributors to serious diseases, it pays to take care of your mouth.

Did You Know?

Poor oral health can contribute to conditions such as pneumonia and endocarditis.

Gum Disease

A common sign is gums that are red and puffy, or bleed when you brush or floss. It’s usually caused by a build-up of plaque. Here are two types of gum diseases:


The most common cause of gingivitis is poor oral hygiene. A common and mild form of gum disease that causes irritation, redness and inflammation on the gum around the base of your teeth. Gingivitis can lead to periodontitis and tooth loss, so it’s vital to get it treated as soon as you notice the signs.


Ongoing gum inflammation can cause periodontitis, where pockets develop between your gums and teeth that fill with plaque, tartar and bacteria. These pockets gradually become deeper, filling with more bacteria, leading to tooth loss. Even more worrying is research that suggests the bacteria responsible for periodontitis can enter your bloodstream through gum tissue, possibly affecting organs like your heart and lungs - it’s linked with respiratory disease, rheumatoid arthritis, coronary artery disease and stroke.