Take Charge of Your Health

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You exercise and eat right, but are you doing everything you should to stay healthy? "We women don't always make time for our health," says Mellanie True Hills, author of A Woman's Guide to Saving Her Own Life: The HEART Program for Health and Longevity. Hills should know. After an EKG in 2003 sent this self-described "road warrior" to the ER with a 95 percent blockage in her coronary artery at age 51, she made her health a priority.

But you shouldn't wait until your 50s. With more advances than ever in medical testing and technology, it's easy to be proactive. Here are the must-have tests and checkups, whether you're 25 or 55, that will help ensure you stay healthy.

Your 20s

What's going on? Physically, your body is at its strongest, and what you do now may seem like it doesn't affect your health. Truth is, your choices today will influence your wellbeing for years to come.

Tests and Checkups
Ensure that your youth sticks around for a while. By always wearing sunscreen, young women have a chance to ward off skin cancer and unattractive sun damage that appears later in life. Schedule a skin cancer screening, and talk to your dermatologist about how often you need an exam.

Heart disease can affect women even in their 20s, so it's important to know your cholesterol and blood levels, reports the American Heart Association.

Other basic health tests at this age should include Pap tests and screenings for sexually transmitted diseases. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that girls and women ages 11 through 26 get vaccinated for the human papillomavirus (HPV), a precursor to cervical cancer.

Women who know that breast cancer runs in their families have more power than ever to detect the disease early. According to the National Cancer Institute, about 10 percent of all breast cancer cases are hereditary, and inherited alterations in the genes--BRCA1 and BRCA2--are present in many cases. Now there's a test to identify these genes, allowing young women at high risk the option to plan more aggressive surveillance or even preventative surgeries.

Your 30s

What's going on? Thirty-something women are usually in the throes of career and life changes. If there's ever a time when we need energy, this is it. "A 35-year-old woman is really the caretaker of the family, so supplements and vitamins are good," says Dr. Steven Lamm, clinical associate professor of medicine at New York University. "Women are also trying to do it all, so getting enough sleep becomes even more important."

Tests and Checkups
The regular physical exams you started in your 20s need to continue annually in your 30s, as do other basic health measures, such as cholesterol and blood sugar tests. If you're at a higher than average risk of breast cancer, talk with your doctor about whether to have mammograms before age 40 and how often to have them.

Paying attention to your reproductive health is vital. Regular Pap tests ensure uterine health, and ultrasounds can detect any abnormalities--like endometriosis, fibroids or cysts--that lead to infertility.

Consuming enough calcium becomes more important to prevent osteoporosis--good sources include dairy products, soybeans, broccoli and spinach. It's also critical if you're pregnant or planning a family.

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