1. Know your family health history. Medical information about yourself and close blood relatives can help you and your doctors identify your own risk factors for myriad illnesses and disorders, from heart disease and stroke to diabetes and cancer. Many diseases have a genetic link. So if you know, say, that your mother had osteoporosis, you'll be motivated to get a bone density test and bone up on calcium and vitamin D. And if your father died from a stroke, then you need to have your blood pressure checked frequently, cut down on salt and high-fat foods, and boost your exercise goals. Whether it's a mammogram, Pap smear or a glucose test for diabetes, the earlier you find out if something's wrong, the better your chance of beating it.
See also: Why long-term care is a women's issue.
To help you get organized, make use of an Internet-based tool called My Family Health Portrait, provided by the U.S. surgeon general's office. You can enter your family's health history, print out a family tree for your doctor and — if you want to — share information with other family members. By taking 20 minutes now, you can be more prepared for visits to the doctor and help the rest of your family, too.
2. Keep immunizations up-to-date. Just because you're too old for a colored Band-Aid and a lollipop when you visit the doctor doesn't mean you should fall behind on immunizations. Protection against some diseases may not have been available when you were younger, or you may need a booster to ensure that immunity you do have doesn't fade. And of course new illnesses — remember H1N1? — can crop up for which you need protection. Check online to see recommended vaccines for seniors and what you may be missing.
3. Avoid medication mix-ups. Most adults age 45 and older take an average of four prescription drugs daily — not counting vitamins, supplements or over-the-counter medicines. Keeping track of what you take and when you take it can be confusing. Avoid medication mix-ups by creating a personal medication record, like the one AARP offers online. Include the names of your medications, reason for use, form, dose, and start and stop dates. To guard against harmful drug interactions, take a copy of this record to every doctor you see for any reason; give another copy to the pharmacies you use. AARP's Drug Interaction Checker and Drug Compare tools can also help.
4. Don't smoke. Studies on smoking show women who don't smoke are at lower risk for lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis and more. If you currently smoke, get help quitting by calling 800-QUITNOW (800-784-8669) or visiting Smokefree Women.