Tips for Staying Healthy in Your 50s
By the time you're in your 50s, you probably can't escape the fact that you're getting older—even if you've taken "all the right steps" to stay healthy. For many people, the years between 50 and 59 bring a number of changes, successes, achievements and challenges.
Some aspects of life in your 50s can be controlled, and others are out of your hands; some changes are exciting and even invigorating, and others can be very difficult. You may find that your parents' health is failing, your children may be grown and heading out on their own, you may experience ups and downs related to your career or finance…and there's no doubt about it—your body is changing too.
The risk for many chronic health problems increases naturally with age, but there are several things you can do to help lower your risk. If you've made some unhealthy lifestyle choices along the way, now, more than ever, it's important to take care of your physical, mental and emotional health. If you notice changes in, or have questions or concerns about, your health, contact your health care provider.
A Healthy Lifestyle in Your 50s
Here are some steps you can take to improve your health after the age of 50:
Eat healthy. Pay attention to good nutrition and cut back on sodium (salt) in your diet. Limit foods that are high in unhealthy fat and be sure to get plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats (omega 3s), whole grains, fiber, vitamins and minerals each day. Talk to your health care provider about your daily requirements and ask whether you should consider taking nutritional supplements.
Stay active—physically and mentally. Get at least 30 – 60 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week, including aerobic exercise for heart health and weight-bearing exercise to reduce your risk for osteoporosis. Walking, jogging, biking, swimming, hiking, dancing and weight lifting are good choices. Find a few activities you enjoy—you’ll be more likely to stick with it. Talk to your health care provider before you begin any exercise program.
Studies show that challenging your mind can improve brain function and overall health. Stay in touch with friends and family members who are important to you. Take up an interesting hobby you’ve always wanted to learn more about, play cards with friends, or join a book club.
Maintain a healthy weight. Our metabolism naturally slows down as we age, making it more difficult to keep our weight in check. You may notice changes in your body shape and find that you have less energy. For women, this is especially true after menopause.
In our 50s, we also have the tendency to replace lean body mass (muscle) with fat. Because fat burns fewer calories than muscle, the weight gain cycle often is difficult to break—but it can be done through a diet and exercise program. Keep an eye on your waist measurement-to-hip measurement ratio—a large waist size compared to hip size increase the risk for health problems like diabetes.
Do not smoke or use tobacco products. It’s not easy to quit smoking—especially if you’ve smoked for years. Talk to your health care provider. There are a number of programs and medications available to help you stop smoking for good. Quitting is the single best thing you can do to improve your health.
Get enough sleep. Sleeping patterns often change as we get older, but good sleep is important for good health—at any age. If you’re having difficulty sleeping or notice that you’re more tired than usual, talk to your health care provider. Getting too little sleep can increase your risk for certain health problems.
Reduce stress. Chronic stress—a common problem for people in their 50s—takes a heavy toll on mental and physical health. In fact, studies have shown that stress increases the risk for heart attack, stroke and other serious medical problems, and may even speed up the aging process! Take steps to reduce stress in your life, either on your own or through a stress management program. Talk to your health care provider if you’re feeling overwhelmed or think you may be suffering from anxiety or depression.
Drink alcohol only in moderation (no more than one drink per day for women, two for men), if at all. Be aware that the way your body handles alcohol can change as you get older. Never drink and drive or get into a vehicle with an impaired driver.
Common Health Concerns in Your 50s
A number of medical conditions are more common in people over the age of 50 than in younger adults. Health concerns that increase with age include the following:
- Abnormal blood sugar levels (insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes)
- Cancer (breast cancer, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, skin cancer)
- Changes in vision
- Chronic pain (arthritis, tendonitis, bursitis, back pain)
- Digestive issues
- Erectile dysfunction (ED)
- Hair loss in men and women (thinning hair, male pattern baldness)
- Hearing loss
- Heart disease (talk to your health care provider about the benefits and risks of aspirin therapy)
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- High cholesterol, triglycerides and homocysteine levels
- Menopause (average age of menopause in women in the U.S. is 51; may cause hot flashes, weight gain, vaginal dryness and female sexual dysfunction and increase the risk for heart disease, bone loss and other health problems)
- Osteoporosis (bone loss, thinning)
- Overactive bladder (OAB)
- Prostate issues (benign prostatic hyperplasia [BPH, enlarged prostate])
- Skin problems (adult acne, sun damage, age spots, wrinkles, dry skin)
- Thyroid problems
- Urinary incontinence
Health Care Recommendations in Your 50s
Recommendations for medical exams, screening procedures, routine tests and immunizations in your 50s vary depending on your family history, your overall health and your personal risk factors. Remember, you are the best advocate when it comes to your health, so talk to your health care provider if you have concerns.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the goals of routine health care in your 50s are to develop and maintain the doctor-patient relationship, encourage a healthy lifestyle, screen for disease, assess risk for medical problems (including mental health issues) and update immunizations.
Ask your health care provider about routine exams, screening procedures and immunizations recommended for people in their 50s—and follow his or her recommendations. In general, routine health care for people 50 – 59 years of age includes the following:
- Physical exam (check-up)—at least every 2 years or as recommended; height, weight and BMI calculation, blood tests, urinalysis and mental health screening
- Dental exam and cleaning—every 6 months to 1 year or as recommended
- Comprehensive eye exam—every 2 years or as recommended
- Blood pressure screening—every year or as recommended; more often if you have hypertension or other conditions like diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease; ask your health care provider about the benefits and risks of aspirin therapy to reduce heart attack and stroke risk
- Cholesterol screening—every 5 years or as recommended
- Diabetes screening—as recommended
- Skin exam to determine your skin cancer risk—every year or as recommended
- Baseline EKG (electrocardiogram)
- Colorectal cancer screening—beginning at age 50; earlier if at increased risk (e.g., due to family history of the disease)
- Immunizations—annual flu (influenza) vaccine, tetanus booster (every 10 years) and whooping cough, pneumococcal and hepatitis vaccines (as recommended)
- Screening tests for women in their 50s—annual clinical breast exam , pelvic exam and mammogram; Pap test, HPV test and bone density test (as recommended)
- Screening tests for men in their 50s—testicular exam at every physical exam or as recommended; prostate cancer screening as recommended