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Healthy at every age: Your 50s

Middle aged men smiling

You’ve reached a big age milestone, and you deserve to feel fabulous. Here’s how to stay healthy right now and for years to come.

We all want to have a long and healthy life and to stay strong, active and vibrant as we age. No matter how old you are, certain basic habits are key for feeling good and fending off disease: Eat healthy food. Get enough sleep. Exercise. Wear sunscreen. And get regular health screenings. But other health advice may vary based on your age. In this special five-part series, we offer focused wellness tips for your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s and beyond. 

Read the whole series:

Congratulations, you’ve hit the big 5–0. You deserve to celebrate how far you’ve come — and all that’s yet to be. As you look toward the future, staying healthy and strong may feel more important than ever. So go ahead and invest in yourself this decade. Here’s where to start.

1. Track your blood pressure and other key numbers

You know your height. And you know your weight — even if you’re not happy about the number. But what about your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol? These numbers become even more important in your 50s. That’s when certain health risks for men and women tend to rise.

Tests for blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol check for diseases before you have symptoms. They can tell your doctor a lot about your overall health.1 That’s why tracking these numbers should be a part of your annual physical exam. (You see the doctor every year, right?)

If your blood pressure is elevated, for example, you may be at a higher risk of heart disease. High blood sugar readings could be a sign of prediabetes. The goal of checking your numbers is to catch and fix problems early, before they become serious, says Haley Newton, DO. She’s a family medicine doctor at USMD Las Colinas Clinic, part of Optum, in Irving, Texas.

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2. Make some smart changes to your eating habits

Do you struggle with your weight? Then you’ve probably noticed that it’s harder to keep off the pounds now. Your body burns fewer calories as you age.2 For women in their 50s, hormonal changes from menopause can also lead to weight gain.

But the same cardinal rule still applies. You can’t lose weight if you take in more calories than you burn. And your body needs the nutrients that come from eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. (Give your healthy-eating know-how a boost.) 

Talk with your doctor about what you eat. They can help you decide whether you need to make changes. “I think a daily multivitamin is a wonderful thing,” Dr. Newton says. “It helps supplement any of those pieces you may be missing.”

Your doctor can help you figure out if a supplement is right for you.

3. Enjoy better sex

Sexual issues are fairly common in your 50s. One of the best-known problems (thanks to countless TV ads) is erectile dysfunction (ED). Having problems getting or keeping an erection from time to time isn’t something to worry about. But a recurring problem can point to underlying health issues that are linked to ED. These include high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes.

If you’re dealing with ED, the Optum Store can help. Learn more about your options and get medication shipped directly to your door. Start now.

For women in their 50s, hormones dip during menopause. This can lead to vaginal dryness that makes sex painful.3

Don’t be embarrassed to bring up sexual problems with your doctor. Medication can help manage ED. Lubricants or prescription medications can help ease vaginal dryness. You have options. There’s no need to give up your sex life.

4. Get screened for colorectal cancer if you haven’t yet

A colonoscopy screens for cancers that form in your large intestine and rectum. Colon cancer is the third-most common cancer diagnosed in the U.S.4 The good news is that it can be treated effectively when it’s caught early.

Screening can also help prevent colon cancer from developing. If your doctor finds abnormal tissue, they can remove it immediately.

If you have an average risk of colorectal cancer, you should be screened starting at age 45.5 That’s a new recommendation. So you may not be up to date. “Previously, it had been at 50. I’m catching a lot of people who may now qualify for colon cancer screening who didn’t under the old rules,” says Dr. Newton.

5. Ask your doctor about these other tests

There are several other screening tests you might need in your 50s. They depend on your family history and other factors. But it’s good to have the conversation with your doctor now.

Bone strength test: As you age, your bones can thin, raising your risk of fractures. About one out of two women will break a bone due to weak bones (osteoporosis). But it’s not just a women’s problem. Up to one out of four of men over 50 will break a bone as well.6

Risk factors include age, being post-menopausal and taking certain medications. All women should start screening at age 65.7 But if you’re at high risk, you can start younger. Talk with your doctor about whether you should have a simple, painless bone-density scan now.

PSA test: Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests screen for cancer in your prostate. For men at average risk of prostate cancer, your doctor may suggest starting screenings at age 50. Talk with your doctor to decide how often you need to be screened.

Lung cancer screening: Do you have a strong smoking history? Your doctor may suggest that you get a low-dose CT scan to check for lung cancer, starting at age 50.8 You lie on a table beneath an X-ray machine that takes images of your lungs. According to the USPSTF, you should be screened only if:

  • You have a 20-pack-per-year or more smoking history.
  • You smoke now or have quit in the past 15 years.

Did you know that you can help pay for screening and diagnostic tests with funds from your medical expense accounts? Learn more about how they work and check eligible services here.

6. Keep up with your vaccines

Yes, adults still need to get shots. Annual flu vaccines and COVID-19 boosters top the list. Both are easy to get at your doctor’s office, a local clinic or a pharmacy.

Once you turn 50, think about getting a shingles vaccine.9 The shot is 90% effective at preventing shingles. This painful skin rash is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. You’ll need two doses between two and six months apart.

Finally, you may be due for a tetanus booster. (Tetanus is an illness that affects the muscles.) Those should be given every 10 years. Learn more about the shots that can help keep you healthy

 

Sources

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Get screened. Last updated July 2022. Accessed July 18, 2022.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing weight gain. Last updated June 2020. Accessed July 15, 2022.
  3. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. 5 of the most common questions about menopause. Last updated October 2020. Accessed July 15, 2022.
  4. American Cancer Society. Key statistics for colorectal cancer. Last updated January 12, 2022. Accessed July 15, 2022.
  5. American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society guideline for colorectal cancer screening. Last updated June 2020. Accessed July 18, 2022.
  6. Bone Health and Osteoporosis Foundation. What is osteoporosis and what causes it? Accessed July 12, 2022.
  7. U.S. Preventative Services Task Force. Osteoporosis to prevent fractures: Screening. Published June 26, 2018. Accessed July 20, 2022.
  8. U.S. Preventative Services Task Force. Lung cancer: Screening. Published March 9, 2021. Accessed July 22, 2022.
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles vaccination. Last reviewed May 2022. Accessed July 12, 2022.

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