7 health habits experts say you need in your 50s

As we get older, we hear more about “growing old gracefully.” But what does this phrase actually mean? Do we stop fighting the greys and widening waistlines and just accept that it is all downhill from here? Or do we force back the hands of time as much as possible?

Maybe it simply means that we take care of ourselves and live as healthy a lifestyle as possible, but not beat ourselves up about the things that we cannot change. Making your health a priority will allow you to fully embrace all of the fun adventures this new decade may bring.

Some of our local health and fitness experts share their advice on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle in our 50s.

It’s never too late to get in shape

“Too often I have heard people tell me it’s too late to get in shape! I’m too old!  Nothing can be further from the truth,” said Phil Nicolaou, PhD, NASM, IFPA, ISSA, NESTA, a senior training specialist.

Nicolaou explained that easing into exercise can be as small as taking a 20-minute daily walk.

“After training countless people over 50, I always start them slow, especially those that have not done anything, ever or for a while,” Nicolaou said.

For weight training beginners, Nicolaou recommends starting with a slow tempo (not moving the weight super fast) and working toward a set of 12-20 repetitions for the first month. He also likes to incorporate balance, core conditioning and flexibility into his training programs.

Don’t skip cancer screenings

According to Carolyn Fang, co-leader of the cancer prevention and control program at Fox Chase Center, risk of cancer increases with age and there are a variety of factors that may contribute to this increased risk.

“For example, there are age-related changes in biologic processes (e.g., weakening of the immune system, cellular senescence) that can be conducive to cancer development,” Fang said. “In addition, the longer we live, the greater exposure we might have to various carcinogens such as environmental chemicals or radiation.”

In the U.S., the most common cancers are breast, prostate, lung, and colorectal cancer.

By age 50, both men and women who are of average risk and are asymptomatic should begin colon cancer screenings. When it comes to the prostate, Fang suggests that men talk with their doctors about the pros and cons associated with prostate cancer screening.

Be kind to your eyes

We depend on our sight for every part of our day, so if you start to notice a change in your vision, it can be worrisome. According to the American Optometric Association, once we hit our 40s, we may start to have more vision problems and this can continue to develop in our 50s and 60s.

The most common problem is presbyopia, which causes difficulty seeing clearly at close distances. If you have never worn glasses before, you may need your first pair during this time, and if you already wear glasses you might need bifocal or multifocal lenses.

John Liantonio, MD, assistant professor of family and community medicine at Thomas Jefferson University emphasized that keeping up with eye appointments at least every two years is important for ensuring that your eyes remain healthy.

Keep in mind that health condition like diabetes and high blood pressure can affect your vision as well as certain medications. You should also know if you have a family history of glaucoma or macular degeneration.

Protect your heart health

Our risk for heart disease increases as we age so now is the time to be vigilant.

“Know your numbers – weight, cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure,” said Bruce D. Klugherz, MD, director of the Abington Hospital Catherization Lab. “Also don’t ignore early warning symptoms. It is important to recognize that heart disease is a masquerader.”

Unusual symptoms to watch out for include acid reflux, new onset of fatigue and onset of shortness of breath.

Klugherz also added, “the biggest problem facing Americans is a lack of interest and dedication to fitness.”

Know your body

While it is important for both men and women to be able to tell when something is off in their bodies, women at this time are particularly going through a big transition: menopause. Some women will experience it in their late 40’s while others in their early 50s.

Every woman’s experience with menopause is different. Most common symptoms are hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes, irritability, sleep disorders and cycle disorders, decrease in libido and painful sex. Claire Robinson, MD, FACOG, an obstetrician/gynecologist with Einstein Hospital, said that many women worry that they are seriously ill because they don’t realize that these symptoms are naturally occurring with menopause.

Be sure to talk to your gynecologist about your symptoms and how to manage them better.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

“Many people in their 50’s find themselves not only caring for children or grandchildren, but often taking on the additional responsibility of caring for elderly adults as well,” explained Thomas E. Lawrence, MD, system medical director of geriatric medicine and long term care, Main Line Health. 

When your to-do list keeps growing, it can be hard to find time for healthy sleep, eating and exercise patterns that are essential to your health maintenance.

Lawrence said it is important to acknowledge the stress you are under and to seek support when feeling overwhelmed.

Schedule a routine well visit with your doctor

“Generally speaking, one of the most important things we forget to do as we get older is to go to the doctor when we are healthy, not just when we are sick," said John C. Munshower, DO, FACSG of Main Line Health Center Primary Care in Newtown Square.

Munshower said that health maintenance becomes more and more important as we get older. 

Schedule a routine well visit with your doctor, not only for the clinical exam, but also to discuss all the testing and medical care you will need based on your age and your underlying medical history. Women may want to talk to their doctor about getting screened for osteoporosis.

This is the fifth installment in series on healthy living tips for every age group. Have a suggestion? Contact us at health@philly.com.