You'll go into your 50s with more brain function than you had when you were 25. While it may dip a little around age 55, don't dwell on that. Some experts believe that thinking you'll mentally slow down as you age may make it so. One way to help preserve your brain power (and memory) is to follow a Mediterranean diet that's rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains, and healthy fats like olive and canola oils.
Nearly 95% of people who are 50 or older say they're "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with their lives. But in women, the hormone shift of menopause can cause changes in mood. And illness and heavy alcohol use can make you more likely to be depressed. A simple strategy to boost your mood: Sit less and move more. Your chances of mental health issues are higher if you sit more than 7 hours a day or don't exercise.
This can be slower to go after viruses and other outside threats. It's also more likely to attack itself by accident. And your body no longer makes as many "fighter" cells to destroy infections as it used to. Because of all this, you're more likely to get sick with the flu, pneumonia, or tetanus, so make sure you're up to date on your vaccines.
Up to 40% of people over the age of 50 have some hearing loss. Aside from natural aging, your genes can play a part, and some health issues -- like high blood pressure, heart problems, and diabetes -- can affect your hearing over time. If you have concerns, ask your doctor about a hearing test. People who don't hear well are more likely to cut themselves off from loved ones and be depressed.
When you're younger, your body swaps out worn-down bone cells with new, strong ones. By the time you're in your 50s, you have more broken-down bone cells than can be replaced. This means your bones naturally get weaker. To protect them, eat foods that are high in calcium and vitamin D. Weight-bearing and resistance exercises like hiking and lifting weights can also help your bones stay strong.
After you turn 50, you start to lose muscle at a faster rate. Your physical strength can get weaker, too. The best way to stop this slide is to lift weights or do strength training exercises like lunges and squats 2 to 3 times a week. Not only will you build more lean muscle mass, but you'll also improve your sense of balance, which will come in handy as you get older.
The tissue and cartilage that cushion your joints begin to thin over time, and you'll feel the effects of this in your 50s. (Men may notice it sooner.) To stave off joint pain and arthritis, start with your posture. When you slouch, you put pressure on your joints. And keep an eye on your weight, since extra pounds can put pressure on your joints. Also, drink lots of water. When you're thirsty, your body pulls fluid from joint tissue.
Once you hit your 50s, your chances of a heart attack go up. Exercise can help keep your heart and blood vessels healthy -- aim for at least 30 minutes of activity most days. (Even short walks count.) Try to keep your weight and blood pressure within a normal range, too, and if you haven't stopped smoking, now's the perfect time. Cigarette smoke is a major cause of heart disease.
Around the time you turn 50, your hair can start to thin and recede, especially for men. It probably will also be turning gray, depending on your ethnic group and your family history. It's common to feel self-conscious about how "old" your hair looks, but you can color it. You also might talk with your doctor about medicines or hair transplant surgery.
Any sun damage you had as a carefree kid will now reveal itself. You may see age spots and will need to watch for signs of skin cancer. If you didn't protect your skin when you were younger, it's not too late to start. Wear sunscreen of at least 30 SPF every day, and have a skin cancer check each year. Your skin will probably also feel drier and be easily irritated. An unscented moisturizer (not lotion) can help.
If you have to squint when you read your phone, that's because the lenses inside your eyes get stiffer with age. They can no longer quickly switch from a faraway focus to an up-close view. Glasses (like "readers" you buy without a prescription) may help, or you might need a new vision prescription. The older you get, the more your sight will change, so make sure to get regular eye exams.
The average age a woman's periods stop for good is 51. As your hormones drop, you might notice things like dry skin, hot flashes, and mood swings. Because the lining of your vagina gets thinner and drier, sex could also be painful. If so, talk to your doctor. Plenty of treatments, from antidepressants to hormone therapy, can help. So can lifestyle changes like getting enough sleep and using lubricant during sex.
Yes, your risk for health issues goes up in middle age, but certain tests can spot early signs of trouble. These will likely include a colonoscopy to check for colon cancer. Women also need yearly mammograms, along with a Pap smear every 3 years, and men should be screened for prostate and testicular cancer every 3 years. If a disease runs in your family, let your doctor know. They may want you to have other tests as well.
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- American Academy of Dermatology Association: “Caring for Your Skin in Menopause.”
- National Institute on Aging: “Osteoporosis.”
- Merck Manual (Consumer version): “Effects of Aging on the Immune System.”
- La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology/Immune Matters: “Aging and the Immune System.”
- Mayo Clinic: “Menopause,” “Stay fit at any age,” “Mediterranean diet: A heart-healthy eating plan.”
- American Heart Association: “Heart Health at Any Age -- 40, 50, 60 and Beyond.”
- Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute: “Heart Disease and Age.”
- University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics: “Healthy Living in Your 50s.”
- University of Cincinnati College of Nursing: “Aging: Age-Related Physical Changes.”
- American Council on Exercise: “Turn Back the Clock: How to Maximize the Anti-Aging Benefits of Exercise.”
- Fisher-Titus Medical Center: “Avoiding Joint Pain: Protect Your Joints As You Age.”
- World Psychiatry: “The unique challenges of managing depression in mid-life women.”
- American Psychological Association: “Researchers replace midlife myths with facts.”
- Harvard Health: “Preserving and improving memory as we age.”
- CDC: “The State of Mental Health and Aging in America.”
- American Journal of Preventive Medicine: “Sitting-Time, Physical Activity, and Depressive Symptoms in Middle-Aged Women.”
- Evidence Syntheses: “Screening for Hearing Loss in Adults Ages 50 Years and Older: A Review of the Evidence for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.”
- The National Hearing Test: “Hearing Loss That Runs in Families.”
- American Optometric Association: “Adult Vision: 41 to 60 Years of Age.”
- Tri-City Medical Center: “Your Guide to Health Screenings by Age [INFOGRAPHIC].”
- The North American Menopause Society: “Menopause 101: A primer for the perimenopausal.”