There's no doubt that turning 50 today is a whole lot different than when your parents hit the half-century mark. I was just at a 50th birthday party last weekend and the dance floor was packed with 50ish party people shaking it to Top 40 hits and showing off moves that would impress the 20-something crowd.
But while 50 might be the new 30 in psychosocial terms, you can't get around the fact that your body has been around for five decades and needs a whole lot more TLC than it did back in the day. This checklist — five things every 50-year-old should be sure to do to keep mind and body in top form — is essentail advice for women and men everywhere:
- Get Your Screenings (But Don't Overdo It). An organization called the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is charged with recommending a schedule for screening tests that men and women should start receiving after they turn 50. Recommended tests include colon cancer tests and a diabetes test for anybody with elevated blood sugar, but the group recommends fewer screening tests than many doctors dole out. For instance, they recently came out with the recommendation that we shouldn't get routine electrocardiograms unless we have specific heart disease symptoms, and that men should no longer routinely receive the PSA screening test for prostate cancer. There's growing evidence that too much testing is more likely to hurt our health—through invasive follow up procedures and treatments that turn out to be unnecessary—than help it. The bottom line: Educate yourself about your risk factors for various diseases and talk to your doctor to figure out an individualized approach to screening.
- Exercise Often (But Not Crazily). Getting regular exercise may just be the single biggest thing you can do to determine whether or not you age well. Midlife adults significantly improved their heart health if they engaged regularly in physical activities, including brisk walking, gardening, cycling, team sports, housework and home maintenance, according to a study recently published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation. The important news here is that you don't have to run a marathon (or run at all) or do Crossfit or Pilates or Zumba or whatever the fitness fad of the moment is. In fact, it's probably better if you don't—the most important aspect of exercise is to do it consistently, for 30 minutes 4 or more times a week, and I think you're more likely to keep that up over the coming decades if your exercise isn't based on fads that require hardcore devotion or special gear or pricey instructors.
- Take Care of Your Teeth. At midlife it's time to step up your oral care routine—first, never ever skimp on seeing the dentist, even if you've always been concerned about healthy living and eating. Second, invest in the right products to treat and prevent common oral care issues. We at Health Goes Strong recommend Crest and Oral-B Pro-Health For Life. These products were selected for people over 50 and defend against dental conditions people over 50 experience. A rechargeable electric toothbrush can also help keep your teeth and gums looking great. One dentist I interviewed said when his patients start using electric toothbrushese the difference is "like night and day."
- Don't Eat Too Much. I write a lot about what you should eat—every health writer does, because it's such an interesting, surprisingly controversial topic. But when we talk about low-carb vs. low-fat, organic vs. conventional, carnivore vs. vegan, etc, we tend to lose sight of the fact that the most important things you can do for your health is not overeat and maintain a healthy weight. If it's easiest for you to do that as a vegan, go with it! But if it's easier for you to stay thin on a low-carb, steak-and-eggs sort of eating plan, then that's great too. I firmly believe that there's no one size-fits-all "healthiest" diet, and once you've found one that makes you feel great and keeps you at a healthy weight, don't get distracted by fads or let other people talk you out of it.
- Take Emotional Inventory. It's likely that you're at least halfway through your life, so before you head into the "back nine" (that's what a golfer friend calls these decades) take some time to evaluate which parts of your life are working for you, and which aren't. Maybe some habits or routines that used to make you happy and help your life function no longer do? Then figure out a way to phase them out, or at least give them less of your energy. Are there certain things you've always wanted to try, people you want to see more of, adventures you want to have? Don't wait another minute. Trying to eliminate anxiety and unhappiness from your life is one of the best things you can do for both mental and physical health. While there are some physical downsides to aging, the big fat honking upside of it all is that you know yourself better than ever and are equipped and allowed to live life on your own terms. That's more than ample compensation for an achy joint or a few crow's feet. And when it comes to staying healthy, that's advice for women and men that we can all live by!
Healthy living tips for the 50+ brought to you by Crest & Oral-B ProHealth For Life