Turning 50 is a huge milestone—in more ways than one. You get “older and wiser” and “mature” like a “fine wine.” You also might notice your body’s working…differently. What you could do in your 30s is harder now. There’s a new class of health concerns to worry about. And menopause can be challenging.
Knowledge is power. If we fail to stay educated about these changes, it can have a seriously negative impact on our health. That’s why The Remedy collected 20 common health mistakes women make in their 50s, and the prescriptions to avoid them.
During their childbearing years and even into menopause, some women get away with only having an OB/GYN on their medical care team. However, as you age, it is important to expand your roster, explains Matthew Mintz, MD. “Once both men and women get into their 50s, things start to break down a bit,” he points out. “Blood pressure can increase, diabetes can develop, and cancer prevention becomes extremely important.”
The Remedy Rx: Starting at 50, Dr. Mintz suggests that women should start thinking about seeing a primary care physician such as a family practice or internal medicine physician that has special expertise in cancer and illness prevention and chronic disease management. “While Internal Medicine and Family Medicine physicians can also do pap smears and order mammograms, you can still keep your OBGYN for these things if you like,” he says.
It can be easy writing off every symptom you experience to your age—but it can also be seriously hazardous for your health. “Whether it be incontinence, shortness of breath with exercise, joint pain, swelling, decreased sex drive, fatigue, insomnia, depression, memory problems, etc, the underlying causes of these complaints can be the early signs of serious diseases such as heart failure, cancer, hormone deficiencies, sleep apnea, dementia and others,” explains board-certified family physician Monique May, MD.
The Remedy Rx: Discuss every symptom you experience with your doctor, even if you believe it is just age-related.
As you get older, don’t forget about your metabolism. “In our 50s we think that our body is the same as the 30s and 40s so what do we do? We still eat the same amount of food, not realizing that our metabolism is slower now,” points out Michele C. Reed, DO, General Practitioner. “No longer can we eat and drink late at night and then go to bed without expecting to have some symptoms of reflux.”
The Remedy Rx: Speak with your physician or a nutritional expert about ways to adapt your diet to your age.
As we age, our bodies don’t metabolize caffeine the same way. “There are even changes with our nervous system that sometimes that when we have caffeine we get palpitations or tachycardia—which is when the heart rate goes above 100 beats per minute,” points out Dr. Reed.
The Remedy Rx: Pace yourself with caffeinated beverages. If you start to feel your heart racing, it means you are consuming too much.
RELATED: 50 Unhealthiest Habits After 50
You may not be a child anymore, but that doesn’t mean you are exempt from getting vaccines. Dr. May points out that many older women believe that vaccines are just for kids, and don’t see the importance of staying up to date with them. “There are vaccines for influenza, pneumonia, tetanus and whooping cough, and chicken pox that most adults over the age of 50 should be getting,” she points out. “These can decrease the chance of getting these infections.” Even scarier than getting a shot are the potential complications of these conditions, especially when it comes to older adults. They can include pneumonia, brain infections, chronic pain, and death.
The Remedy Rx: Talk to your physician and make sure you are up to date on all your vaccinations.
According to Carolyn Dean, MD, ND is a sleep and stress management expert, author of The Magnesium Miracle, one of the biggest mistakes that women make in their 50s is over supplementing with calcium and not balancing it with an equal or greater amount of magnesium. According to Dr. Dean, this can result in osteoporosis and arthritis. “Magnesium is essential for the absorption and metabolism of calcium,” she points out. “Too much calcium and too little magnesium can cause some forms of arthritis, kidney stones, osteoporosis and calcification of the arteries, leading to heart attack and cardiovascular disease.”
The Remedy Rx: Before you take any supplements, discuss them with your doctor and do your research! Start with these 15 Supplements Every Woman Needs recommended by medical experts.
Getting enough sleep is more important as you age than when you were younger. “Lack of sleep puts stress on the body and depletes the body of the anti-stress mood mineral, magnesium, as well as other mood enhancing nutrients such as B1,” Dr. Dean points out. This may result in mood swings, grumpiness, lack of energy, fatigue, depression, anxiety.
The Remedy Rx: Make sleep a priority. Dr. Dean points out that a 26-to-64 year-old should get between seven and nine hours, while those over 65 need from seven to eight.
Fifty is the age where cancer screening usually begins. “Most women are aware of and concerned about breast cancer, but colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in women,” Dr. Mintz points out. It is also one of the most preventable cancers, if you get your colonoscopy.
The Remedy Rx: Don’t forget to book a colonoscopy! “The procedure is painless and safe,” Dr. Mintz maintains. “The difficult part is the prep that is needed, but preparations have gotten much easier.”
RELATED: Silent Signs of Colon Cancer
An annual pap smear, testing for cervical cancer, is routine in your younger years. However, cervical cancer, caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), the same virus that causes genital warts, is much less likely the older you get. “This is why we now recommend adolescent boys and girls get the HPV vaccine,” Dr. Mintz points out.
The Remedy Rx: After the age of 25, with a history of normal pap tests which are HPV negative, you can actually decrease the frequency of pap tests to every five years, says Dr. Mintz. Of course, discuss this with your OB/GYN before deciding.
Don’t skip it! While a pre-workout stretch is crucial for anyone, older adults are seriously prone to injury. “Stretching is an essential part of beginning a running or training program for a woman over age 50,” states Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS of Montgomery County Chiropractic Center in North Wales, PA. “If the muscles do not maintain full range of motion through stretching as you train, you will develop stress points which can lead to injuries like tendonitis,” he explains, adding that back spasms can also be experienced.
The Remedy Rx: “Make sure to pace yourself and stretch before and after a workout,” urges Dr. Conrad.
While high intensity workouts may have been fine in your forties, as you age you should consider slowing down a little. “A common mistake women make while training is training too often, too quickly,” says Dr. Conrad. This is often because they are looking to drop weight and want instant results, so they go too fast and workout too many days in a row. “This often results in a beginner becoming too sore or injured, which in turn makes them frustrated,” he points out.
The Remedy Rx: Try and remember that slow and steady wins the race! “The best goals for a new program involves making a weekly schedule, staying flexible, and focusing on the long term goals of better cardiovascular fitness,” suggests Dr. Conrad.
Many people focus on cardio workouts for weight loss. However, Allison L. Fillar, MD is a fellowship-trained and board-certified orthopedic surgeon specializing in Sports Medicine at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore, MD, points out that strength training becomes crucial for women as they age in order to maximize bone health. “Strength training protects against osteoporosis and helps reduce the risk for injury,” she points out.
The Remedy Rx: Make strength training a priority. “Workouts can be done at the gym or even at home with items around the house such as cans of soup or bottles of water!” Dr. Fillar points out.
When you are younger, your body is much more prepared for physical activities than when you are over 50. “If you go zero to 100 and start running and never ran or start playing tennis and never played, that can lead to injuries,” says Leigh Hanke, MD, a Yale Medicine physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist in the Department of Orthopedics. “Most people need some preparation before starting something new or getting back into a sport or to the gym. If you’re joining a spin class or ballet barre class at the gym for the first time and you try to keep up, you may be pushing yourself too hard.”
The Remedy Rx: You can still get involved in new activities over 50, just ease into them. “Try to go back slowly and after a week or so you can start to build up the endurance—and you won’t be as sore either,” points out Dr. Hanke.
As you age, you might not be as concerned about having flat abs to show off in a bikini, but core work is very important for your overall health and often overlooked. “It’s crucial for injury prevention,” points out Dr. Hanke. However, sit-ups can put a lot of strain on your lower back if done incorrectly, which can happen when you’re weak.
The Remedy Rx: Instead of avoiding core work or trying to do sit-ups, work on exercises such as planks or pelvic bridges, “to engage the entire core with less stress on the low back structures,” says Dr. Hanke.
One of the biggest mistakes both men and women make in their 50s is underapplying sunscreen, according to Boca Raton, Florida Dermatologist Jeffrey Fromowitz, MD. “One ounce of sunscreen is what we need to cover our body but most people apply only one-third to one-half of the amount,” he points out. Additionally, they often forget to apply sunscreen to key areas, such as their lips, the back of their knees, neck, and scalp.
The Remedy Rx: Make sure to cover your body in SPF—and don’t ever apply the “less is more” concept to sunscreen.
Applying sunscreen can be a pain, so many older women don’t consider it a priority on overcast days. However, according to Dr. Fromowitz, this is a big mistake. “People forget that sunscreen is a habit like brushing your teeth,” he points out.
The Remedy Rx: Keep that sunscreen in the bathroom next to your toothbrush. “You should apply it daily, all over, whether you are spending your day inside or outside and even in the car,” Dr. Fromowitz instructs.
This is a big mistake people make. “Try losing a pound or two a week to keep it off for the long term,” suggests Dr. Hanke. This is a reasonable goal. “It’s a mistake to cut too much all at once, which is often more than you can realistically sustain,” she says.
The Remedy Rx: “If you lose weight gradually — 1-2 lbs. a week, your body and metabolism can reset in a healthy way. If you lose weight quickly or cut out meals entirely, your metabolism slows down because it thinks it’s starving and holds on to every bit of energy (macronutrients like protein, carbohydrates, and fat) it can.” Cut calories in moderation—don’t just cut breakfast out altogether. Try to adjust your diet in a healthy way so you can sustain the weight loss in the long term.
Most post-menopausal women are hyper focused on issues such as breast or ovarian cancer. However, the number one killer of women is actually heart disease. Even scarier? As you age your chances of getting it increase.
The Remedy Rx: Make sure to maintain your heart health! Exercise and diet are two keys ways you can do this. Also, make sure and stay on top of your doctor’s visits and speak to them about any concerns you may have.
There are so many things that can improve your mental health after 50, and having a healthy sex life is definitely one of them. Sure, your sex drive might decrease after menopause, but that’s no excuse to shut the door on intercourse. One study found that not only were sexually active older adults enjoying life more, but they were less likely to experience mental and physical health problems.
The Remedy Rx: If your sex drive is waning, speak to your physician about options. There are so many medications on the market that can help.
One of the most common times for women to experience depression is during the perimenopausal years, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. This partially has to do with all the hormonal changes occurring in the body. Symptoms of perimenopausal depression can include struggling with irritability, anxiety, sadness, or loss of enjoyment at the time of the menopause transition.
The Remedy Rx: Stay proactive about your mental health! If you start feeling unusually down, talk to your friends and family about it and consider seeking professional help. Depression isn’t “normal” and it shouldn’t be something you force yourself to live with. And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don’t miss these 70 Things You Should Never Do For Your Health.