10 Things Your Doctor Wishes You'd Start Doing in Your 50s
Getting older can mean getting better—if you do these things.
Whatever age you are, the best time to start prioritizing your health is now. However, certain health habits are especially beneficial as you reach your 50s, before the health consequences of not doing so set in. Adopting a few simple interventions could be the key to health and longevity, doctors say, helping to stave off disease, preserve cognitive function, improve your quality of life, and more. Read on to learn which 10 things your doctor wishes you'd start doing in your 50s, if you aren't doing them already.
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Stick to a consistent workout plan.
Getting a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week is one of the best things you can do for your health, doctors say. It's associated with a wide range of health benefits, including lower incidence of heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline, mobility issues, obesity, and more.
Ryan Glatt, CPT, NBC-HWC, personal trainer and brain health coach for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, says that resistance training is especially useful for adults over the age of 50. "Lifting weights in a safe and progressive manner over time can prevent falls, increase muscle mass, improve strength, contribute to brain health, and assist with maintaining healthy hormone levels," he tells Best Life.
Planks, abdominal crunches, and other muscle strengthening exercises have similar benefits, adds Neel Anand, MD, MCh Orth, a professor of orthopedic surgery and director of spine trauma at Cedars-Sinai Spine Center in Los Angeles, California.
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Break a mental sweat.
Exercising your brain is just as important as exercising your body, Glatt says. He tells Best Life that "engaging in activities that demand both brain and body can lead to improvements in brain health, manage stress, and prevent falls." He notes that activities that you enjoy "are more likely to be sustainable and can contribute to improved mental health."
Social activities are especially beneficial to your cognitive health. "Social isolation and loneliness have negative health impacts on par with obesity, physical inactivity, and smoking 15 cigarettes a day and are associated with about a 50 percent increased risk of dementia," adds Scott Kaiser, MD, a geriatrician and Director of Geriatric Cognitive Health for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, California.
Practice good posture.
As you age, you may experience more aches and pains—especially in your back. That's why Anand recommends evaluating your posture as you reach your 50s and making any necessary changes. "Back pain, specifically low back pain, can be caused by poor posture and weak abdominal muscles. And those are the specific areas that need to be targeted and strengthened to relieve the pain and prevent future flare-ups," he explains.
He recommends sitting up straight and pulling your shoulders back and down when either sitting, standing, or walking. "Correcting your posture can feel very odd at first because it is not a position our bodies have become unaccustomed to holding; but practicing over time and holding your back in healthy posture will eventually become second nature," he adds.
Certain exercises may also help improve your posture. "Sit up straight in a chair with your hands on your thighs and your shoulders down. Pull your shoulders back and squeeze the shoulder blades together and hold for five seconds. Repeat this three or four times daily to strengthen those back muscles used for perfect posture," Anand advises.
Warm up and cool down.
Exercise is crucial to your health, but forgetting to warm up and cool down before and after your workout can leave your vulnerable to injury—especially as you enter your 50s. "Just like you wouldn't start up a car that's been parked all winter long and zoom down the driveway before giving it time to warm up, the same goes for your body," explains Bert Mandelbaum, MD, sports medicine specialist and orthopedic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, CA and author of The Win Within: Capturing Your Victorious Spirit.
Mandelbaum says taking a few minutes to warm up before physical activity helps to get the blood flowing, and "gives the muscles and joints a heads-up that they're about to be put to work, as cold muscles are much less flexible and much more prone to injury." He recommends spending five minutes doing a lower intensity activity such as brisk walking, jumping rope, or jumping jacks before stretching, then finally picking up the pace with your regular workout.
He adds that "cooling down is just as important as warming up, since it allows your heart rate to slowly come back to a resting rate and makes recovery easier on the body." Stretch again afterward to loosen any tight muscles and increase flexibility. This will help for the next workout, he says.
Getting a good night's sleep—ideally between seven and nine hours per night—is another thing your doctor wishes you'd start doing in your 50s, if you haven't already.
Besides staving off chronic disease including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and depression, getting adequate sleep can help you feel your best throughout the day. "Sports neurologists, sleep experts, athletic trainers, and strength and conditioning experts will tell you that the best and most consistently high performers on any team and in any sport tend to be the best sleepers," says Vernon Williams, MD, a sports neurologist, pain management specialist, and founding director of the Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, California. "In fact, some would argue that the single most important intervention with the greatest effect on improving performance is optimizing sleep and minimizing fatigue."
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If there's one thing your doctor wishes you'd do at any age, it's quitting smoking. "With all of the information that's out there about what a significant health risk it is, too many people still smoke," says S. Adam Ramin, MD, a urologic surgeon and medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles, California.
Ramin notes that by quitting, "your lungs won't be the only organs that breathe a sigh of relief. Your kidneys and bladder, your body's filtration system, must process the toxins from cigarette smoke too," he explains. "They weren't made for such a burden. It kills them. Literally. From the risk of kidney failure to multiple types of urological cancers, smoking is one lifestyle habit that really isn't worth it," he stresses.
Monitor your blood pressure.
Keeping an eye on your blood pressure is another way to keep on top of your health in your 50s. "High blood pressure isn't only bad for your heart. It has serious and lasting effects on your kidneys too," explains Ramin. He notes that uncontrolled high blood pressure is among the leading causes of kidney failure in the United States.
If you start early enough, before health problems arise, you can keep your blood pressure at a normal rate and your kidneys in proper working order with lifestyle modifications, he adds. These include eating well, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and minimizing your sodium and sugar intake.
Eat healthy, whole foods.
When you hit your 50s, the things you used to get away with eating may begin to catch up with your health. "Our bodies' organs simply weren't designed to meet the demands put on them by the consumption of highly-processed, high-sugar, and high-fat foods. And when they're forced to filter these substances long-term, the consequences can be severe and life-threatening," says Ramin.
The urologist recommends building your diet around whole foods whenever possible. "This doesn't need to mean eliminating flavorful foods from your diet. Simply paying attention to what you're putting into your body can be a great start," Ramin says. "This year, if you haven't already, begin reading food labels. A good rule of thumb: If the package label contains ingredients you can't pronounce, don't buy it."
Get screened for cancer.
Advanced age is a key risk factor for just about every cancer type, which is why screenings become that much more important when you reach your 50s. By your fifth decade, you should already have been getting mammograms, prostate exams, colonoscopies, and other forms of cancer screening which may be recommended by your doctor. However, getting regular physicals and discussing screenings with your doctor can help ensure that you stay up to date.
Practice mindful breathing.
Finally, Ashkan Farhadi, MD, a gastroenterologist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, says that another thing your doctor wishes you'd start doing in your 50s is to start practicing mindful breathing.
"Taking some mindful breaths—simply bringing your attention to your breathing and taking a moment to appreciate life—can initiate a very positive cascade of events in our mind and body," he tells Best Life. "This simple practice can actually unlock the power of mediation and help curb stress while initiating a "relaxation response" in your body—slowing heart rate, relaxing blood vessels to lower blood pressure, boosting immune factors, lowering blood sugar, improving mood, and on and on."
Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.