According to the Social Security Administration, a woman turning 65 years old today can expect to live, on average, until the age of 86.6.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that between 2013 and 2014, overall life expectancy for white women fell slightly, from 81.2 years to 81.1 years, while it actually increased for Hispanic females, from 83.8 to 84.0 years, and remained unchanged for black women, at 78.1 years.
However you look at it, most healthy women can expect to live to about 80, on average, and that means when you turn 50, you’ve suddenly got more life behind you than ahead.
It’s a sobering thought for most women, as up until that point, it’s easy to believe that we’re just getting started. But that big 5-0 can change things, simply because it’s so real
Most women have other things as well that remind them they’ve reached the fifth decade, including a few gray hairs, perhaps some pre-menopausal symptoms, and those increasingly visible fine lines and wrinkles. We may feel more aches and pains in our backs and our joints, discover we need reading glasses, and realize that the old bras just aren’t doing the job anymore.
This doesn’t have to be a time of decline. On the contrary—women can look forward to 50 and beyond as the age of liberation, self-actualization, and renewed purpose in life. Feeling more secure in our own skin, we can evaluate what’s really important, and make changes that open up new horizons.
We do need to realize, however, that our bodies have been on this earth for 50 years, and they need a little extra care. If you’ve reached this age or you’re close to it, we’ve got seven things you can do to ensure that from here on out, life only gets better.
7 Things Women Over 50 Should Do for Their Health
Let’s start with your physical health. Most likely you’re feeling your age more than you have in the past. David Karp, a sociologist at Boston College, writes that the 50s are a kind of “fulcrum decade, a turning point in the aging process during which people, more sharply than before, are made to feel their age.”
It’s not only your own physical changes that can remind you you’re getting older, but those of others around you. You may have friends diagnosed with serious illnesses, or even have those you cared about show up in the obituary column. You may have become a grandparent recently, or had a younger person refer to you in a way that made it clear the difference in age between you. These can be stark reminders of your own mortality, which can be a little frightening.
The best way to deal with these feelings is to take the right steps to protect your health now and in the future. Here are five things you need to be sure you do once you turn 50.
- Reconsider your diet.
You could handle those extra soda pops and sugary treats in your younger years, but you may be feeling their effects more now. Even if you tend to eat healthy most of the time, you still need to take a moment to consider your diet. We all develop habits over the years, and those habits may not be good ones.
Ask yourself what you’re eating for each meal, most of the time. Are you eating foods that will help improve your digestion, reduce risk of heart disease, and help you keep your weight under control? Are you making conscious decisions that support your health, or just eating whatever you have always eaten?
In general, after 50, you want to consume more fiber, more fruits and vegetables, and less sugar and unhealthy fats. Rev up your intake of good fats, though, like those in fatty fish, nuts, olive oil, and flaxseed. Make sure you’re getting some lean protein at every meal, and pay attention to how your food affects you. If it leaves you bloated or causes other digestion problems, change it up.
- Reconsider your supplements.
Whether you already take supplements or not, when you turn 50, you need to take a second look at your vitamins and minerals. Women at this age and beyond need to be sure they’re getting enough of the following, and may want to consider supplements to be sure. (Always talk to your doctor first.)
- Vitamin D: It’s critical for your health for many reasons, but many women don’t get enough, particularly during the dark winter months. Get outside more if you can, and consider a supplement. (Read more about vitamin D here.)
- CoQ10: As we age, the body naturally produces less of this vitamin-like substance, and we need it for a number of health reasons, including energy production. Low levels of CoQ10 have been linked with heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. It’s hard to get enough from food, so talk to your doctor about a supplement, particularly if you’re taking a cholesterol-lowering statin, as it depletes the body of CoQ10.
- Vitamin B: A good vitamin B complex is important for women over 50, as it becomes harder to absorb the nutrient with age. Some research has found that B vitamins can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke, and they are also important for energy, healthy skin, and preventing memory loss.
- Magnesium: Age makes it more difficult to absorb magnesium, with older adults more likely to be deficient. This mineral is key to keeping blood pressure levels under control, and for good digestion, sleep, and helping to relieve muscle pain.
- Calcium: Women need calcium to support strong bones, but be cautious with supplements. Some recent studies have suggested that taking too much can actually hurt your heart health. Instead, up your intake of calcium-rich foods like spinach, yogurt, almonds, and cheese. Add up how much you’re getting per day, than consider taking a supplement to fill in the gaps. You need a total of about 1,200 mg per day.
- Fish oil: These supplements are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are important in reducing inflammation. Inflammation is a factor in many of today’s common diseases, so this is a good supplement to take. It also helps keep skin and hair healthy.
- Probiotics: These little microorganisms not only improve digestive health, but they may also help lift your mood, support memory, and boost the immune system. You can get them from fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, miso soup, kombucha, sauerkraut, and pickles, but if you are having digestive trouble or if you’re battling the flu, try supplements. It’s also a good idea to use supplements after a treatment regimen of antibiotics.
- Get tested.
Fifty is a good age to make sure you’re up to date on all the tests that matter to your health. These include:
- Colonoscopy: Recommendations are that you get your first one at the age of 50, to help prevent colon cancer.
- Mammography: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force states that prior to the age of 50, women can make their own decisions with their doctor concerning mammography, but starting at the age of 50, they should get a mammogram once every two years. The American Cancer Society recommends starting earlier.
- Blood test: You may have already checked your blood cholesterol, glucose, and pressure, but either way, it’s best to check these again at 50, to be sure you have a handle on your cardiovascular health.
- Osteoporosis screening: A quick and painless bone density test can reveal how your bones are doing. Your doctor can use that information to help you make sure you’re doing everything you can to avoid fractures.
- Eye exam: You may have ignored your eyes in your 40s, but starting at age 50, you need to have an exam at least once every 2-3 years. Older eyes are more vulnerable to things like glaucoma, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration. Your doctor can detect changes early when they are most treatable.
- Hearing exam: Hearing loss can affect you more than you may think. Studies have found that it can even contribute to brain function decline. Today there are many options to address hearing loss. Working with your audiologist, you can find one that works for you.
- Dental exam: Go at least once every 1-2 years for an exam and cleaning. Again, detecting any problems early raises your odds of successful (and often easier) treatment.
- Pap smear: These are still needed after the age of 50, but only once every three years.
- Skin exam: Everyone needs to watch their skin for potential changes that may indicate cancer, but if you have anyone in your family that had skin cancer, be extra vigilant.
- Lung cancer screening: This is still not recommended for most women, but if you have been a heavy smoker for 30 years, even if you quit within the past 15 years, talk to your doctor. The health benefits of screening may outweigh the risks for you.
- Reconsider your exercise.
Women 50 and older need to keep moving, but exactly how you move may need to change. If you’re used to pounding the pavement as a runner and your knees are starting to complain, you may want to use this time to explore some new exercise opportunities. Try tai chi, swimming, dancing, rebounding, and other exercises that are easier on your joints. Biking is a great option, as is walking. Don’t allow yourself to become sedentary, but listen to your body. If something hurts, try something else.
- Start thinking about brain health.
Estimates are that in 2000, there were 282 million people in the U.S. with dementia, and that number is expected to increase to 420 million by 2050. You can’t control everything about your brain, but you can take some steps to preserve it, and even prevent dementia as you age. According to a 2014 study, lifestyle is responsible for more than three quarters of changes in the brain, and those that follow four out of the following five gold rules lowered their risk of developing dementia by more than a third.
First of all, keep moving! Exercise is key not only to your heart health, but your brain health as well. Eat a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and olive oil, and don’t smoke or stop smoking. Drink alcohol only in moderation, and keep your blood sugar and blood pressure under control. That’s it! Definitely doable.
It also helps if you keep challenging yourself. Studies show that learning and acquiring new information and experiences stimulates new brain cell growth, even in adults. Challenging yourself to learn a new skill like digital photography or quilting has also been shown to improve memory.
- Refresh your personal style.
The key to feeling good about yourself at age 50 is the same as it is at most any age—self-confidence. Yet you may not be feeling so confident these days, particularly if you’ve been noticing those wrinkles and gray hairs. Your waist may have expanded a bit, and your clothes may be feeling tight. Your feet my hurt in your favorite heels, and your makeup is likely settling into those lines.
Instead of bemoaning your lost youth, it’s time to get fierce about your style. Women in their fifties are often smarter, wiser, and stronger than they were in their 20s and 30s. You can own that strength and boost your confidence by refreshing your style. Think about other women 50 and older that you admire. They’re not fading into the background, but instead, striking out with outfits that make them feel awesome.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are some general guidelines. Then don’t hesitate to get a makeover or ask for help in picking out your outfits. You may be amazed at how good you can feel when you like what you see in the mirror.
- Update your makeup. Skin tends to get dryer as we age. That means powders are likely to exacerbate your fine lines and wrinkles. Choose a really good foundation primer, and then choose cream-based foundations or even tinted moisturizers to restore that youthful glow. Cream-based blushes also tend to be more flattering.
- Get rid of those extra hairs: Use whatever method you like, but zap those hairs on your upper lip, chin, sides of your cheeks, etc.
- Invest in good skin care: Good skin care is always a good idea, but at age 50 and beyond, it’s imperative. Makeup just won’t cover as well anymore. Take care of your skin and you’ll be able to use less makeup, which is always more flattering on older women. Don’t forget your hands and your neck—they are often the first to show your age.
- Be more gentle with your hair: Whether you choose to color your hair or not, it will likely be dryer as you age. Choose a flattering hairstyle and regularly deep condition with natural oils or butters that hydrate and soften.
- Flatter your shape: Whatever shape you have right now, it’s time to make peace with it, and look for clothes that flatter it. Raid your closet and try everything on. What’s not working anymore? If you haven’t worn it for a year or more, donate it. Then look for new outfits that drape instead of cling, and quality clothes that make you look your best. As fashion editor Cynthia David says, “At 50, great fit is everything. You should opt for quality because you will find better fabrics, better cuts, and therefore, better fits.”
- Reevaluate your purpose in life.
Whatever your purpose has been to up to this point—children, family, a career, etc.—it’s likely that you’re now rethinking that, and wondering if it’s time for a change. Feel free to reflect on the question, and get some help if you like. Talk to a counselor or career coach, go on a retreat, attend a conference, or consider how you might go after those dreams you’ve put on hold until now.
It’s important, because according to one study conducted among participants in mid-life, those who had a sense of purpose in life had a lower risk of mortality over a period of 14 years. Another study found that having purpose later in life slowed cognitive decline by 30 percent.
So allow yourself some time to think about where you want to go from here. How can you use your skills and interests to find meaning in life now and in the years to come? Be patient. You may not find the answer right away, but if you keep looking, you’ll find that thing that gets you excited about the future again.