As the last of the boomers begin to hit the half-century mark in January, we offer 50 tips for turning 50. Watch for our series each day this week, covering money, relationships, health, work and caregiving.
Here are 10 health and fitness tips for anyone turning 50 in 2014 (and those who are already there):
1. Sleep well, all night, every night. Consistent sleep is widely seen as the baseline of good health and fitness at any age, but especially in midlife and beyond.
Inadequate sleep puts you at greater risk for cognitive decline, a number of studies have shown. Poor sleep also makes it harder to maintain a healthy weight and avoid Type 2 diabetes; puts you at greater risk for depression; raises your chance of having a heart attack or stroke and makes it harder to cope with back pain and arthritis. Changes to your exercise, diet and bedtime routines can help you sleep easier and stay healthy.
2. Expand your checkup checklist. You know it's important to stay on top of cholesterol, blood pressure and body mass index when you enter midlife. But there are other critical tests that too many of us skip, including a head-to-toe skin exam. (Skin cancer rates are rising; the older we get, the longer our cumulative exposure to the sun.)
In addition, experts recommend a blood test for hepatitis C — boomers are five times more likely to contract the disease than other adult Americans. It's also advisable to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases and vitamin B12 deficiency, a particular risk for people over 50 (especially vegetarians), because it can lead to anemia or dementia.
See "The Essential Health Tests You May Not Realize You Need"
3. Men, get your prostates checked. Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in men: 1 in 38 men between 40 and 60 years old will be diagnosed with the condition, 1 in 15 between 60 and 70. But too few are stepping up for prostate specific antigen (PSA) screening.
Part of that is due to persistent concerns about the test's reliability. (Learn more about the PSA testing debate from Next Avenue.) But a PSA test is still the best first step in the diagnostic process. Unfortunately, many guys avoid it. A Rutgers University study found that men with a strong belief in traditional notions of masculinity — in other words, macho men — are only half as likely to seek preventive health care as others, no matter their socioeconomic status. But what's really macho is living longer. (Learn more about the foods men should eat to ward off prostate cancer and other conditions.)
4. Get your vitamins, preferably from food. Recent medical opinion has taken a turn against the widespread practice of taking multiple vitamins and nutritional supplements every day. But the nutrition experts we consulted have identified a set of nutrients many of us may not be getting through our meals alone. All are crucial to our health: Calcium for bone mass and healthy blood pressure; magnesium for muscle mass and to regulate your heart rate and omega-3 fatty acids to maintain brain function and reduce the risk of heart disease. If you're not getting enough in your diet, a supplement may be in order.
5. Eat right, avoid disease. As we age, our risks of heart disease, hypertension, stroke and other chronic conditions rise, but we can take actions to reduce the danger. Chief among them: a new diet.
Slashing your salt intake to reduce blood pressure is a smart first step. But if you want to take stronger action, there's more you can do. Drop diet soft drinks, which a recent study found may be linked to a higher incidence of heart attack or stroke. Cut back on cold cuts — they're filled with nitrites and nitrates that could elevate your risk of colorectal cancer by as much as 36 percent. And avoid Cool Whip, which our fiftysomething diet expert Maureen Callahan calls "a mix of unhealthy hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup and enough chemical additives to make you squirm."
6. Start moving — and don't stop. The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says all adults age 18-64 need 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week, defined as "anything that makes your heart beat faster." Keep that definition in mind because it encompasses not just running or biking, but activities you can do anywhere at any time — no excuses.
If done with some intensity, playing with kids or pets, gardening, cleaning house and, of course, dancing, can help you meet your cardio goals. You can also check out our guide to four ways to turn your daily walk into a workout.
7. Get in shape now, live longer. Recent studies on the "compression of morbidity" have found that by postponing the onset of chronic illness — which we can do most reliably by staying fit throughout middle age — we also compress our total lifetime "illness burden." The research amounts to one of the strongest arguments yet for the value of cardiovascular exercise.
8. Boost your exercise intensity. This is no time to start taking it easy. Research says that increasing the intensity of your workouts is exactly what you need in midlife. In one study of adults age 60 to 75, those who were assigned the most intense regimen got the most benefits, gaining, on average, four-and-a-half pounds of muscle mass. A separate Danish study found that middle-age adults who regularly took part in exercise routines, like fast-walking or jogging, cut their risk factors for heart disease and stroke by as much as 50 percent compared with people living a sedentary lifestyle, while casual daily walking alone seemed to have little impact.
9. Exercise your brain too. Every brain is "plastic." From the day we're born to the day we die, our brain continuously revises and remodels, improving or slowly declining, depending on how we use it. If we exercise brains properly — through physical exercise, social activity and efforts to learn new things — we can improve intelligence and help ward off dementia and related conditions. Or, as neuroscientist Michael Merzenich puts it, "You can just let your brain idle — and watch it slowly, inexorably, go to seed like a sedentary body."
10. Brush and floss, now more than ever. As research is making increasingly clear, limiting inflammation is a key to maintaining good health and warding off chronic disease. That includes the mouth.
About 3 out of 4 Americans have some form of gum disease. If untreated, it can spread and lead to more severe health complications, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, pancreatic cancer and even Alzheimer’s disease. For advice on preventing gum disease, read "Why Oral Health Is the Key to Total Health."