It’s Women’s Health Week. Women in your 50s, get healthier with one, or all, of the following steps. Start the conversation at your next well-woman visit with the checklist below.
By the time you reach your 50s, you’ve reached a lot of your goals. Your children may be grown and you have free time to invest in you. This is also the decade when your ovarian hormones—particularly estrogen—drop significantly. And no matter how well you’ve taken care of your body, there’s no escaping the fact that you’re aging.
Your yearly well-woman visit is a good time to check in with your doctor about how you’re doing, how you’d like to be doing and what changes you can make to reach your health goals. In addition to talking with your doctor or nurse about your health, you may also need certain vaccines and medical tests. Don’t worry. You won’t need every test every year.
Right now a yearly well-woman visit won’t cost you anything extra if you already have health insurance. (This could change if the new administration is successful in its attempts to repeal and replace all aspects of the Affordable Care Act.) Most private health plans cover certain preventive care benefits, including a yearly well-woman visit, without charging a copay, coinsurance or making you meet your deductible. If you don’t have insurance, you can still see a doctor or nurse for free or low-cost at a local health center.
It’s easy to say you’re going to eat healthy, quit smoking or start exercising, but it’s much harder to do it. Get started with the personalized recommendations at myhealthfinder.
- Eat healthy. Go to ChooseMyPlate.gov tips to get you started
- Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity
- Get at least seven to eight hours of sleep, though a full night of sleep may start to elude you as you age. If you’re having difficulty sleeping, talk to your health-care provider.
- Reach and maintain a healthy weight
- Get help to quit or don’t start smoking
- Limit alcohol use to one drink or less each day
- Don’t use illegal drugs or misuse prescription drugs
- Wear a helmet when riding a bike and wear protective gear for other sports
- Wear a seatbelt in cars
- Don’t text while driving
Talk to the doctor about:
- Menopause symptoms
- Your weight, diet and physical activity level
- Your tobacco and alcohol use
- Any violence in your life
- Depression and any other mental health concerns
- Your family health history, especially of cancer
- Low-dose aspirin
- Tests for blood pressure, cholesterol, colorectal cancer (your first screening should occur when your turn 50), diabetes, bone mineral density
- Vaccines for flu, pneumococcal pneumonia, hepatitis B and hepatitis C
- Lung cancer (55 and older)
- Pap and HPV
- Sexually transmitted infections, including HIV (Screening for STIs is not a regular part of your well-woman visit. Ask for it.)
The average age for menopause in this country is 51, though women can hit this milestone anywhere between 41 and 55. You can consider the whole process complete when you haven’t had your period for 12 consecutive months (if you have a period during month 10, you have to start the count over again). This also marks a time of change for your body. Talk to your doctor about hormone replace therapy (or alternatives) to deal with extreme menopause symptoms, including hot flashes and vaginal dryness.
You may notice a change in your bathroom patterns, too. Talk to your doctor about overactive bladder or urinary incontinence issues.
For a lot of women, thinning hair is a fact of life after age 50. In fact, more than 50 percent of women experience some type of thinning hair as they age, from minor hair loss to significant change. Starting a daily vitamin regimen can help improve hair thickness and growth. Biotin, vitamin B and omega-3 fatty acids can enhance thinning hair. These can be found in foods like eggs, flaxseed, salmon, tofu, tuna and yellow peppers. They can also be taken in capsule form. As more gray hair comes in, you may also notice a change in your hair’s texture. When coloring or caring for your new mane, choose products free from harsh chemicals, and give your hair a break from heated styling tools as often as possible.
You may be thinking of retiring, but you can’t retire your skincare regimen. The most significant change you’ll notice this decade is dryness and lack of elasticity in your skin. This is because cell turnover slows. Your pores are also more visible, especially on your cheeks. What to do? Wash your face morning and night with a non-soap cleanser. Apply a moisturizer (think serum, which absorbs better than creams) containing peptides or an antioxidant like vitamin C when your face is still damp. Then apply a broad-spectrum moisturizer containing SPF 15 or 20.
Your eyes are still the windows to your soul, but they need more tender loving care now. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends a baseline screening for adults with no risk factors of signs of eye disease for all adults older than 40. Based on the results of that screening, an ophthalmologist will prescribe follow-up exams, usually every two years, unless you’re experiencing problems.