10 Ways You're Ruining Your Body After 50
Turning 50 is a huge milestone, but also a time when people start noticing a change in their body. Adopting positive lifestyle changes is key to staying in good shape longer, says Megan Mescher-Cox, DO, Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Lifestyle Medicine and Obesity Medicine of Dignity Health Group. "Most healthy behaviors are important throughout life. After 50 years old, the long term effects of unhealthy behaviors really start to take their toll on the body. It's never too late to start with healthy behaviors. Start low, go slow, and consult with your healthcare provider." Read the 10 tips below on staying healthy after 50 and what habits to avoid. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Inadequate Vegetable and Fruit Intake
Cox reminds us how important it is to add a healthy portion of fruits and veggies to our diets daily. "An intake of vegetables and fruits is associated with less chronic disease. This includes diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol but also associated with less dementia and certain cancers. Vegetables and fruits are high in antioxidants which counter the oxidative stress that leads to aging."
Dr. Stacie J. Stephenson, aka "The VibrantDoc", a recognized leader in functional medicine and author of the new self-care book Vibrant: A Groundbreaking Program to Get Energized, Reverse Aging, and Glow says, "If there is ever a time in life to suck it up and eat your veggies, it's now. Vegetables have a rich array of powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals like polyphenols and carotenoids that, when consumed on a regular basis, can have a meaningful impact on your cancer and heart disease risks. They also contain fiber and have very few calories in relation to the vitamins and minerals they contain. Start with those you like and build on your veggie repertoire by trying new veggies, or new ways to prepare veggies you don't think you like, every week or so. Adult palates are less susceptible to bitterness that bothers children, so give veggies a try. The more you eat them, the more you will begin to appreciate their benefits."
Not Enough Sleep
According to Cox, "Sleep is a time when the body rests and repairs itself. It's critical for physical, mental and emotional health. This is when your body repairs itself from the day and also when memories from the day are filed into long term memory. Aim for 8 hours nightly. We can't "make up" for lack of sleep so it's especially important to get your body regular sleep all throughout your life. As we age our sleep patterns change so we have less of the good quality deep sleep so it is even more important to focus on getting sleep."
Dr. Stephenson explains, "You may be at the prime of your life in terms of your career. You may also be busy caring for kids or grandkids and aging parents at the same time. No matter what your "busy" is about, sleep is not the place to skimp. A 2021 study published in the British journal Nature Communications showed that people who get less than six hours of sleep per night in their 50s and 70s had a 30% increased risk of dementia later in life, independent of all other risk factors. The brain clears out waste via its glymphatic system during deep sleep that may help to remove the plaques and tangles that accumulate with dementia, and not getting enough sleep can short you of deep sleep and this all-important nightly purge. Better to put your to-do list on hold than to cheat yourself of sleep."
Lack of Exercise
Cox says, "Exercise is a great way to keep people feeling young but also for your body to physiologically function better. Aim for at least 30 minutes at least 5 days a week although an hour 5 times weekly is even better."
Dr. Stacie J. Stephenson, aka "The VibrantDoc", a recognized leader in functional medicine and author of the new self-care book Vibrant: A Groundbreaking Program to Get Energized, Reverse Aging, and Glow adds, "Exercise is always important at every stage of life but there is no time more important to commit to and stick to exercise than after the age of 50. A lot starts to happen after 50—you may develop more joint pain and stiffness from arthritis, fatigue, muscle loss and weakness, and more forgetfulness. Exercise can help with every single one of these so-called "natural symptoms of aging." You will have less joint pain and stiffness if you keep moving, exercise signals your mitochondria to produce more energy so you feel less fatigued, strength training combats muscle loss and can help you avoid frailty and dangerous falls, and cardio signals your brain to create and release brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) to keep your thinking sharp and your memory strong. If you make no other health efforts after 50, exercise should be the one you commit to, if you want a healthy and functional life after 50."
Excessive Sitting and Sedentary Behavior
"Independent of exercise, sitting all day is an independent risk factor for a shortened life span," Cox explains. "To say that differently, even if we exercise, having a sedentary lifestyle leads to earlier death. Aim to get up for at least 5 minutes an hour or consider an under-desk bicycle to keep blood moving."
Maintaining relationships with family, friends and colleagues is a main factor is staying healthy and happy, Cox says "Deep relationships don't just make your life feel richer, they are also good for your health. The number of close friends or family is not as important as the closeness of the relationship. Feeling very close and connected to people is a lesson from the Blue Zones of the world. The Blue Zones of the world were areas that were studied extensively by National Geographic and found people lived longer with a few common lifestyle findings, one being the close connections."
Carrying Too Much Weight
Extra pounds can cause numerous health problems, Cox explains. "Excess weight can really take its toll after midlife. Arthritis is a commonly recognized condition linked to excess weight but many other conditions increase in frequency and severity with excess weight. Abdominal obesity in particular can significantly increase your risk for heart attack.
Don't Be Fooled by Health Trends
"Falling for the "next big thing" for your health," isn't a good idea, Cox says. Things that are ideal for your health are the typical: a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in junk food, regular exercise, regular sleep, not too much stress, and good healthy relationships. Don't be fooled by the "next big thing" in the headlines, specifically supplements or other additives that promise improved health."
You Don't Get Check-ups or Screenings
Dr. Stephenson says, "I get the whole "I don't want to know" mentality, but it's extremely important to get regular checkups and cancer screenings after 50 because catching problems early makes them much easier to deal with. Most people know this, but still hope that if they don't know, then nothing bad will happen. That's just magical thinking. Regular checkups can show slow changes in your basic labs that could reveal trends in the wrong direction, giving you the opportunity to intervene before you ever get to the point of having a diagnosable health problem. Seeing your cholesterol, blood sugar, thyroid hormone, or inflammation numbers headed the wrong way can be a great motivator for lifestyle change, and pre-cancerous or early stage cancers are much easier to deal with, so make your appointment today and ask your doctor what screenings you need…then follow up and do them!"
Eating Sugar Like You Did in Your Teens
"Young people can get away with eating sugar and bouncing back, but the older you get, the more sugar gets stored as fat and causes more inflammation," Dr. Stephenson explains. "This can age your skin, cause excess weight gain, contribute to join pain, and may even put you at greater risk for chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and cancer. Having a sweet treat every so often is fine, but if you are eating or drinking sugar daily, it's time to put on the brakes and start eating like a grown-up."
Cutting All Carbs to Lose Weight
Don't be tempted to cut carbs, Dr. Stephenson warns. "While it's true that a lower-carbohydrate diet really can help with weight loss and improve risk factors for many of the so-called diseases of aging like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and autoimmunity, there are good carbs and there are bad carbs. Cut all the refined carbs and sugar you like and you will only benefit, but don't skip the fiber. Fiber, especially from vegetables, berries, and legumes, plays an important role in feeding the beneficial microbes in your microbiome, which help run your immune system, digestive system, and to some extent, even improve your mood. Your plate should be at least half vegetables for most meals (or berries for breakfast), which should ensure that you get enough vegetable fiber to keep your microbiome happy. (No grains necessary, although whole grains can be a good source for people who aren't sensitive to them.)" And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.
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