33 Health Mistakes Women Make In their 50s
As we age, our health needs change—and what worked for us in our younger years simply doesn't cut it. That's why so many of us spend our "nifty fifties" sitting in a "nifty" doctor's office. Don't be one of them. Here are 33 health mistakes that women make in their 50s, according to physicians.
Only Having an OB/GYN
During their childbearing years and even into menopause, some women get away with only having an OB/GYN on their medical care team. However, as you age, it is important to expand your roster, explains Matthew Mintz, MD. "Once both men and women get into their 50s, things start to break down a bit," he points out. "Blood pressure can increase, diabetes can develop, and cancer prevention becomes extremely important."
The Rx: Starting at 50, Dr. Mintz suggests that women should start thinking about seeing a primary care physician such as a family practice or internal medicine physician that has special expertise in cancer and illness prevention and chronic disease management. "While Internal Medicine and Family Medicine physicians can also do pap smears and order mammograms, you can still keep your OBGYN for these things if you like," he says.
Brushing Off Every Symptom as "Old Age"
It can be easy writing off every symptom you experience to your age—but it can also be seriously hazardous for your health. "Whether it be incontinence, shortness of breath with exercise, joint pain, swelling, decreased sex drive, fatigue, insomnia, depression, memory problems, etc, the underlying causes of these complaints can be the early signs of serious diseases such as heart failure, cancer, hormone deficiencies, sleep apnea, dementia and others," explains board-certified family physician Monique May, MD.
The Rx: Discuss every symptom you experience with your doctor, even if you believe it is just age-related.
Not Adapting Your Diet
As you get older, don't forget about your metabolism. "In our 50s we think that our body is the same as the 30s and 40s so what do we do? We still eat the same amount of food, not realizing that our metabolism is slower now," points out Michele C. Reed, DO, General Practitioner. "No longer can we eat and drink late at night and then go to bed without expecting to have some symptoms of reflux."
The Rx: Speak with your physician or a nutritional expert about ways to adapt your diet to your age.
Drinking Too Much Caffeine
As we age, our bodies don't metabolize caffeine the same way. "There are even changes with our nervous system that sometimes that when we have caffeine we get palpitations or tachycardia—which is when the heart rate goes above 100 beats per minute," points out Dr. Reed.
The Rx: Pace yourself with caffeinated beverages. If you start to feel your heart racing, it means you are consuming too much.
Thinking Vaccines are Just for Children
You may not be a child anymore, but that doesn't mean you are exempt from getting vaccines. Dr. May points out that many older women believe that vaccines are just for kids, and don't see the importance of staying up to date with them. "There are vaccines for influenza, pneumonia, tetanus and whooping cough, and chicken pox that most adults over the age of 50 should be getting," she points out. "These can decrease the chance of getting these infections." Even scarier than getting a shot are the potential complications of these conditions, especially when it comes to older adults. They can include pneumonia, brain infections, chronic pain, and death.
The Rx: Talk to your physician and make sure you are up to date on all your vaccinations.
According to Carolyn Dean, MD, ND is a sleep and stress management expert, author of The Magnesium Miracle, one of the biggest mistakes that women make in their 50s is over supplementing with calcium and not balancing it with an equal or greater amount of magnesium. According to Dr. Dean, this can result in osteoporosis and arthritis. "Magnesium is essential for the absorption and metabolism of calcium," she points out. "Too much calcium and too little magnesium can cause some forms of arthritis, kidney stones, osteoporosis and calcification of the arteries, leading to heart attack and cardiovascular disease."
The Rx: Before you take any supplements, discuss them with your doctor and do your research! Start with these 15 Supplements Every Woman Needs recommended by medical experts.
Not Getting Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep is more important as you age than when you were younger. "Lack of sleep puts stress on the body and depletes the body of the anti-stress mood mineral, magnesium, as well as other mood enhancing nutrients such as B1," Dr. Dean points out. This may result in mood swings, grumpiness, lack of energy, fatigue, depression, anxiety.
The Rx: Make sleep a priority. Dr. Dean points out that a 26-to-64 year-old should get between seven and nine hours, while those over 65 need from seven to eight.
Not Getting a Colonoscopy
Fifty is the age where cancer screening usually begins. "Most women are aware of and concerned about breast cancer, but colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in women," Dr. Mintz points out. It is also one of the most preventable cancers, if you get your colonoscopy.
The Rx: Don't forget to book a colonoscopy! "The procedure is painless and safe," Dr. Mintz maintains. "The difficult part is the prep that is needed, but preparations have gotten much easier."
Getting a Pap Smear Every Year
An annual pap smear, testing for cervical cancer, is routine in your younger years. However, cervical cancer, caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), the same virus that causes genital warts, is much less likely the older you get. "This is why we now recommend adolescent boys and girls get the HPV vaccine," Dr. Mintz points out.
The Rx: After the age of 25, with a history of normal pap tests which are HPV negative, you can actually decrease the frequency of pap tests to every five years, says Dr. Mintz. Of course, discuss this with your OB/GYN before deciding.
Not Stretching Enough
Don't skip it! While a pre-workout stretch is crucial for anyone, older adults are seriously prone to injury. "Stretching is an essential part of beginning a running or training program for a woman over age 50," states Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS of Montgomery County Chiropractic Center in North Wales, PA. "If the muscles do not maintain full range of motion through stretching as you train, you will develop stress points which can lead to injuries like tendonitis," he explains, adding that back spasms can also be experienced.
The Rx: "Make sure to pace yourself and stretch before and after a workout," urges Dr. Conrad.
Exercising Too Vigorously
While high intensity workouts may have been fine in your forties, as you age you should consider slowing down a little. "A common mistake women make while training is training too often, too quickly," says Dr. Conrad. This is often because they are looking to drop weight and want instant results, so they go too fast and workout too many days in a row. "This often results in a beginner becoming too sore or injured, which in turn makes them frustrated," he points out.
The Rx: Try and remember that slow and steady wins the race! "The best goals for a new program involves making a weekly schedule, staying flexible, and focusing on the long term goals of better cardiovascular fitness," suggests Dr. Conrad.
Not Strength Training
Many people focus on cardio workouts for weight loss. However, Allison L. Fillar, MD is a fellowship-trained and board-certified orthopedic surgeon specializing in Sports Medicine at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore, MD, points out that strength training becomes crucial for women as they age in order to maximize bone health. "Strength training protects against osteoporosis and helps reduce the risk for injury," she points out.
The Rx: Make strength training a priority. "Workouts can be done at the gym or even at home with items around the house such as cans of soup or bottles of water!" Dr. Fillar points out.
Picking Up a New Sport
When you are in your 20s and 30s, your athletic abilities are much more extensive than after 50. Therefore, your body isn't going to respond to new movements and physical activity the same way, explains Leigh Hanke, MD, a Yale Medicine physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist. "If you go zero to 100 and start running and never ran or started playing tennis and never played, that can lead to injuries," she explains. "Most people need some preparation before starting something new or getting back into a sport or to the gym. If you're joining a spin class or ballet barre class at the gym for the first time, for example, and try to keep up, you may be pushing yourself too hard."
The Rx: Ease into any new physical activity. "Try to go back slowly, and after a week or so, you can start to build up the endurance—and you won't be as sore either!" suggests Dr. Hanke. She points out that core work is also essential—and often overlooked—but it's crucial to injury prevention. Sit-ups, though, can put a lot of strain on your lower back if done incorrectly, which can happen when you're weak. "A better bet may be planks or pelvic bridges to engage the entire core with less stress on the low back structures," says Dr. Hanke.
Avoiding Core Work
As you age, you might not be as concerned about having flat abs to show off in a bikini, but core work is very important for your overall health and often overlooked. "It's crucial for injury prevention," points out Dr. Hanke. However, sit-ups can put a lot of strain on your lower back if done incorrectly, which can happen when you're weak.
The Rx: Instead of avoiding core work or trying to do sit-ups, work on exercises such as planks or pelvic bridges, "to engage the entire core with less stress on the low back structures," says Dr. Hanke.
Not Applying Enough Sunscreen
One of the biggest mistakes both men and women make in their 50s is underapplying sunscreen, according to Boca Raton, Florida Dermatologist Jeffrey Fromowitz, MD. "One ounce of sunscreen is what we need to cover our body but most people apply only one-third to one-half of the amount," he points out. Additionally, they often forget to apply sunscreen to key areas, such as their lips, the back of their knees, neck, and scalp.
The Rx: Make sure to cover your body in SPF—and don't ever apply the "less is more" concept to sunscreen.
Only Applying Sunscreen When it's Sunny
Applying sunscreen can be a pain, so many older women don't consider it a priority on overcast days. However, according to Dr. Fromowitz, this is a big mistake. "People forget that sunscreen is a habit like brushing your teeth," he points out.
The Rx: Keep that sunscreen in the bathroom next to your toothbrush. "You should apply it daily, all over, whether you are spending your day inside or outside and even in the car," Dr. Fromowitz instructs.
Trying to Lose Weight Too Quickly
This is a big mistake people make. "Try losing a pound or two a week to keep it off for the long term," suggests Dr. Hanke. This is a reasonable goal. "It's a mistake to cut too much all at once, which is often more than you can realistically sustain," she says.
The Rx: "If you lose weight gradually — 1-2 lbs. a week, your body and metabolism can reset in a healthy way. If you lose weight quickly or cut out meals entirely, your metabolism slows down because it thinks it's starving and holds on to every bit of energy (macronutrients like protein, carbohydrates, and fat) it can." Cut calories in moderation—don't just cut breakfast out altogether. Try to adjust your diet in a healthy way so you can sustain the weight loss in the long term.
Not Paying Enough Attention to Your Heart
Most post-menopausal women are hyper focused on issues such as breast or ovarian cancer. However, the number one killer of women is actually heart disease. Even scarier? As you age your chances of getting it increase.
The Rx: Make sure to maintain your heart health! Exercise and diet are two keys ways you can do this. Also, make sure and stay on top of your doctor's visits and speak to them about any concerns you may have.
There are so many things that can improve your mental health after 50, and having a healthy sex life is definitely one of them. Sure, your sex drive might decrease after menopause, but that's no excuse to shut the door on intercourse. One study found that not only were sexually active older adults enjoying life more, but they were less likely to experience mental and physical health problems.
The Rx: If your sex drive is waning, speak to your physician about options. There are so many medications on the market that can help.
Overlooking Your Mental Health
One of the most common times for women to experience depression is during the perimenopausal years, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. This partially has to do with all the hormonal changes occurring in the body. Symptoms of perimenopausal depression can include struggling with irritability, anxiety, sadness, or loss of enjoyment at the time of the menopause transition.
The Rx: Stay proactive about your mental health! If you start feeling unusually down, talk to your friends and family about it and consider seeking professional help. Depression isn't "normal" and it shouldn't be something you force yourself to live with.
Not Keeping Up with Mammograms
Breast cancer is detected with mammography and breast exams by health care providers. The earlier breast cancer is detected, the better the prognosis—so if you fail to get your regular mammogram, you could be putting your life at risk.
The Rx: "Keep up to date on mammograms—every 1-2 years based on your risk—which your provider will calculate for you," explains Anita Skariah, DO, internist UNC Healthcare.
Neglecting Skin Care
One of the first places we notice aging is in our skin. "Smoking and exposure to sun prematurely age our skin leading to wrinkles and fine lines. Lack of moisture also accentuates lines and wrinkles," points out Dr. Skariah.
The Rx: Take care of your skin. Dr. Skariah advises:
- "Stop smoking
- apply sunscreen daily with at least an SPF of 30
- use gentle cleansers for your face
- avoid prolonged hot showers which can strip moisture and oils from the skin
- apply moisturizers to your face while still damp from washing to lock in moisture
- ensure that you have at least eight hours of sleep per night
- maintain hydration with water
- see a dermatologist once per year for a skin check to keep an eye out for precancerous and cancerous moles."
Neglecting Bone Health
Dr. Skariah points out that as women become post-menopausal, they lose bone density. "Calcium is needed for every muscle contraction in our body from blinking, to making your heart pump, to breathing," she explains. "We store calcium in our bones as we create a bone bank in childhood. Estrogen is the guardian of this bone bank, and as estrogen levels decline, the body steals calcium from the skeleton leading to weaker, more brittle bones."
The Rx: Stay active! "Exercise, specifically weight-bearing exercises, improves bone density," she points out. You may also want to discuss with your provider whether calcium and/or vitamin D supplements would be beneficial for you.
Not Protecting Yourself with Sexual Partners
Just because you aren't in your 20s anymore doesn't mean that sex is any safer—other than your unlikelihood of getting pregnant. "Women in their 50s are not as worried about pregnancy, so may not be as concerned with protection during intercourse," Dr. Skariah points out. "They may not consider the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which are often silent but lead to various complications." These can include chronic pelvic pain, cervical cancer, and chronic infection with hepatitis and HIV.
The Rx: Practice safe sex! "Use condoms for intercourse and see your health provider annually to obtain screenings," she suggests.
Ignoring Pain with Intercourse
As women become post-menopausal, they may experience more discomfort with sex, according to Dr. Skariah. "Lubrication decreases, drive decreases, and the whole experience can become unpleasant," she says. "Women may be too embarrassed to discuss this with their provider, but it is important." She adds that endometriosis can also be present with pelvic pain.
The Rx: Sex shouldn't be painful. "Talk to your health provider and be honest with what you are experiencing," Dr. Skariah suggests. "There are solutions that may help to ease discomfort and improve the experience, and not all solutions require a medication."
Not Making Time for Exercise
As previously mentioned, we lose muscle mass as we age, and the ratio of fat to muscle increases. This leads to decreased resting metabolic rates. "Inactive women will consume more calories than they burn, which leads to weight gain," points out Dr. Skariah.
The Rx: Make exercise a priority. "Set aside one hour for your choice of exercise on two of your days off—whether it be walking, swimming, or participating in a fun exercise class," Dr. Skariah suggests. "You'll then only need to find 30 min in your busy weekdays to achieve the goal of 150 min exercise per week." It can also help to have a workout buddy—be it a friend or partner—to keep you accountable.
Drinking Your Calories
You are what you eat…and what you drink! "We are the generations that grew up on sweetened beverages," Dr. Skariah exclaims. "As we age, we do not process sugar as well as we did when we were younger. Mindless sipping of beverages with a high number of calories leads to weight gain."
The Rx: Dr. Skariah suggests restricting total added sugar intake to 24 g or six teaspoons per day. "Read nutritional labels carefully as they now indicate, by law, the added grams of sugar in a serving," she says. Also, drink water to wash down your meals — not sweetened beverages!
Not Drinking Enough Water Per Day
Are you drinking enough water? The answer is likely no. "Adult women at rest require at least 64 ounces of water per day or eight 8 oz glasses," Dr. Skariah points out. This is the minimum amount required if you weren't sweating or losing water through activity. "Many of us confuse our thirst and hunger cues and end up eating when we were actually thirsty for water," she adds. This leads to overeating because we have not satisfied our thirst drive, which leads to weight gain.
The Rx: Drink up! "Shoot for 64 ounces of water daily," she suggests. An easy way to do this is by filling up a measured water bottle to keep track of quantities, or by using apps or devices to record your intake. "If you don't like the taste of water, infuse it with healthy foods like cucumbers, citrus fruits, or mint to give it a hint of flavor."
Not Knowing If You Are Vitamin Deficient
Taking too many vitamins can be bad for your health, but so can being vitamin deficient. Having a lack of necessary vitamins and minerals in your system can lead to a variety of health complications—too many to mention!
The Rx: The best way to know what your body is lacking is by getting blood work done. That way, you can find out exactly what you need, and consult with your medical expert about ways to correct it.
Not Having Your Cholesterol Checked
After years of unchecked dietary indiscretions, you may find that your cholesterol levels are rising. "It's a silent disrupter, depositing plaques in your vessels," explains Dr. Skariah. "Many folks will only understand this is going on after they have suffered a heart attack or stroke."
The Rx: In addition to exercising and eating a balanced diet, she urges the importance of seeing your health provider to have a fasting cholesterol panel checked. "It's better to understand how your body is processing your fuel so you can modify accordingly and prevent heart attacks or strokes later," Dr. Skariah points out.
Not Screening for Diabetes
As previously mentioned, women in their 50s are part of a generation who have grown up consuming sugar from the moment they awaken in the morning until their last meal. "This takes a toll on how our pancreas produces insulin to keep up with the demand," points out Dr. Skariah. "This, coupled with a genetic predisposition for diabetes, obesity, and inactivity, leads to rising blood sugars and silent damage to many organs." Symptoms of diabetes include excessive thirst, excessive urination, fatigue, dizziness, and sometimes weight loss.
The Rx: In addition to exercise and limiting the amount of added sugar per day to 24 g total or six teaspoons, you should see your health provider to be screened for diabetes, urges Dr. Skariah.
Drinking Too Much Alcohol
While there are some health benefits to drinking a moderate amount of alcohol, excessive use is linked to liver failure, premature aging, cancer, forms of dementia, and early death, points out Dr. Skariah. "Moderate use for women is defined as one drink a day or 7 per week," she says. This equates to about 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.
The Rx: Take stock of how much alcohol you consume and cut back. "Alcohol can interfere with sleep, so if you are not sleeping well, cut out your evening drink," she suggests.
Not Monitoring for Hearing Loss
Nobody wants to admit they are having a hard time hearing. Unfortunately, hearing loss becomes increasingly more prevalent as you age, points out Eric Branda, AuD, Ph.D. with Signia.
The Rx: Have your ears checked! "Getting an audiogram is an easy addition to one's annual health checks, and early identification of hearing loss means the opportunity to address it without delay," explains Dr. Branda. "This can help prevent depression and social challenges associated with hearing loss—and studies have shown a decrease in cognitive decline with hearing amplification."
And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don't miss these 100 Ways Your Home Could Be Making You Sick.