Turning 50 and ready to have fun? Why not mark the milestone by giving your health a midlife makeover. Karen Fittall shows how to get started.
They say 40 is the new 30, and 50 is the new 40 — so that means when you celebrate the big five-0, you are entering your prime! Still, it’s no big secret that age can bring with it an increased risk of health problems. But don’t see that as a reason to worry — see it rather as a call to action.
In fact, while growing older happens to us all, research proves that your ‘on-paper age’ isn’t the best predictor of longevity — your overall health and wellbeing is. And that’s good news for all of us, because there are simple, effective things that you can do to improve or protect your health once you reach midlife. When should you start? Now!
5 foods to eat everyday
They contain nutrients that inhibit bone resorption — the breakdown of bone minerals that contributes to osteoporosis.
When scientists in the US tested the prune theory on a group of postmenopausal women, they found those who ate 10 prunes a day had significantly higher bone mineral density after 12 months.
Prunes are also known to work as a prebiotic, encouraging the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, which may help to protect you against bowel cancer.
A 20g serve triggers an immediate improvement in cholesterol levels that lasts for at least nine hours. They’re also a rich source of selenium, a mineral that may provide some protection against bowel and prostate cancer. Just two Brazil nuts delivers your daily recommended selenium intake.
Cooked red tomatoes
Compared to raw tomatoes, cooked ones have up to 164 per cent more lycopene, which protects against heart disease, certain cancers and even depression in later life.
A UK study also found those who consume a daily dose of lycopene have significantly higher levels of a molecule called procollagen that helps prevent ageing in their skin.
Leafy green veges
Kale, broccoli and spinach are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, nutrients that protect against age-related eye diseases.
Broccoli also has sulforaphane, a cancer-fighting compound that can slow down the destruction of joint cartilage that contributes to the growth of osteoarthritis.
They have resistant starch, which your gut bacteria ferment into short-chain fatty acids, including butyrate, which protects against bowel cancer.
Plus, if you swap the potatoes or rice in a meal for lentils, your post-meal blood glucose levels will fall by 20 per cent. Over time, that can help lower your type 2 diabetes risk.
5 healthy habits to adopt
1 Do a few different types of exercise
A 20-year Australian study published in 2016 proved that, as well as improving your odds of ‘healthy ageing’ by seven times, taking up regular exercise at midlife is one of the best ways you can protect against dementia.
Throw a few different types of exercise into the mix and you’ll protect the length of your telomeres, too. Shorter telomeres, which are the protective caps that sit on the end of your chromosomes, are associated with increased risk of a number of diseases, including cancer and diabetes.
Make sure at least one of your exercises is weight bearing, and that another involves being outdoors, to top up your osteoporosis-fighting vitamin D.
2 Eat a Mediterranean diet
This means plenty of fish, fresh fruit and vegies, whole grains, legumes, nuts and olive oil. Eat these consistently, and over 10 years your heart disease risk will halve, because the diet helps lower your blood pressure and cholesterol. If you’re female, breast cancer risk may also fall by 68 per cent, and you’ll be 20 per cent less likely to experience hot flushes. And, according to a 2017 Deakin University study, you’ll have less chronic disease, frailty and cognitive decline in later years.
Too late for a change in diet to have much effect? Not true! A 2014 study found those people with the healthiest diets at middle age were 90 per cent less likely to develop dementia over the next 14 years.
3 Stay busy
Research now shows that the busier your lifestyle after 50, the stronger your brain’s processing speed and working memory will be as you grow older. The US researchers behind the study say being busy may provide more of the learning opportunities that help to maintain brain strength.
4 Set goals
Having something to strive for gives you a sense of purpose — and that can add years to your life expectancy, regardless of how late in life you find that purpose. One explanation is that having a sense of purpose subconsciously nudges people towards healthier lifestyles.
5 Socialise often
A German study confirms the link between having an active social life and a lower risk of cognitive decline, as well as better ‘later-life satisfaction’ despite age-related health challenges.
5 health checks to book
As well as sticking with regular skin and dental examinations, and taking the Cervical Screening Test (which replaced Pap tests), add this small group of checkups to the list once you’ve turned 50.
This stands for immunochemical faecal occult blood test, and it’s used to screen for bowel cancer, the risk of which climbs after you’ve celebrated your 50th birthday. The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program mails free iFOBT kits to Australians between the ages of 50 and 74 at regular intervals. Participation is optional, but not only are 90 per cent of bowel cancers treatable when caught early, doing an iFOBT every two years reduces your risk ofdying from bowel cancer by up to a third
This checks whether you need to take any action to improve your bone health, or to treat osteoporosis. You may not need to have a scan until you’re older, but Osteoporosis Australia advises talking to your GP about having one at age 50 if other risk factors for osteoporosis are present — like a family history of the condition, or having another medical condition.
Macular degeneration, a group of diseases that’s responsible for 50 per cent of blindness in Australia, most frequently affects people over the age of 50. The Macular Disease Foundation recommends you see an optometrist for an eye test at least once every two years after 50, and use an Amsler grid at home once a week to keep an eye on your vision.
The Heart Foundation suggests having one if you’re over 45,so if you have turned 50 and haven’t had a check yet, now’s the time. It’s as simple as visiting your GP, who’ll take your blood pressure, order some blood tests to check your cholesterol levels, and ask about your lifestyle and your family medical history.
This is a tool which assesses your type 2 diabetes risk, which rises once you hit 45if you’re overweight or have high blood pressure, or after the age of 55 if this is not so. Answer 11 short questions online to find out your risk of developing type 2 diabetes within the next five years.
If you’re a woman: Start having your mammograms once every two years. More than 75 per cent of breast cancers occur in women aged over 50, and not only are two-yearly mammograms free for women aged between 50 and 74, they’re the Bestway to find breast cancer early.
For more information, or if you want to book a mammogram appointment: Call 13 20 50. You can also visit cancerscreening.gov.au.
If you’re a man: Talk to your doctor about prostate cancer testing. There isn’t a national screening program due to the pros and cons of the tests currently available, but because 90 per cent of new prostate cancer cases occur in men aged 55 years and over, your GP may recommend an annual digital prostate exam once you’re over the age of 50.