The big 5-0. While you might not be thrilled about some of the changes that come along with getting older, there’s plenty to celebrate, too—and positive beliefs about aging can actually add years to your life. For one thing, “You’ll go into your 50s with more brain function than you had when you were 25,” says WebMD. Being happier is another perk you may enjoy, as well. “Nearly 95 percent of people who are 50 or older say they are ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with their lives,” the site reports.
However, both increased brain function and life satisfaction require some effort on your part. Read on to find out which habits you should make part of your regular routine—and which one you should stop right now.
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Eating healthy is always a good idea, no matter your age. But if you’ve reached the age of 50 and haven’t been eating the right foods, there’s no better time to start than now.
“Our bodies’ organs simply weren’t designed to meet the demands put on them by the consumption of highly-processed, high-sugar and high-fat foods,” says S. Adam Ramin, MD, urologic surgeon and medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles. “When they’re forced to filter these substances long-term, the consequences can be severe and life -threatening.”
What you eat affects every aspect of your wellness—including your brain health. “One way to help preserve your brain power (and memory) is to follow a Mediterranean diet that’s rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains, and healthy fats like olive and canola oils,” WebMD advises.
Ramin has a simple way to eat healthier foods: Read the ingredient labels on the food you buy. “Simply paying attention to what you’re putting into your body can be a great start,” Ramin says. “A good rule of thumb: if the package label contains ingredients you can’t pronounce, don’t buy it.”
Obesity is a major risk factor for serious health conditions at any age. “Most commonly, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease, and certain cancers are encountered in patients affected by obesity,” reports the Obesity Action Coalition. “As we age, physical disability is also a major problem due to the effect of weight on joints.”
What you might not know is that your idea of what constitutes “obese” may not be accurate. “You may be surprised to learn that studies have shown that simply being overweight, not necessarily clinically obese, also increases risk,” Ramin advises.
However, “unlike genetic or hereditary factors that we can’t control, obesity is preventable,” he says. “Commit your 50s to maintaining a healthy weight, for your overall and urological health.” Two great approaches to managing your weight? Eating well and getting exercise.
Physical activity benefits people of all ages—but as you get older, it becomes even more important. “Exercise helps stop, delay, and sometimes improve serious illnesses like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, and osteoporosis,” according to WebMD. “It can help your brain stay sharp and keep you from falling into a funk.”
If the prospect of getting into an exercise routine seems daunting, rest assured that there are lots of great options. “Some activities provide more than one type of exercise, so you’ll get more bang from your workout buck,” says WebMD, also suggesting that you pick activities you enjoy. “Lower-impact exercise, with less jumping and pounding, is kinder to your joints,” the site explains. “Your doctor or physical therapist can suggest ways to adapt sports and exercises, or better alternatives, based on the limitations of any medical conditions you have.”
And don’t forget the health benefits of a brisk walk! Incorporating walking into your routine can add years to your life and reduce your risk of different diseases.
Once you turn 50, you need to get screened for a whole host of different conditions. While Ramin acknowledges that many people tend to put off seeing a doctor, he encourages you to “schedule your physical; it’s always worth it.”
The American Cancer Society says that screening for various types of cancer is recommended after age 50: “If you are 50 to 64, these screening tests for certain cancers are recommended,” the site says, listing colon cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer, and prostate cancer. (Based on your family history and your healthcare provider’s recommendations, you may want to be screened for other cancers as well.)
It’s also important to watch your blood pressure as you age. “High blood pressure isn’t only bad for your heart, it has serious and lasting effects on your kidneys too,” Ramin warns. “In fact, uncontrolled high blood pressure is among the leading causes of kidney failure in the United States.” He says managing your blood pressure is easy to do, simply by making healthy lifestyle choices.
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If you smoke, Ramin has two words for you: quit now. “With all of the information that’s out there about what a significant health risk it is, too many people still smoke,” says Ramin, who cautions that smoking is dangerous in myriad ways that include—but are not limited to—your lung health. “Your kidneys and bladder, your body’s filtration system, must process the toxins from cigarette smoke too,” Ramin warns. “They weren’t made for such a burden. It kills them. Literally.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the following health hazards that can be caused by smoking: “cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis” as well as spiking the risk of “tuberculosis, certain eye diseases, and problems of the immune system, including rheumatoid arthritis.”
“Smoking is one lifestyle habit that really isn’t worth it,” says Ramin.