As you enter your 50s, it may cause you to pause and reflect on your lifestyle and personal health. As you’re asking yourself where the time has gone, you may start to rethink some unhealthy habits you’ve adopted along the way. Maybe you have also noticed it’s taking a bit more effort to keep your weight down, exercise regularly and stay on top of your health — both mental and physical.
While age may “just be a number,” there are certain considerations men over the age of 50 should take regarding their health and wellness. That’s why we asked Michael Tolle, M.D., a family medicine physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Dallas, and at Texas Health Family Care, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice, to break down the top healthy lifestyle shifts you should make once you hit the Big Five-Oh.
Acknowledge Your Emotions
Turning 50 can be a big deal for many, and it can often conjure up mixed emotions, especially if you’re noticing a decline in your health or things that came easy to you before seem to be a bit more challenging. Tolle, who recently turned 50, knows these emotions well.
“The first thing I always say to my male patients who are 50+ and experiencing some trepidation heading into their 50s and beyond is that it’s not uncommon to feel this way and you should acknowledge these are your feelings. I’m in that category myself here recently and understand all those feelings,” he explains. “I have so many patients that come into the office, often under 50, who claim they’re seeing a decline and they’re distraught; they think it’s all downhill from there. But it’s also important for men to understand that they can still achieve their goals and it’s never too late to start healthier habits. It doesn’t have to be a downhill slide.”
Life can often sideline your workout schedule. As you start a family and your responsibilities grow, your free time tends to get smaller and smaller, and oftentimes you just want to relax during the time you do have versus working out.
Physical activity is one of the best ways for men over 50 to improve their overall health, and contrary to popular belief, Tolle says you can have a high level of fitness after 50.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s much harder than when you were younger, but it is possible,” he adds.
Tolle recommends rounding out your workout routine, never focusing on just one type of exercise over another. While cardio exercises, such as running or cycling are great to get the heart pumping and improve your cardiovascular health, strength training helps build up or maintain muscle mass, something that commonly begins to decline at the age of 40 for men.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week, which can sound like a big time commitment, but Tolle says shooting for 30 minutes a day, with one or two days off, is a good place to start.
“Make a schedule for working out and stick to it. Do it first thing in the morning to get it out of the way, or get a calendar that you have to physically mark out the day with an X in order to get yourself to stick with it — whatever you need to do,” he explains. “30 minutes is the minimum time you should be shooting for to get something meaningful out of the workout but if you can shoot for an hour, that’s great.”
If joint pain is keeping you from getting active again, Tolle recommends glucosamine, especially for achy knees, but a good physical and possibly a referral to an orthopedic specialist can help reduce joint pain and get you back out there again.
Need some guidance on getting back on track? Follow our Fit After 40 series for example workouts and tips.
As you get older, it becomes increasingly obvious that you can’t eat the way you did when you were younger and not feel (and see) the effects of it. And if you’ve got kids or teens in the house, junk food may be a mainstay in your pantry or fridge, tempting you even more.
“Having a really good focus on diet is also incredibly important because you can get away with a lot less the older you get,” Tolle says. “You just can’t cheat as much on your diet as you used to be able to, unfortunately.”
A healthy diet provides many more benefits beyond helping you keep your weight in check. A healthy diet can help men over age 50 reduce their risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and some types of cancer.
Aim for filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables and opt for whole grains, non-starchy carbs and lean protein sources such as poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts.
For heart health and weight management, it’s important to eat foods that are low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt and added sugars. Introducing healthy fats into your diet can help raise your HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Tolle recommends eating a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids, like those found in cold-water fish such as salmon. You can also take an omega 3 supplement if needed.
“We’re all big fans of omega 3s in the medical world,” he says with a laugh.
Smoking and Drinking
It’s never too late to quit smoking, and it’s never too late to quit drinking or cutting back on your drinking, Tolle adds. Did you know as soon as you quit smoking, your body gets to work right away to start healing? Even within the first 20 minutes, your heart rate and blood pressure begin to lower, and after two weeks your circulation and lung function begin to improve.
“Cigarette smoking is at the top of the risk factor table for everything ‘bad’ that you don’t want to have. Cardiovascular disease, risk of a heart attack, risk of a stroke, various cancer types, COPD, along with a lengthy list of other serious issues,” Tolle says. “This is a critical intervention for anyone, not just men over 50.”
It’s also never too late to stop drinking or cut back on drinking. Alcohol consumption is associated with a variety of short- and long-term health risks, including motor vehicle crashes, violence, high blood pressure, and various cancers.
To reduce the risk of alcohol-related harms, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults who choose to drink should do so in moderation by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less for men or 1 drink or less for women on days when alcohol is consumed.
“It’s important to develop a safe, sustainable and reasonable approach to drinking. While the suggestion is mild to moderate drinking, I would err more on the mild side of things,” Tolle says. “Most people who drink don’t drink every day. That’s why it’s important to focus on the amount you drink on the days that you are drinking. Just because you didn’t drink all week doesn’t mean you’re in the clear to drink more on the weekend.”
There are strategies to help patients cut back or quit, whether it comes to smoking or drinking, and your physician can help guide you.
By the time you turn 50, you may qualify for some additional screening tests that look for diseases in their early stages, before symptoms develop. You may receive these screenings before 50 based on recommendations or family health history.
Two of these screenings include checking for prostate and colon cancer.
- Prostate cancer – A prostate exam is two-fold. One part of the exam includes a simple blood test called the PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test. This test can detect elevated levels of PSA that could signal early prostate cancer. The second part of the test includes a digital rectal exam to check for any physical abnormalities in the prostate.
- Colorectal cancer – “The American Cancer Society recommends that all men should be screened for colon cancer starting at age 45, but if you’ve made it to 50 without getting screened, we’re definitely getting that started up,” Tolle says. “A lot of people fear a colonoscopy, but to be fair, Cologuard is a practical option for a lot of people at average risk of developing colorectal cancer. If your results come back negative, you can go three years without another screening. If you do have a colonoscopy and the results come back good, you don’t have to repeat it again for another 10 years.”
Several types of screening are available to find polyps in the colon that could develop into colon cancer, so you should discuss the different types of colon cancer screening options with your doctor.
Another test Tolle recommends to his patients is a coronary calcium score. This is a non-contrast CT scan that assesses the amount of calcium in the coronary arteries. Ideally, it’s used as part of a comprehensive approach in detecting heart disease, and not as a standalone procedure. While Tolle notes this test is not something that is on a formal recommendations list, it is something that is becoming more commonly performed because of the valuable information it can provide about your heart health.
While getting older can come with its fair share of challenges, Tolle says he wants to defeat the negative narrative surrounding aging and what you’re capable of as you begin to get older.
“I really want to emphasize that you can still be fit in your 50s and beyond. I want to emphasize that it’s never too late to start up healthier habits and quit those habits that aren’t serving you well,” he says. “Be open and honest with yourself and your doctor, and together we can create a personal wellness plan that not only helps you achieve any goals you have but sets you on the right path to lower your risk factors or catch anything early.”