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What to Expect in Your 50s

Better sex. Fewer allergies. A more positive outlook

Motivate Your Metabolism

The Good News: While metabolism typically slows up to 5 percent per decade, that doesn't mean you have to gain weight. Just stay active and gradually decrease calories, eating more nutrient-dense foods, including whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products and fish, says Alice Lichtenstein, D.Sc., director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. "We have fewer 'free' calories for sweets and soda."

The Not-So-Good News: Your stomach empties more slowly, which can increase the risk of reflux. And the slowing of digested material through the large intestine can trigger constipation, says John I. Hughes, M.D., a gastroenterologist with the Kelsey-Seybold Clinic in Houston. The easy fix? Fiber and water. Adding fiber to your diet may also help protect against colon polyps. One in four people in their 50s has colon polyps that may develop into cancer, so you should get a colonoscopy.

What's Up With That? After years of guzzling milk shakes with no problem, you may find yourself suffering a dairy hangover — specifically, stomach bloating and discomfort. That's because many people in their 50s produce less lactase, an enzyme that helps digest milk. Even if you're lactose intolerant, you may be able to eat yogurt, which contains active bacterial cultures (known as probiotics) that can help digest lactose.

What's Ahead: In your 60s and 70s you may secrete less hydrochloric acid, which decreases availability of vitamin B12, says Lichtenstein. Ask your physician whether you should eat more vitamin B12-rich foods or need a supplement.

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41 percent of Americans say they’re “optimistic” about getting older. — Photo by Craig Cutler

Bone Up for Good Health

The Good News: If you've been active all your life, your bones, joints and muscles have a better chance of being in pretty good shape during your 50s.

The Not-So-Good News: Aging and inactivity can lead to achy joints because of the wearing down of cartilage, the loss of lubricating joint fluid and weaker muscles. Some remedies: maintaining a normal weight and strength training.

What's Up With That? Your joints may sound like snapping twigs, but those creaking and popping noises are usually not a serious problem. They may be ligaments tightening around a moving joint, a tendon snapping over a joint, or nitrogen bubbles "popping" in the fluid inside a joint. But talk to your doctor if these sounds are accompanied by pain, swelling or numbness.

What's Ahead: An estimated one in five women 65 to 74 has osteoporosis. Strength training can help.

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Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Walt Handelsman adapts a  classic Allan Sherman tune for wry take on kids moving back home.

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