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Health: What to Expect in Your 50s

Plus, ways to pamper your heart now

THE LOWDOWN: You think young and feel good. But physically, many 50-somethings aren't doing as well as they believe. It's time to start watching your weight and blood pressure, and to begin listening to your doctor about testing.

In Your 50s You...

… feel like you're 40 … The landmark study "Midlife in the United States" revealed that people in their 50s say they feel 10 years younger than their physical age.

… but have the heart of someone over 60 … The average 54-year-old American has a heart that functions as if it were 63, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

… and are probably in worse health than your parents were at your age. Fifty-somethings have higher rates of high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol than their parents' generation did.

You likely take at least one prescription drug … when you remember to do this … By age 59, 68 percent of boomers need at least one prescription medication. But up to 67 percent of young boomers don't take drugs as directed for diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol, depression or asthma.

… should rethink a little-purple-pill habit … At least 1 in 3 people in their 50s have heartburn. One in 6 take heartburn drugs regularly, according to the CDC. But heartburn meds called proton pump inhibitors (including the popular "healing purple pill," as it is advertised) may increase your risk for a future bone fracture or even for dementia, studies show.

… and might have a pain problem, a drug problem or both. The rate of death by accidental drug overdose for people in their 50s increased 383 percent between 1999 and 2014, the CDC notes. It's not just that they are getting high; 1 in 3 have chronic pain — and 50-somethings have the nation's highest rates of neck and back pain. The painkilling opiates that docs dole out can lead to deadly addiction and overdose.

You can relax about carrying a few extra pounds … During middle age, it's OK to gain a few.

… but should worry when your weight amps up too much. About 40 percent of people in their 50s — the highest rate in the U.S. — are clinically obese, meaning they are dangerously overweight and need to adjust.

You could be letting your heart hurt your brain. Rising blood pressure in your 50s ages your brain prematurely, increasing the risk for dementia later in life, new research from Johns Hopkins University warns.

You have no problem interacting with doctors (smart) … Seven out of 10 people in their 50s say they feel comfortable challenging an M.D.'s orders.

… but are less willing to comply with the testing that doctors want (not so smart). Just 69 percent of 50-something women had had a Pap smear (the key test for cervical cancer) in the past three years, compared with 78 percent in 2003; just 71 percent had had a mammogram in the past two years, compared with 76 percent in 2003.

Plus: You...

… can expect fewer colds and more seasonal allergies … People in their 50s average just two colds annually, thanks to resistance to cold viruses they've developed.

… should get your feet remeasured … The tendons that connect foot bones and create the arch in your instep loosen up with age. Your feet get flatter, wider, longer — and can grow up to a full size between your early 40s and late 50s.

… will drink a lot of coffee … Fifty-somethings are America's coffee achievers, downing two cups of joe and a half-cup of tea per day per person, on average — the biggest gulps in the nation. That's OK; antioxidants and other compounds found in coffee and tea can decrease your risk for diabetes, Parkinson's disease and even dementia, studies suggest.

… should get real about snacking … Boomers spend twice as much on snacks as millennials do, and four times as much as older adults — including a whopping $9.9 billion on candy and other sweets.

… and could get a replacement knee (or two). The need for a new knee joint increases in your 50s. The number of procedures is triple that of younger Americans — due to becoming overweight and some boomers' unwillingness to give up their favorite fitness pursuits, despite the strain on joints.

Try This Now

Pamper Your Heart

Excessive snacking and TV watching can lead to heart attacks, strokes and artery-clearing surgery. Some tips:

Aim for a teeny 4 percent weight loss. Losing just seven pounds, if you weigh 175, can cut your risk for developing diabetes (a heart threat) by 58 percent.

Eat Greek yogurt for breakfast, spinach for lunch. With banana and walnuts, yogurt increases your intake of blood pressure–regulating calcium, potassium and magnesium. Salad gives you artery-pampering fiber, and greens reduce your diabetes risk.

Get 15 minutes of exercise twice a day. Or aim for 10 minutes three times a day.

NEXT: What to expect from your health in your 60s.

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