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Your Body's General Health at 50+

What to expect, look forward to and do now for a longer, happier life

Illustration showing what to expect regarding general helath at your 50s

Peter Arkle

Taking positive actions in your 50s can help to ensure good health as you age.

The good news about being in your 50s: You’re the boss. You’re at the age of accomplishment, just when the kids have moved out, and if you still feel 40, it’s because you pretty much are.

Reality check about being in your 50s: Exercise, nutrition and regular checkups are critical. The choices you make now will determine how you age in the decades to come.

  • You’ve got a lot of life to live. As you turn 50, you typically have another 36 years of life if you’re a woman, and 32 more years if you’re a man, according to the most recent life-expectancy data from the U.S. government. Make it into your next decade and the news gets even better. Women who are 65 are now projected to live to nearly 87 years of age; men who reach 65 should live until 84. That’s why taking care of yourself today is so critical. 
  • You may finally get relief from allergies. The bane of springtime, allergies are the symptoms of an overactive immune system. Many people in their 50s discover that lifelong allergies begin to fade as their immune systems subside. The trade-off: New allergies are possible, and you may be more susceptible to colds and flu. Also, before your next vaccination, watch a Bill Murray movie: A recent study showed that being in a good mood when you receive a shot improves your overall immune response, making the vaccine more effective. 
  • You’re more fit than you may think. Even if you’re not as lean as you once were, you may be just as fit. A Canadian study found that among middle-aged people with mild to moderate obesity, 41 percent could still be considered fit, based on their blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood glucose levels. The determining factor isn’t weight but something else we can control: exercise, a minimum of 150 minutes a week.

Learn what to expect for your health and wellness in your 50s, 60s and 70s in this series from AARP The Magazine. 

  • You can make your heart 25 percent stronger, even if you haven’t exercised in years. Everyone, including master-level athletes, loses aerobic capacity by midlife; your ticker pumps less forcefully, and cells throughout your body absorb a bit less oxygen with each heartbeat. “Imagine a brand-new box of rubber bands,” says University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center researcher Benjamin Levine. “Stretch them and they snap back. Stick them in a drawer for 10 years and what happens? They’re stiff; they’ve lost elasticity.” That’s what happens to the heart’s left ventricle, which pumps oxygenated blood back into the body. Levine’s studies showed that those in their 50s can increase the heart muscle’s elasticity by 25 percent with four 30-minute workouts and one hour-long one per week. 
  • Your colon cancer risk is the lowest in history … if you get screened. Only 58 percent of people in their 50s pursued recommended colon cancer screenings in 2015. Getting screened is a top reason that rates of colon cancer are dropping in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society. If you can’t deal with a colonoscopy, your doctor can prescribe a simple send-in-a-stool-sample test, an effective alternative. 
  • It’s time to be the boss of your blood sugar. Your pancreas’s insulin production drops about 5 percent per decade. At the same time, your body may become more insulin resistant. The result: Your fasting blood sugar level may rise six to 14 points in your 50s. More than half of us will have diabetes or prediabetes by the end of this decade. A key prevention strategy: Eat brightly colored produce. Spinning the color wheel for what’s on your plate could lower your odds for type 2 diabetes by 27 percent, a French study found. 

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Your Brain at 50+