The good news: Turning 50 doesn’t mean what it once did. Just ask Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt or Julia Roberts.
The reality check of turning 50: Act now if you want to maintain your fine form in the future.
- You’re probably not going gray. “Fifty percent gray by age 50” is just a myth, say French researchers who checked the natural hair color of 4,192 men and women ages 45 to 65 across five continents. They found that the timing and extent of grayness depend on genetics and ethnic heritage — and that your chances of going half gray at 50 are less than 24 percent.
- Half of all men are losing their hair. The cause is hormones called androgens, which shrink hair follicles and shorten the amount of time that your hair grows. Drugs such as minoxidil can help — but only while you use them. If you stop, your hair loss resumes.
- And there’s weird hair starting to sprout. Actually, those hairs were always there. Fine hairs called vellus hair grow all over our bodies except for areas such as our palms and the soles of our feet. A lifetime of testosterone exposure (for men) and a reduction of estrogen (for women) can cause this hair to become thicker in places such as the shoulders, back, eyebrows, ears and chin.
- Your teeth are probably doing fine — as long as you brush and floss. Unfortunately, nearly 30 percent of Americans never floss, but doing it daily, along with brushing twice a day and seeing your dentist as recommended, can help prevent and treat gum disease, which affects 57 percent of Americans in their 50s. For 1 in 9 in this age group, it’s severe. Gum disease affects more than just your breath or teeth; it could raise your risk for diabetes and metabolic syndrome (a heart threat), and even frailty later in life.
- You may be wrinkle free. If you’re dark skinned or if you’re light skinned but always wore sunscreen and a hat, you might not have any facial wrinkles at all until age 70. But if you do begin to show the creases of age, think of them as souvenirs of all those picnics, long walks and beach days.
- And you can hold your place in time a bit longer. Head off future signs of aging related to sun exposure by wearing sunscreen and a broad-brimmed hat outside. In a recent, headline-grabbing Massachusetts General Hospital study, women who did this faithfully and had low sun exposure looked more youthful. In addition, skin-care products such as those containing retinoids can help. Munching foods that are packed with vitamin C — citrus fruits, for instance — could lower your wrinkle risk, as well. Plus, be sure to see your doctor if you notice any age spots that seem unusual or concern you.
- You’ll need fewer trips to the nail salon. How we know: A former professor at the University of Texas named William Bennett Bean tracked the growth of his fingernails and toenails for 35 years — periodically publishing updates in the medical journal Archives of Internal Medicine. While every nail had its unique pace, overall growth slowed by 22 percent between Bean’s early 30s and mid-60s.
- Much of what women experience as “aging” can be blamed on menopause — and treated. In women, declining estrogen levels are associated with thinning skin, increased dryness, fine lines and decreasing collagen content. But many of these changes can be improved with estrogen treatment. Ask your doctor if estrogen is right for you, or find a provider who has been certified in menopause management by contacting the North American Menopause Society at www.menopause.org.