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6 Body Parts You Shouldn’t Ignore After 50

Pay special attention to these susceptible areas as you age

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If you want to keep your body strong and healthy in the second half of life, you might need some new routines. Here’s what you’re up against and why you should treat your most vulnerable body parts with TLC.

1. Your eyes

Even if you have perfect vision, an eye exam every one to three years should be part of your routine starting at age 55, says Alice C. Lorch, M.D., assistant professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School and an ophthalmologist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear.

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Eye doctors monitor your eyes to diagnose and manage common age-related conditions such as macular degeneration — when the eye begins to blur and lose central vision — and glaucoma, which damages the optic nerve, threatening peripheral vision. “A lot of the things we can pick up, you wouldn’t otherwise know you had,” Lorch says.

Besides not smoking, which increases the risk of eye diseases, research shows you can slow the progress of macular degeneration with a specific multivitamin supplement. Medication and surgery can hold the line on glaucoma.

Your doctor will also keep an eye out for vision-clouding cataracts, Lorch says. When the time comes, surgery to replace your tired, yellowed lenses can correct for issues like nearsightedness and astigmatism.

And if you’re experiencing the gritty sensation of dry eye — which gets more common with age — look for relief with omega-3-rich foods or supplements, eyelid hygiene or artificial tears. “People don’t have to suffer with poor vision or uncomfortable eyes,” Lorch says. “There are things that we can do.”

2. Your teeth and gums

These days, thanks to widespread water fluoridation and basic oral hygiene, “people expect to keep all or at least most of their teeth for a lifetime — into their 80s and 90s,” says Matt Messina, assistant clinical professor at Ohio State University College of Dentistry and spokesperson for the American Dental Association. But to get that kind of mileage out of them, you may need to do more than you’re used to.

“As people get older, we see more gum recession and bone loss and that can expose some root surface,” Messina says. “But these surfaces aren’t covered with enamel, the hard outer coating that protects the top of the tooth, so they become more susceptible to decay.”

After 50, you may also make less saliva, which dissolves the acids made from breaking down food, making them less damaging to teeth. Or you may be prescribed one of the hundreds of medications known to cause dry mouth, which also puts teeth at risk.

“Somebody that wasn’t having an issue with decay may suddenly need a prescription fluoride rinse or fluoride gel to use on a daily basis to make their teeth and the root surfaces stronger,” Messina says.

To keep your teeth and gums healthy for the long haul, Messina recommends doubling down on your oral hygiene (no skipping flossing tonight!). If you’re on a drug that causes dry mouth, ask your doctor if you can take a smaller dose or a different drug. And avoid chewing ice, as tooth enamel can chip, or using your teeth for things like removing a price tag. “Teeth are not tools,” he says.

3. Your feet

You probably don’t think much about your feet until they hurt — and pain is a strong likelihood. “Many of my patients over 50 have significant foot issues,” says Michael Tritto, a podiatrist in Rockville, Maryland.

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Long-term forces are often to blame. Calluses on the soles develop from foot abnormalities that make it difficult to walk, Tritto says. Similarly bony lumps called bunions form due to long-term pressure on the big toe joint. Such problems not only make your feet smart but can lead to knee, hip and back problems.

Forty to 60 are the prime ages for plantar fasciitis, inflammation of the tissue band (fascia) that connects the heel bone to the toes. It typically comes from overstressing the fascia due to the force of activity and hard surfaces.

“Feet are designed for grass, dirt and sand,” Tritto says. “Everything that we walk on is hard, and it’s the hard stuff that causes problems.”

What to do: Wear supportive shoes — even around the house. “If you’re not supporting and protecting the foot, then you’re going to get arch problems, heel pain and Achilles tendinitis,” Tritto says.

Sidestep other foot ills by having your feet measured, he adds. Many people don’t realize that feet can get bigger with age and suffer from shoes that are too tight.

4.  Your pelvic floor

You might think of the pelvic floor — the muscles that stretch from the pubic bone back to the tailbone at the bottom of the pelvis — as a female concern. But it’s just as important to men.

“The pelvic floor muscles hold up your bowel, your bladder and your uterus, if you’re a woman, and your prostate, if you’re a man, says Kandis B. Daroski, a physical therapist specializing in pelvic health at Hinge Health, a digital health company. A strong pelvic floor is also essential to sexual arousal and orgasm.

One in 4 women experience pelvic floor disorders, often as a result of childbirth, though they may emerge long after the kids have grown. Weakened pelvic muscles can lead to urinary or fecal incontinence, pain and prolapse, when organs drop down and even protrude outside the vaginal canal. Men can also experience incontinence, particularly after prostate cancer treatment.

Strengthening your body’s core is also vital. “Abdominal muscles, hip muscles and spinal muscles connect to and support the pelvic floor, and vice versa, allowing it to work at its best,” says Daroski.

5. Your hips and knees

These familiar joints are among your body’s most vulnerable. “Knees and hips are weight-bearing joints,” says Neil J. Cobelli, M.D., chair of orthopedic surgery at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. “They’re subjected to a lot more stress than, say, your shoulder or elbow. And having a knee or a hip that’s causing you pain diminishes every aspect of your life.”

Unfortunately hip and knee pain are common after 50 and often lead to surgery. “It’s a result of everybody living a longer and more active life,” Cobelli says. “Active people who play a lot of sports are prone to knee injuries and those injuries can result in premature arthritis.”

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Other factors like obesity can also play a role. “Carrying extra weight seems to predispose our joints to wearing out, not just because there’s more stress on the joint, but having a lot of fatty tissue on your body predisposes you to inflammation, and that inflammation seems to attack hip and knees,” he says. Arthritis of these joints also runs in families.

Shedding excess pounds and exercising are good ways to minimize joint pain. “If your joint is already giving you trouble, keep moving,” Cobelli says. “But you may need to alter what you’ve been doing. If you’ve been a runner for 20 years and now your knee is bothering you when you run, don’t run so much. Find something else or change your routines — do it every other day, go shorter distances, do it in intervals. But listen to the joint.”

Arthroscopic surgery to trim or reconstruct damaged cartilage and remove fragments of bone or cartilage may offer relief from knee pain or alleviate symptoms of problems that damage the cartilage and the soft tissues around the hip joint. “It gives people many more years of active life,” Cobelli says.  

Many people will eventually need joint replacement in their later years. Fortunately surgery is increasingly common — and safe — and often can be done at surgical centers, allowing you to go home the same day. 

6. Your ears

Just 2 percent of Americans ages 45 to 54 have serious hearing loss. But that changes over time, rising to half of people 75 and older.

“We start to see people who are bothered by hearing loss in their 50s and 60s,” says otolaryngologist Daniel Rontal, M.D., who treats patients at Corewell Health William Beaumont University Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan. “People first tend to notice it in challenging situations like a crowded restaurant or a ball game, where the brain is try to pick out the signal from the background noise.”

Hearing changes may be imperceptible year to year, and it takes the average person seven years to seek help, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America. But addressing hearing loss early on may lead to less precipitous declines and lower risks for depression and dementia, both of which can be linked to poor hearing.

“The younger you are, the more capable you are of adjusting to a hearing aid,” Rontal says. “You preserve your hearing better and the [hearing] decreases more slowly.” He recommends that people get a baseline hearing test in their 50s, which allows doctors to evaluate changes over time.

Another reason to care for your ears: They play a crucial role in preserving your balance and preventing falls, which become more common and risky as you age.