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8 Signs that You Are Aging Well in Your 50s

What you can do to live a long, healthy and fulfilling life

spinner image a woman aging gracefully on a hiking trip holds a man's hand while another hiker walks ahead on a Southwestern trail during the day
MBI / Alamy Stock Photo

Being healthy is important no matter what your age. But after 50, it’s normal to start thinking more about what you can do to live a long, healthy and fulfilling life.

While genetics play a role, research shows your habits, behaviors and attitude can make a big difference.

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If you don’t already have good habits, your 50s are a great time to commit to making changes, says Meg Selig, a retired counselor who studied habit change for her book, Silver Sparks: Thoughts on Growing Older, Wiser, and Happier.

"It’s important to make a decision and then set some mini goals that you can carry through for the long haul,” she said. “It can’t just be momentary. It has to become part of your lifestyle.”

Aging well is more than just being physically healthy, notes Theresa A. Allison, a geriatrician and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Having the support you need and engaging in your community are also important, she says.

“Aging well means living a rich, meaningful life,” she says. “There are people with perfect blood pressure and perfect exercise regimens who are miserable, and there are people living well getting around in their wheelchairs.”

 Here, Allison and other experts reveal some clear signs that you are aging well in your 50s – both physically and mentally – along with advice on how to make changes if you’re falling short:

1.  You have strong social connections

As you age, your risk of loneliness increases, and maintaining strong relationships becomes increasingly important. One report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that more than one-third of adults 45 and older feel lonely, and a fourth of adults 65-plus are socially isolated.

A May 2023 advisory from the U.S.  surgeon general called loneliness a public health crisis, noting that social isolation is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression and dementia.

Studies show people with strong social support are happier, healthier and live longer. One review of 148 studies found that people with stronger social relationships increased their survival odds by 50 percent.

“There’s nothing wrong with being an introvert and with liking living alone,” Allison says. “We're not all extroverts, but we are humans. None of us is an island, and we do need each other in different ways.”

Maintaining social ties is especially important as you transition into retirement, when you no longer have a built-in network of colleagues at your workplace.

Smart advice: If you live alone, reach out to at least one friend or family member every day.  

Also, look for ways to connect to others regularly, whether it’s scheduling a weekly coffee date with a friend or joining a local fitness, hobby, professional or service group. If you’re retired, getting a part-time job or a volunteering gig can give you more opportunities to form new friendships.

Research shows intergenerational relationships are particularly beneficial, Allison says. As a geriatrician who is also a music researcher, she notes that community centers and houses of worship often have choirs and other groups that offer an easy way to connect with people of all ages. For more ideas, see 6 Ways Loneliness Can Harm Your Health — And How to Cut Your Risks.

2.  Physical activity is part of your lifestyle

Those who tend to age well have identified physical activities that they enjoy and incorporated them into their lives, whether it’s gardening, a walk with a friend or playing pickleball, says James Powers, M.D., an associate professor of medicine and practicing geriatrician at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. 

“If you don’t enjoy it, you’re not going to stick to it,” he says.

Physical activity doesn’t just keep your muscles, joints and heart healthy. Recent research shows it can also elevate your mood, help stave off chronic illnesses such as diabetes, dementia and heart disease, and add years to your life.

spinner image a man in a blue shirt and white shorts  aging gracefully playing pickleball prepares to hit the ball back to an unseen player on the court
People who tend to age well have activities that they enjoy, whether it’s gardening, a walk with a friend or playing pickleball.
Peter Llewellyn / Alamy Stock Photo

A 2022 study of more than 5,000 older women published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity found that physical activity was linked to a lower mortality risk, even in those who aren’t likely to live long based on their genetics. The study also found that spending more time sitting increases your risk of death.

“We found that even light physical activity such as walking was associated with a lower risk of death,” says study author Aladdin H. Shadyab, who studies aging and longevity at the University of California, San Diego. “It’s never too late to start moving and sit less.”

Smart advice: Aim for 30 minutes of activity about five days a week, but keep in mind that even a few minutes of physical activity can make a difference. If you’re having trouble getting motivated, simply go for a walk, Shadyab suggests. Try to incorporate weight-bearing exercise such as strength training, as well as walking, hiking, climbing stairs, tennis, pickleball and dancing to help keep your bones strong.

To increase accountability and make an activity more fun, Powers suggests scheduling it with a friend.

“The buddy system really works,” he says.

3.  You eat a Mediterranean diet

A slew of research shows that the Mediterranean diet is the gold standard when it comes to eating for health and longevity, says neuropsychologist Karen Miller, senior director of the Brain Wellness and Lifestyle Program at Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, Calif.

A 2022 study published in PLOS Medicine found that switching to a Mediterranean diet from the typical Western diet can add years to your life – and the earlier you adopt it, the more benefit you gain.

If you start eating the Mediterranean way at age 60, you can expect to live about eight years longer, the study found. If you adopt the diet at age 80, the study found it still increases life expectancy on average by 3.4 years.


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Other studies show the Mediterranean diet protects your heart, lowers your risk of cancer and diabetes and slows cognitive decline.

Smart advice: Focus on eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and legumes. Use healthy fats like olive oil instead of butter or vegetable oil, and swap out beef for fish. For more tips see, “8 Healthy, Cheap Foods to Help You Eat the Mediterranean Way

 For the biggest benefit, Miller suggests trying to get at least five servings of vegetables per day, in addition to two to three servings of fruit. That’s easier if you include at least vegetable with breakfast, she says. Mix some spinach into scrambled eggs, stuff some beans and tomatoes into a breakfast burrito or stack some asparagus spears on avocado toast.

4. You engage in meaningful activities

Studies show people 50 and older who have a sense of purpose are happier and live longer.

For example, a 2019 JAMA Network Open study of nearly 7,000 adults found that those who scored highest on a scale that measured "life purpose" were less likely to die over a four-year period compared with those who scored lower.  

Researchers believe engaging in activities that matter to you may lower your stress level, reducing body inflammation that is linked to cardiovascular disease and other health problems.

“When I look at older adults who are living alone who are living rich meaningful lives, they are doing the things that reflect their values and their identities,” Allison says. 

To practice what she preaches, Allison, who is in her 50s, said she recently started playing the flute again and then joined a flute choir in San Francisco.

“Suddenly, I have to go someplace new,” she said. “I have to learn new music, and we know that learning new things is important as we grow older. I’m meeting new people. And I’m engaged in a community activity that results in community service, because at the end of this we’re giving a free concert. So it pulls everything together.”  

Smart advice: Figure out what’s important to you and what you enjoy doing, and then make time for it in your schedule, Allison suggests. It can be an individual activity such as gardening, a social activity like joining your neighbor for a walk every day, volunteering or taking care of the people you love, she says.

Many meaningful activities offer an opportunity to build social connections, learn a new skill or serve the community – all of which are also linked to aging well.

5. You sleep at least seven hours a night

Skimping on sleep doesn’t just make you irritable and need more coffee. It also raises your risk for chronic health problems, including obesity, diabetes, depression, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Studies also show a link between sleep duration and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia – and death.

Sleep gives your body time to remove toxins from your brain and repair damaged neural connections.

“If we don’t have enough sleep, we don’t get that repair,” Miller says. “Think about all the good antioxidants you get from vegetables and fruits. They can’t do their job if you don’t get seven hours of sleep.”

Even if you slept well in your younger years, it’s not unusual to start having some insomnia in your 50s. Surveys show that as many as 50 percent of older adults struggle with sleep problems.

Smart advice:  If you have trouble sleeping, avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evenings, and limit screen time right before bed. Keep your bedroom dark and cool. And try to wake up and go to bed at roughly the same time every night.

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If you’ve been told you snore loudly, consider being tested for sleep apnea, which can cause long-term health problems if left untreated. For more advice on how to get good sleep, see these “13 habits for a good night’s sleep.”

6. You have a positive outlook

Studies show people who are optimistic tend to live longer, happier and healthier lives than those who have a negative outlook.

“Age is just a number, but how you feel about it is so important,” says geriatrician John A. Batsis, associate professor in the division of geriatric medicine at the UNC School of Medicine. “I have folks who feel old in their mid- or late 60s. I have others in late 80s who feel young. Having a positive outlook, having things to look forward to, really promotes wellbeing and quality of life.”  

Having a positive attitude about aging has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia and increase your lifespan by about seven and a half years, Selig says.

Why? Researchers say it’s because believing ageist stereotypes can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“People with positive age beliefs are more likely to care for themselves because they envision an active, happy, and meaningful future,” Selig said. “They also feel less fearful of aging, reducing levels of harmful stress chemicals in the blood.”

Smart advice: You can cultivate optimism by challenging negative self-talk and making gratitude a daily practice, perhaps by keeping a gratitude journal. Volunteering in the community can also help, by making you feel connected and useful, giving you a sense of fulfillment and a more positive outlook.

To change your views on aging, take note of the older people in your life you admire, and pay attention to positive portrayals of older adults in the media, Selig suggests. Also, identify and challenge ageist stereotypes when you see them. For more ideas on how to bust ageist stereotypes, see “6 Ways to Change the Way You Think About Aging”.

7. You are conscientious

Conscientious people tend keep their doctor’s appointments, take their medications, pursue healthy habits and avoid harmful habits like smoking, alcohol and drugs, Selig notes. They are more likely to follow their doctor’s orders to manage their blood pressure, cholesterol level and blood sugar numbers.

Those good habits all contribute to better health outcomes, Selig says: “Conscientious people live longer, have a reduced risk of dementia, tend to be healthier and wealthier and feel better about themselves internally.”  

One study of 1,954 people found that those who were more conscientious were 22 percent less likely to experience cognitive impairment. Another showed a 35 percent reduced risk of early death.

Smart advice: While some people are naturally more conscientious than others, you can cultivate the trait by being diligent about putting events on your calendar, setting reminders, breaking big goals into mini goals, and planning to arrive 10 -15 minutes early for appointments.

8. You are doing the right things for your brain

Losing brainpower is not an inevitable part of aging. Find that hard to believe? Consider this May 2023 study that was published in The Journals of Gerontology: Adults ages 58 to 86 were each assigned to take three to five classes in subjects including Spanish, drawing and music composition for three months. By the midpoint of the study, they had boosted their cognitive abilities to the level of adults who were 20 to 30 years younger.

“It’s the concept of use it or lose it,” Miller says. “When you learn something new, your memory center is lighting up like a Christmas light. You’re stimulating it and creating a loop of new information, and that stimulation is like a workout for the hippocampus.”

People who age well constantly learn new things and challenge their brains in order to stave off cognitive decline, experts say. That can mean taking a class at the community college, learning a new game such as chess or mah-jongg, or playing sudoku.

 They also take steps to reduce stress, which can create inflammation that causes cellular damage to the body and brain.

Smart advice: The Global Council on Brain Health has compiled evidence-based strategies to help prevent or delay cognitive decline. Called the six pillars of brain health, the recommendations mirror many of the habits mentioned above, such as being social, engaging in regular physical activity, getting enough sleep and eating right.

In fact, it turns out that many healthy behaviors that indicate someone is aging well are interconnected, Batsis says.

“When we think about healthy aging, we often talk about it in buckets and silos, but it turns out that everything is interrelated,” Batsis says. “So, for example, social engagement will help your mood, help your mind and help your mobility. You can say the same about exercise, eating right and many of the other recommendations.”

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