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5 Things Men Wish Their Doctors Told Them About Turning 50

Health changes you might not expect and what to do about them

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If you just turned 50, it might be hard to believe that you’ve got a half-century under your belt.

You’re older — but you’re also wiser. If you have kids, they’re probably already in their teens or out of the house, giving you some extra time to focus on your well-being. And that’s exactly what you should be doing, because your 50s are also the time when aging starts to make its presence known, experts say.

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Turning 50 should be “a wake-up call to men to say, ‘Hey, am I doing all the right things?’” says Kenneth Koncilja, M.D., a geriatric medicine physician at Cleveland Clinic. “Now that you’re in your 50s, you have to focus on prevention and a healthy lifestyle more aggressively than ever before.”  

Many physical changes that come with age you already know — the graying hair and receding hairline, the wrinkles around your eyes, and a greater chance of developing high blood pressure, heart disease and other chronic conditions. But there are other changes that you might not expect.

Understanding those bodily changes — and how to address them — can help you make sure your body stays strong well into your 60s, 70s and 80s. Here, Koncilja and other experts share a few less-well-known things that may happen in your 50s:

1. Your muscles start to shrink

Men (and women) on average lose about 1 to 2 percent of their muscle mass every year after they turn 50, studies show.

You can blame the loss on declines in growth hormone and cellular changes that happen in your muscle fibers, says Cathleen Colón-Emeric, M.D., chief of the division of geriatrics at the Duke University School of Medicine. Some research has also linked low testosterone to reduced muscle mass.

“Your muscle cells start getting infiltrated by fat and not functioning as well,” she says. “But I think in men it’s a little harder in some respects because they’re not expecting it.” 

It’s not just a vanity issue. As you get older, the cumulative loss of muscle can make it more difficult to do daily tasks and eventually lead to a loss of independence.

The fix: Fortunately, studies show you can limit muscle loss and even reverse it through regular physical activity. The key is to make sure you include weight-bearing activities as well as strength or resistance training a few times a week. “It doesn’t mean you can’t build new muscle or be toned,” Koncilja says. “It just means it takes more effort. It really needs to be intentional.”

Including plenty of protein in your diet is also important, and studies indicate most older adults don’t get enough. Aim for 20 to 30 grams of protein with every meal. To find out how much protein you need and how to get it, read “Should You Get More Protein?

2. Your performance in the bedroom might suffer

Sexual performance problems are more out in the open than ever before, thanks to drug commercials and celebrity endorsements, but many men still don’t believe it can happen to them. 

In fact, it’s common in middle age to start to notice that your erections rise more slowly and are less firm. 

About 26 percent of men in their 50s report at least some degree of dissatisfaction with their erections, according to a Harvard University survey of nearly 32,000 men. And problems are more likely the older you get.

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The fix: Prescriptions pills like Viagra, Stendra, Cialis and Levitra are the first-line treatment for erectile dysfunction, and they are highly effective, says Karyn Eilber, M.D., a urologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by exercising and making good food choices can also help, since high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol can cause vascular problems that contribute to erectile dysfunction. See “10 Top Sex Ed Tips for People Age 50 and Older” for more.

3. You “gotta go” more often

Have you noticed your urine stream is not what it used to be? Around age 50, many men find it’s more difficult to start and stop their flow, their stream is weaker or they are getting up several times each night to pee.

More often than not, urinary issues are caused by a condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia, the technical term for an enlarged prostate. It’s a problem that affects about half of men between ages 51 and 60.

The prostate, a small gland that is part of the male reproductive system, grows larger as you age, pressing on the urethra and weakening the wall of the bladder. That makes you urinate more often or feel like you have to go, but can’t.  

The fix: Reducing your caffeine and alcohol intake, exercising your pelvic floor muscles and avoiding fluids in the evening can help relieve urinary symptoms. Or ask your doctor about medications. Some relax the muscles around the prostate to encourage urine flow; others shrink the size of your prostate.

Minimally invasive office procedures that use ultrasound, lasers or other techniques are also effective, Eilber says. For more serious cases, surgery to remove some prostate tissue is the best option. For more tips, see “6 Strategies to Stop Peeing So Much.

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4. Strange things may grow out of your skin

In addition to wrinkles and age spots, in your 50s you may start to notice funny-looking fleshy growths on your eyelid, underarm, neck or other areas where skin rubs against skin.

They’re skin tags, and almost two-thirds of adults will develop one by age 60, according to the National Institutes of Health. Technically called acrochordons, they are most common in those who have obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome or a family history of them.

Other types of skin growths that may pop up after age 50 include brown scaly “barnacles” (seborrheic keratoses) and red bumps called cherry angiomas.

The fix: Most of the bumps that develop due to aging are harmless, but it’s important to have them evaluated by a dermatologist to make sure they aren’t skin cancer, says John Wolf, MD., professor of dermatology at the Baylor College of Medicine. If skin tags and other growths bother you, or you just don’t like the way they look, a dermatologist can easily remove them using a laser, liquid nitrogen or another technique, Wolf says. Just keep in mind that the removal will be considered cosmetic, so it won’t be covered by your health insurance. Read more about “Skin Tags: What They Are and When You Should Remove Them.”

5. You may find yourself saying “Huh?”

Fifty may seem too young to have hearing loss, but researchers at John Hopkins University have found that one-third of men over age 40 suffer from hearing loss, and the problem gets worse with age.

Hearing loss can be caused by lifetime exposure to noise as well as age-related changes to the middle ear and to the nerve pathways from the ear to the brain. Some medical conditions and certain medications are also known to damage hearing.

Men in their 50s may not realize their hearing has gotten worse, or they may think it’s a minor issue and they can get by. But ignoring hearing loss can have serious impacts, Colón-Emeric says.

One study that tracked 639 adults for nearly 12 years found that mild hearing loss doubled dementia risk.

The fix: Even if you haven’t noticed problems with your hearing, you should get your hearing tested after age 50, experts say. If you have hearing loss, correcting your hearing with hearing aids will lower your risk for falls, cognitive decline, depression and social isolation.

The latest hearing aids are smaller, sleeker and more effective than the bulky ones your grandfather wore, and newly approved over-the-counter versions mean that those with mild to moderate hearing loss can get a pair without spending thousands of dollars. Find out “How to Shop for Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids.

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