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When You Turn 50: A Milestone for Your Health

50 mile marker road sign"Forty is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age," said French novelist Victor Hugo. On this milestone birthday, take a moment to reflect, make plans to check off a few items on your life to-do list and take steps to ensure you have many healthy years ahead.

"Turning fifty is the perfect prompt to take stock in how you're living your life and take a few extra measures to stay healthy," says Dr. Linda Kinsinger, VHA's Chief Consultant for Preventive Medicine. Here are a few suggestions to do just that:

The overall self-assessment
How's your level of physical activity? How's your diet? Your general health is largely determined by how you live your life each day. To optimize your health, use your 50th birthday to look at your lifestyle. Many health issues can be prevented or lessened if you're treating your body well. Aim to get in that eight hours of sleep each night and avoid lighting up a cigarette or cracking open a beer the moment you get home from work.

Also, it is important to recognize that your routines may need to change simply because your body is changing. "As you age, you lose a certain amount of lean muscle, which means that your metabolism goes down," explains Kinsinger. "Being physically active is a proven way to maintain lean muscle mass, no matter how old you are, and to help prevent weight gain."

Fortunately, Veterans have great resources to help them assess and maintain their health. The HealtheLiving Assessment (HLA), for example, provides a personalized summary of the long-term impacts of health habits and choices, as well as information and recommendations to improve well-being. My HealtheVet can also help Veterans track their physical activity and what they eat. And both of these tools can help Veterans stay up-to-date on the screenings and immunizations they need to stay healthy.

Screening Tools
Aging can put you in a higher risk category for certain illnesses and diseases. Getting screened for these conditions can help find them earlier when they can be more successfully treated. Learn your risks, and talk with your health care provider about these screenings:

Colorectal cancer (men/women) - Colon cancer is among the top three most common forms of cancer in both men and women. Screening is recommended starting at age 50, or earlier if you have a strong family history or other risk factors for this disease. Here are three different ways to get screened:

  1. Stool samples tested for blood - yearly

  2. Colonoscopy (exam of rectum and entire colon) - every 10 years

  3. Sigmoidoscopy (exam of rectum and lower colon) - every 5 years

Breast cancer (women) - Schedule a mammogram every 2 years, beginning at age 50 or sooner if you and your doctor decide that's better for you or you have a strong family history of this cancer.

Osteoporosis (women) - Screening for osteoporosis actually starts at age 65. But if you're at higher risk, you may need to get screened as early as age 50. You may be at risk if you have a low weight, are a smoker or if one of your parents had a broken hip. Certain medications may also make you prone to weak or broken bones, so ask your health care team about your risks.

Our immune systems tend to get a little weaker as we get older, and many of the shots we've already received require a booster. Sometimes the trickiest thing about keeping up with your health care is remembering what you need to get done. Use your 50th birthday milestone to create a schedule for these immunizations:

The flu - All adults should get a yearly influenza shot, but at age 50, you enter a higher risk group for having complications of the flu. Make it a priority to get your seasonal flu shot.

Tetanus - You should get a tetanus and diphtheria (Td) booster every 10 years; remind yourself at your decade birthdays.

Tdap - A vaccine licensed in 2005, this shot protects against Tetanus (Lockjaw), Diphtheria and Acellular Pertussis (Whooping Cough). You only need one of these shots as an adult, so you could replace one round of your regular Td (only Tetanus and Diphtheria) boosters with the Tdap. But if you have not yet received a Tdap as an adult, don't wait until your next Td is due - get it right away! This is especially important if you're around babies because they cannot receive the vaccine until age 1. Protect your grandchildren by protecting yourself.

So happy 50th birthday to you! Now make sure that your health is one of the things that will keep you happy for years to come.

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