When You Turn 50: A Milestone for Your Health

Now is the time to get screenings and take control of your health

Veteran being screenedEven if you've taken all the right steps to stay healthy by the time you turn 50, you probably can't escape the fact that you're getting older. If you raised children, they are likely grown, and your career is probably established. At this point in your life, there are fewer distractions and more time to focus on staying healthy.

The risk for many chronic health problems increases naturally with age, but there are several things you can do to lower your risk. If you've made some unhealthy lifestyle choices along the way, now is the time to take care of your physical, mental, and emotional health.

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's 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 Dr. Kim. "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 keep track and maintain their health. My HealtheVet helps Veterans track their physical activity and what they eat. It can also 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 the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. Screening is recommended starting at age 45, or earlier if you have a strong family history or other risk factors for this disease. Here are four different options to get screened:

  1. Stool samples tested for blood - yearly

  2. Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years

  3. Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 10 years and FIT every year

  4. Colonoscopy every 10 years

Breast cancer (women) - Average risk women should schedule a mammogram annually, between 45 and 54 years but you may begin at age 40 after weighing the risks and benefits that might be unique to you with your provider. Women 55 and older may transition to biennial screening or have the opportunity to continue annually.

Osteoporosis (women) - Screening for osteoporosis actually starts at age 65. But if you're at higher risk, you may need to get screened earlier. 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. You may also need a booster if you get a wound and haven't had this shot in the last 5 years.

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 will keep you happy for years to come.

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Read More

Physical Activity for a Healthier Heart (Veterans Health Library)

How to Take Your Heart Rate (PDF)

Surprising Tips for Heart Health (VA)

Updated August 26, 2021