Turning 50 is not only a major milestone but a good opportunity to consider how to ensure you remain in good health for many years to come. For women, in particular, this means taking into account certain infamous hormonal changes.
“Aging women must pay extra attention to their health, since menopause and other hormonal changes place them at an increased risk for health concerns such as osteoporosis,” says Brittany Ferri, M.S., Ph.D., OTR/L, medical advisor for Medical Solutions BCN. “The lower levels of estrogen also place women at an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.”
That’s why Ferri recommends a balanced diet, plenty of exercise, and regular doctor’s checkups for women over 50. But what, beyond the basics, should you focus on for longevity? Here, experts break down five health and fitness musts for women over 50.
1. Do weight-bearing exercises and resistance training
Weight-bearing exercises require you to work against gravity—and they’re super-important for staying strong well into your golden years. You see, the decreased estrogen that comes with menopause means that calcium isn’t deposited in bones as easily, often leading to declining bone density, explains Kevin Lees, D.C., of The Joint Chiropractic.
Fitness, in general, is a good idea, since “not only does exercise help with bone density, but it also contributes to balance, proprioception, and agility that may lessen the chance of falls that lead to fractures,” Lees says. But weight-bearing and resistance exercises (think squats, lunges, weight machines, free weights, and training with medicine balls) are particularly essential. In addition to supporting bones, these types of movement also help women “fight the inevitable encroachment of sarcopenia, involuntary loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength,” says Chad Larson, N.M.D., D.C., C.C.N., C.S.C.S., an advisor for Cyrex Laboratories.
Research shows that resistance training helps prevent the loss of muscle mass that can occur in older adults and help them stay mobile. In fact, women who exercise regularly in their fifties are more likely to be healthy in their seventies and eighties, says Lees.
If you’re new to resistance training (or exercise in general), consider working with a certified fitness professional to come up with a routine that’s appropriate for your abilities and goals.
2. Drink plenty of water
This simple tweak can make a big difference in your ability to maintain a youthful appearance over the years. “Drinking plenty of water—at least eight eight-ounce glasses per day—will help maintain hydration levels to regulate kidney and liver function,” says Ferri. This supports the body’s ability to ward off the build-up of toxins and pollutants that can accelerate the aging process, as well as keep hormone levels more balanced, ultimately promoting healthy skin, hair, and nails, which often age significantly after age 50. Not the biggest fan of guzzling H2O? Here are eight fun (promise!) ways to drink more of it.
3. Get Serious About vitamin D
The ‘sunshine vitamin’ is always essential, but its paramount nature becomes even more clear for mature adults. “As we age, our bodies absorb fewer nutrients, which may lead to nutrient deficiencies,” says Lees.
“Vitamin D is important in so many areas of health,” he says. Two in particular that are of high importance for women over 50: bone and cardiovascular health. (Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S., per the CDC.)
A quick blood test done by your doctor can confirm your vitamin D levels and provide a sense of how much you may need to supplement with to support optimal health.
4. Practice gratitude
Practicing gratitude is a good idea whether you’re 10 or 110, but it’s of special significance as you get older. “As women age, their estrogen levels naturally decline, which can contribute to faster brain aging,” Larson says. “Scientific evidence shows that a gratitude practice not only improves your overall mental state but also helps prevent cognitive decline, meaning that the simple practice of counting your blessings instead of your burdens can have lasting benefits for women’s brains.”
5. Prioritize your mental health
According to the CDC’s State of Mental Health and Aging in America, “depressive disorders are a widely under-recognized condition and often are untreated or under-treated among older adults.” Plus, according to other CDC data, women over 50 report more current and lifetime diagnoses of depression and anxiety than men. This may be because of factors related to menopause and the fact that more older women are caregivers than men, suggests Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist Lauren Kerwin, Ph.D.
Read More: 6 Strategies For Curbing Obsessive Thoughts
Since estimates suggest one in five adults over 50 struggles with a mental illness such as anxiety, addiction, or depression, it’s crucial to take your mental health as seriously as your physical health, Kerwin says. “Depression in older adults is highly treatable, but is often overlooked or pushed aside, as people often focus more on their physical health,” says Kerwin. “What they don’t realize is that chronic health problems (e.g. backaches and pain) are often psychosomatic and exacerbated by stress and poor mental health,” she continues.
It’s never too late in life to seek the help of a trained mental health professional and explore your own unique route to healing.