Women Health Series: What Should I Worry about When I’m In My…50s?
One of four articles in a series about what to expect at different stages of womanhood.
Scott & White gynecologist and wellness expert Patricia J. Sulak, MD is passionate about women’s health. Serving the Temple region she partners with many women to help them take control of their health and pursue optimal wellness.
“For women in their 50s, a common myth is that ‘I’m getting old, and I’m going to slow down,’” says Dr. Sulak. “Yes, this could be true if they don’t rev it up, but it’s not inevitable! It’s a myth. There’s no reason that they can’t change their lifestyle and have more energy as they get to their 60s.”
To pursue this course of health you need to make a decision: Do you want your life to start going up or to go down? You are in charge of this decision and in your 50s is a great time to recommit to wellness.
Snapshot of a Woman in Her 50s
If you’re a woman in your 50s…
- You may be transitioning into menopause
- You may feel that you are stuck in a “sandwich” stage
- You may be experiencing changes in your parenting, depending on when you had children
- You may be a grandmother
- You may be dealing with health needs of elderly or aging parents
- You may have to fight back against poor habits
- You may be at risk for serious disease or cancers
- You may buy into the myth that “it’s too late” to do anything to improve your health
Dr. Sulak can relate to this stage of womanhood, as she personally recommitted to wellness in her 50s. Despite her busy lifestyle with family, personal responsibilities, her work as a physician, a wellness speaker, sex education advocate and serving actively in her church, she felt that at the crossroads of her 50s and she chose to pursue a more vigorous and energy-filled life.
Be On Top of Your Screenings
One of the most important ways to stay healthy in your 50s is to be on top of the necessary screenings for cancer and other disease. Many of the recommended tests start around age 50, so attending annual visits with your provider will help you steer clear of preventable diseases.
Recommended screenings in your 50s include:
- Routine blood pressure check to reduce risk of stroke, as this is one of the most common killers for women. Your blood pressure should be 120/80 or less to be considered normal.
- Screening for mammograms to look for signs of breast cancer.
- Discuss menopause and hormone replacement therapy, called HRT to ease the transition.
- Recommended screening for colon cancer with a colonoscopy. This can be done much easier than in years past with medication and smaller scopes to see if there are polyps that need to be removed to prevent colon cancer.
- If you are post-menopausal, a bone density test is recommended because your body has stopped producing estrogen which strengthens your bones. This test is very simple – even easier than getting your blood drawn.
Take Control of Your Diet and Weight
One of the major factors for women in their 50s is taking control of diet and weight gain. At this stage of life, high cholesterol poses a serious threat. All of the processed foods can lead to high levels which put you at risk for heart disease and obesity. The HDL cholesterol, commonly called the good cholesterol should be greater than 50, while your LDL or bad cholesterol needs to be less than 100.
When you talk to your provider about your cholesterol, it is helpful to establish a plan together. Simply knowing your levels will not change anything, you have to choose to take control of your diet.
“At age 50 women should certainly have a cholesterol profile,” says Dr. Sulak. “If it’s not normal, we need to get it normal. Two out of three women in their 50s are overweight, and one-third is obese with a BMI greater than 30. We need to be better examples for our children and grandchildren and not burden them with our health problems.”
Don’t Make Excuses for Exercise
One important way to take control of your health is to make time for exercise. Dr. Sulak points out the most common excuses for failing to exercise are not enough time or money.
She urges women to “make movement mandatory” and look at the time they spend getting a manicure, or money spent on the latest technology, and shift our priorities.
“With our decline in hormones, our body is changing and our muscles want to get smaller,” says Dr. Sualk. “Unless we are exercising, we are accumulating body fat and gaining weight in terms of fat.”
Get Your Priorities Straight
“What gets done is what we prioritize,” says Dr. Sulak. “And if health is not at the top of your list, you may need to sit down and look at your life and changes you can make.”
Consider asking yourself what level of health you want for yourself. Do you want to have poor health or fair health? Or, do you want to make sacrifices to have optimal health?
Dr. Sulak is passionate about these priorities and warns women about the culture we are in today with the “need” to have abundance. Instead, she says, “We don’t need those things. We need lower cholesterol.”
Learn How to Manage Stress & Emotions
Through this transition stage of life, we need to work on being at peace with ourselves.
Dr. Sulak points out women are not at an increased risk for depression at this age, and a lot of the emotional stress and anger needs to be properly channeled or dumped.
As soon as you see yourself stressed out, Dr. Sulak recommends asking yourself, “Is stress going to help me deal with this situation? Most of the time the answer is no.”
Decide to Pursue Optimal Health
As you meet with your provider during your 50s, it’s important to attend your well visits, get the proper screenings and make the lifestyle changes that are necessary for us.
Consider talking with your provider and mapping out a plan. Instead of simply throwing your health into their hands, think of it as a partnership.