Encore Age

Health and Fitness at Fifty

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Stick to the Wicket; the Runs Will Come 

By Vejay Steede 

When you’ve lived for half a century, you’ve seen some things; you’ve lived through some things too. Your body tends to remind you about those things you’ve lived through more often after 50 as well, making health and fitness more important than ever. 

Then there are those special concerns. New ailments that lay in the bush waiting for the perfect time to pounce, like apex predators. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) lists the most pressing health concerns to monitor more closely after 50 as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, cancer, anxiety and depression. 

The half century mark is where screenings such as the dreaded digital rectal exam for prostate cancer, bone-density tests, and blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol tests become paramount. In short, a new level of self-care and health monitoring is required if you want to maintain a decent quality of life through your fifties and into your senior years. 

We spoke to a few half-centurions to find out how their bodies have changed over the years, how they cope with those changes and what advice they have for their contemporaries who want to maintain a relatively healthy and active existence as they enter the ‘dusk years’ of life. 

Local promoter and entrepreneur, Henry Harris, 50, described how his body has changed over the years. 

“Recovery time from exercise is not the same. Aches and pains are the true change. When you push your limits, your muscles shout out. Keep ice handy if you think pushing the limits is ok.” 

Mr Harris continued with an anecdote about how simple, everyday tasks can be difficult at 50. “I find that your body will remind you awfully fast what you can and can’t do. The other day, lifting my foot over and off my bike was a challenge. Let’s not talk about getting on!” 

On the topic of medical check-ups, he offered “my check-ups are more regular now than in the past. Screening is crucial. Early detection could save your life. Conversations with my GP have revolved more around diet and exercise. Preventative measures versus acute responses.” 

He then confessed to some new physical limits. “I can’t lift or run like in years past. My mind thinks one thing, but my body says another.” He added that exercise may be approached differently after 50, suggesting that choosing a long walk over a more taxing run would be wise for many fifty-somethings. 

However you choose to move your body in the name of fitness and health, Mr Harris advised that hydration is vital to maintaining proper bodily function and helping to keep recovery time modest. 

He wrapped up the discussion by further advising his contemporaries to “watch sugar and salt intake daily; most food has plenty of sodium already. Exercise for 30 – 45 minutes, or longer, at least 3 times a week. More if you can. Moderation is the key. If you are thinking about a 5k or 10k, start with up the hill and back 5 times. Set realistic goals for where you want to get to and when. The May 24 Half Marathon Derby isn’t for everyone.” 

Veteran Educator Andrea Isaac, 50, offered some insights from a female perspective. 

“Despite being very strict about eating properly, I still have to work extremely hard to lose weight. My body retains weight more easily as I am getting older. My eye sight has weakened and I now need to wear glasses. Those pesky grey hairs are trying to creep through.” 

On how her body reminds her that it has been serving her for a full half-century, she noted “slight reminders like I need to stretch a bit before getting out of bed. It takes a little while to get up off the floor after playing with my grandbaby, and stiffness lasts a little longer after exercising.” 

Well, I’m not quite 50 yet myself, but I can definitely attest to the fact that getting up off the floor is not as straight forward a proposition as it used to be! 

On how her medical check-ups have changed, Mrs Isaac disclosed, “they haven’t changed that much really. My check-ups have always been thorough. The only additional test has been bone density.” 

Physical limits change over time, and hers are no different, but she chooses to go harder. “Ironically, I exercise more now than I did when I was younger. I try to exercise at least one to two hours a day. I either do a light jog or a brisk walk. It can be difficult sometimes because some days I just don’t feel like exercising, but if I skip a day my body feels out of sorts.” 

Mrs Isaac goes on to extol the virtues of cutting out meat and adding herbal supplements to the half-centurion diet. “I decided some years ago to cut meat out of my diet and eat more plant-based foods. I have also cut back on sugar considerably and take more herbal supplements to strengthen my bones and build up my immune system. Adding in daily exercise has also helped to give me more energy on most days.” 

In closing, she turned to the ‘best medicine’ in her advice to health-conscious contemporaries. “Laugh more and enjoy time with family and close friends. Do not stress about what does not get done, maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating more veggies and less meat. Enjoy the outdoors more, and make time to do what you want.” 

Finally, a 53-year-old essential worker, who preferred to not be named, offered some great insight from a male perspective. 

“At 53 years of age, I would agree that my body has changed over the years. However, I don’t believe that the changes have been that significant. One of the main issues is weight gain, primarily in the mid-section. Although this change came with age, I must admit that it is more a result of lifestyle choices such as limited exercise, poor diet, and occasional alcohol. In addition, grey hair, slight changes in vison, hearing, and memory retention are constant daily reminders of aging.” 

On how medical check-ups have changed over the years, our essential worker (let’s call him ‘Mr Jones’) reported: 

“I am not a regular visitor to the doctor’s office. I attend the doctor once a year for an annual physical. Over the years the conversation with the doctor has changed. After 50, I received a colonoscopy, which I accept is very important for an individual at 50. However, this process can be performed earlier, dependent on an individual’s personal health circumstances. 

“Too often, I see persons diagnosed with cancer at various advanced stages, when colonoscopies and similar examinations could have prevented their predicament. I would agree that over the years the doctor’s physical examination has gotten more intimate, with the inclusion of the important prostate and genital checks.” 

Mr Jones confessed the difficulty of changing a longstanding mindset as it relates to health and fitness with age: 

“My physical limits have not necessarily changed, but age has highlighted the need to exercise and pay attention to my diet in order to maintain my physical limits. These two areas, exercise and diet, have presented a challenge, mainly because I was able to get along without thinking about them over the years based on my genetics and metabolism. Growing up as a skinny kid with the ability to eat any and everything without gaining significant weight fooled me into believing that proper dieting and exercise were not necessary. The concept was wrong, and over time it has been very difficult to change that mindset. 

“Unfortunately, my diet and exercise regime have not really changed. I eat the same and exercise is still very limited. I am conscious of the importance of reducing the salt and sugar in my diet, eating healthily, more fruits and vegetables, and increasing exercise. Walking, running or combining the two will achieve the same goal. I would prefer to walk.” 

There’s levity in his advice to his contemporaries. “My contemporaries will not take lifestyle tips from me! Nevertheless, from my experience, I would recommend the following important points in maintaining a healthy and fit life in the 50s: Plenty of sleep to restore the body physically and mentally, relaxing, avoiding unnecessary stress and negativity and, as highlighted earlier, the need to engage in proper dieting and exercise.” 

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