Vail health for the decades series: Keep it fresh in your 50s
Cyndi Seebode just turned 50. A California native and a transplant to Eagle-Vail from Tennessee, she has always stayed active with hiking, running and horseback riding.
“At my last physical, my doctor asked if I exercise,” Seebode said. “I said no.”
Her doctor was audibly surprised, Seebode said, but then she explained that she had associated the term “exercise” with a gym or weights regimen-fitness styles that have never been a part of her active lifestyle.
“I don’t belong to a gym,” Seebode said. “I’ve always exercised regularly, but I mix it up. Up here it’s easy to do: I hike with the dogs, walk everywhere, ski, and I’ve always had my horseback riding.”
Dr. Jack Eck of Vail Valley Medical Center said that physical fitness should be maintained in this decade, with an emphasis on muscle tone and flexibility.
“People are more vulnerable to risk if they start and stop exercising,” Eck said. “Rather than maintain a continuously active lifestyle.”
He said that people who have been sedentary have to get their bodies reconditioned to movement again, which requires patience and persistence. Eck also said that people in their 50s tend to get more injuries if they try to push themselves too hard physically.
“It’s natural that people wish they can do the same things they did when they were in their 20s,” Eck said. “But they have to accept the aging process and adjust to new realities.”
Although fresh to the 50s decade, Seebode said she has a positive outlook on her upcoming years.
“I find that if you interact with people younger and older than you, it keeps your outlook fresh and keeps you young,” Seebode said. “I work at Vail Resorts with people of all ages, and I really don’t feel like I’m in my 50s.”
Eck said it’s also important for people in their 50s to keep their mind active with activities like reading, and to be active in social and community interaction.
“I think being aware of your surroundings and maintaining your relationships helps keep mental health intact,” Eck said. “People who keep their networks up also tend to take better care of themselves.”
Health at any age seems pretty simple when you break it down to the basics: Watch your weight, eat less, move more. But beyond these baselines that Eck emphasizes, health at the mid-century mark does take a little more maintenance than in previous years.
Eck said to take control of what you can – stop smoking, for example – and look into what you should start screening.
“Stay in touch with your body,” Eck said. “The fact is that you are aware of things and check yourself periodically, you can intuitively take care of things before they get out of hand.”
Eck said that since health screenings are important, go to your doctor to help direct you toward personal priorities.
“A physician can help an individual pin-down what their relative risks are,” Eck said. “It’s important to minimally check up on obvious risk factors.”
“Being aware of your genetics is very important,” he continued. “If there’s cancer in your family, make sure that you start screening early.”
Dr. Drew Werner, a family practitioner in Eagle, said that this decade is when both men and women should be having colonoscopy procedures, and for many it will be their first one.
“This is something that people dread, but these days preparation for the test is the hardest part,” Werner said. “The test itself is not uncomfortable, since patients are sedated, but the preparation, procedure and recovery take two days.”
Prostate cancer screenings for men should begin at age 50, according to Werner. He said that doctors look for a rate of rising antigen from the PSA, or Prostate-Specific Antigen test, and if the levels of antigen go up at a rate of more that three-quarters per year, there may be a concern for prostate cancer.
Werner said that although public health fairs can be make certain screenings available, it is important that men at this age have a physical with a physician and to be sure that they have a digital rectal exam to help detect signs of prostate cancer.
The average age for women to stop menstruating, or go through menopause, is 51, according to the National Institute on Aging. However, changing levels of female hormones can create symptoms for women months and years surrounding this time.
“Determining your hormone therapy, in general, should be done with your physician looking at your symptoms and lab tests,” said Pharmacist August Smirl of Edwards Medical Center Pharmacy. “Once someone starts hormone replacement therapy they need to be patient. The therapy can take time to achieve proper balance and before symptoms are alleviated.”
Hormone awareness is not just important for women. Men’s levels may begin to fall short in later years as well. Werner said that a greater percentage of men are now being found to have low testosterone levels, which can lead to an increased risk of heart disease and depression.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration now recommends that women with moderate to severe menopausal symptoms who want to try menopausal hormone therapy for relief, use it for the shortest time needed, at the lowest effective dose, as stated on the website for the National Institute on Aging.
“In today’s world there is so much information available online, but make sure you are getting it from a reputable site,” Smirl said. “Once you have done a little research and have decided you want to proceed, talk with your doctor or pharmacist about hormone replacement.”
Smirl said that there are several hormone replacement dose options, including capsules, lozenges, creams and suppositories. He said a compounding pharmacy can help prepare different strength drugs depending on individual needs, and he said manufactured drugs usually only offer a few different strengths.
Werner said that shifts in careers and families can make people feel lost if they are not prepared.
“It can be a very weird thing to call yourself a grandparent,” said Werner. “It’s a recognition of aging, and it’s important to think about that and prepare for it.”
This is a time to look into community involvement and volunteer activities, he said, as well as when people need to be open to redefining themselves in the midst of empty nests, extended families and career retirement.
Seebode said her previous decades of life taught her well and shifted her priorities to sustain a better work/life balance.
“I notice that I am not as focused on money as I was when I younger,” Seebode said. “It’s more important that I love where I work and that I love the people I work with. If it’s not good for me, I’m not gonna do it.”
Werner said this is also the first decade when people usually begin to lose some peers because of disease and illness, rather than just from accident or tragedy.
“When we have peers who may be dying, struck with heart disease or cancer, we suddenly take health a lot more seriously,” Werner said.
This is a decade when individuals seem to be in better health and have less obesity rates than the younger people in our society, Werner said. He said that people in their 50s often redefine fitness and wellness in their lives as they begin to realize that they are not so far removed from chronic illnesses.
“From watching my parents age I am more aware of my own health,” Seebode said. “I talk to my mom often about what she is going through, now in her 70s, and it makes me think about how to look after my future health.”