Food, fitness and health: how to be at your best in your 50s


This June, we're celebrating Youth Day by encouraging youthfulness through a holistic approach to your wellbeing. Here's a 50-something's guide to managing your diet, exercise and health.

The American journalist Irvin S. Cobb once quipped, "Middle age is when you begin to exchange your emotions for symptoms!" While hitting your 50s can mean you're quicker to feel wear and tear on your body, that doesn't mean it's all over. Prioritising your health and wellness is the ticket to enjoying agility and youthfulness as you age.

We asked some experts for guidelines on how to enjoy your best health in your 50s, and here's what they had to say.

Don't let vitamin or mineral deficiencies get the better of you

As you grow older, you're more likely to develop deficiencies in vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium. "Try as much as you can to meet your nutrient needs through food, but consult a dietician and use fortified foods or supplements if required," suggests Candice Smith, Head of Vitality's Nutrition Strategy. These are her diet tips for 50-somethings:

  • Reduce your cancer risk by eating more fresh fruits and vegetables (these are high in phytochemicals - plant compounds that help protect against cancer) and less processed meats.
  • Immune function decreases with age. Help counter it with zinc-rich foods (like lean meats, oysters, dairy, beans, nuts, and seeds) and folate-rich foods (like liver, yeast, spinach and Brussels sprouts).
  • Older adults often struggle with constipation. Choose high-fibre foods over refined products to help prevent or relieve it.
  • To counter any loss of taste and smell, flavour foods with a variety of salt-free spices and herbs, lemon juice, or vinegar.
  • Eat oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines) at least twice a week to reduce your chances of developing heart disease and to slow down cognitive decline. Here's a delicious recipe from the Vitality HealthyFood Studio for Sicilian-style fish balls in tomato sauce.
  • If you drink alcohol, moderation is key. Too much can lead to unwanted weight gain and increase your risk for developing high blood pressure, heart disease and certain cancers.

Fight muscle mass and tone with strength training

At this age, your metabolism takes a serious drop, so you pick up weight easily if you're not mindful. "A loss of muscle mass and muscle tone can also affect your posture and bone density, so add in upper and lower back exercises and core exercises," suggests Mari Leach, a biokineticist at Discovery Vitality. Here are her top workout tips:

  • Increase your cardio workouts to 20 to 40-minute sessions four to six times a week. Do this at an intensity where you can still answer a short question, but not chat.
  • Add stretches for your chest and lats, as well as balance, core strengthening exercises and some weight training sessions to combat the loss of muscle mass as you get older.
  • You can still do some impact activities, like running, but remember that you'll need more recovery time after those sessions than you did before. This is crucial to help you avoid picking up an injury.
  • Exercise can also improve your concentration and quality of sleep.

Leach adds, "Staying active can add years to your life. A combination of cardio, strength and balance training can help maintain muscle tone and make everyday tasks easier. Plus, with regular exercise, you'll likely have more energy, confidence and cope better with the daily stresses of life."

Recommended screening Frequency Top health tip
Pap smear (women only) Once every three years For women: Breast cancer screening means checking your breasts for cancer before there are signs or symptoms of the disease. Many expert organisations recommend that if you are 50 to 74 years old and are at average risk for breast cancer, you should get a mammogram every two years.
For men: To screen for prostate cancer, you should get a baseline rectal exam and PSA blood test at age 50. Then, if you are at high risk, you should get a PSA and rectal exam every year thereafter.
Dental check-up Once a year
HIV test Once a year
Flu vaccination Once a year
Glaucoma screening Once a year
Mammogram (women only) Once every two years
Prostrate exam (men only) Once every four years
Colonoscopy Once every ten years

Famed French author Victor Hugo once observed, "Forty is the old age of youth; fifty the youth of old age." So make the most of your 'second youth' by prioritising your wellness and paving your way to better health!

Now have a look at these tips to stay healthy and youthful in any decade:

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It measures all aspects of your wellness like exercise, nutrition and stress. Plus, completing the assessment can earn you 2 500 Vitality points!

By finding out your Vitality Age and doing a Vitality Health Check you will increase your cash back on HealthyFood at Pick n Pay or Woolworths and HealthyCare at Clicks or Dis-Chem. Find out today.

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