Menopause, Painful Sex, Weight Gain: Surviving Your 50s

You already know this: Your 40s were stressful, and it doesn’t look like things will slow down in your 50s. You’re still working. Your parents are getting older, and maybe they’re relying on you for support. Financial stress increases as your kids enter college. Health and sexual issues can add to marital stress.Watch your weight in your 50s: Eat better, get exercise

We can’t tell you how to pay for college. But here’s your guide to managing your health.

Keep It Up

Contraception

Yes, contraception. The average age of menopause, which is confirmed after you’ve gone 12 months without a period, is 51. But some women may not experience menopause until their late 50s or, rarely, their 60s.

Exercise — And Don’t Eat Too Much

Do you know the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S.? You might be tempted to blame cancer, but nope. It’s heart disease.

The best way to maintain a healthy heart? Eat healthy, watch your portion sizes and exercise.

Stay Healthy in Charlottesville

The Women’s Four Miler and Men’s Four Miler have training programs and are open to people at every level of fitness. Get more info about local races from the Charlottesville Track Club.

Unfortunately, maintaining a healthy weight won’t get easier: After menopause, your estrogen and testosterone levels decrease, which lowers your metabolic rate — how much energy your body uses while resting. The good news? Even low-impact exercise like gardening and walking can make a difference, says JoAnn Pinkerton, MD, of UVA’s Midlife Health Center. Exercise has also been shown to reduce the severity of menopause symptoms, according to the North American Menopause Society.

And there’s another bonus: “We know that exercise suppresses appetite, so people who are active tend to not overeat,” says urologist and men’s health expert Ryan Smith, MD.

Know Your Numbers

Continue with your regular screenings for:

  • High blood pressure
  • Weight and BMI
  • Cholesterol
  • Lipids
  • Blood sugar levels

“If you’re adamant about keeping track of these and trying to optimize them, it’s going to really help in the long term,” Smith says.

For women: Remember to also test for:

  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Cervical cancer (pap and HPV testing)

Need A Doctor?

Make An Appointment:

Mammograms

Both Pinkerton and breast radiologist Jennifer Harvey, MD, recommend yearly mammograms from age 40 until age 55.

After age 55, many women can transition to every other year. If you have dense breast tissue, a family history of breast or ovarian cancer or a prior biopsy showing atypical cells, you should continue your annual mammogram and consider tomosynthesis (3D mammography).

Read more about mammography guidelines.

New To Think About

Bone Health

Actually, you should have been thinking about bone health all along. But if you weren’t, menopause should be your wake-up call: Women lose up to 20 percent of their bone mass after menopause, Pinkerton says. But you shouldn’t go crazy with calcium supplements, because too much can lead to plaque formation in your heart.

Smith, our urologist, says most men don’t need a calcium supplement, although if you have low testosterone you might be more susceptible to osteoporosis.

For calcium in diet or supplements, The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends:

  • 1,000 milligrams daily for women under 51
  • 1,200 milligrams daily for women 51 and older
  • 1,000 milligrams daily for men under 70

Many women also need vitamin D supplements.

Health Hacks by Decade

Take Charge of Your Health: Young Adults in Their 20s

Be Healthy in Your 30s

Health in Your 40s: The Basics

Healthy Aging: A Guide to Your 60s and Beyond

Turning 50? Get a Colon Cancer Screening

If you’ve got a family history of colon problems or have already had them, you might get screened earlier. Otherwise, the American Cancer Society recommends a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy at age 50. Gastroenterologists or surgeons usually do colonoscopies, while primary care doctors can do sigmoidoscopies.

After your first screening, your doctor will look at your results and make a recommendation for future screenings.

Men: Start Prostate Screenings at 55

Men ages 55-69 should get a prostate screening every two years, Smith says. If you’re African-American or have a family history, though, you should start screenings earlier.

What to Watch For

Mental Health: Depression and Suicide

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that men, who are already more likely to commit suicide than women, have the highest suicide rates in their 50s,. Depression is also common, affecting 15.7 million U.S. adults in 2014, according to the National Institutes for Health.

Stress, sleep issues and other medical problems all play a role. If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, ask for help.

Depressed or Suicidal?

Help is available.

  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800.273.8255
  • Talk to your doctor about what you’re experiencing.

Painful Sex, Lack of Libido

In your 50s, things tend to slow down or complicate your sex life.

Women: After menopause:

  • Your body produces less estrogen, leading to a decrease in the superficial cells in your vagina. “It’s like sitting on a bench without the cushion,” Pinkerton says.
  • Your vaginal pH changes, so you’re more likely to have unhealthy bacteria.
  • Your vagina loses its elasticity and gets smaller.

All that leads to painful sex. Your doctor can prescribe lubricants to make sex less painful, vaginal moisturizers to improve your pH, or other therapies to compensate for your estrogen decrease.

Men: Erectile dysfunction is not just a sex issue. Smith says ED is often the earliest sign of heart disease. So, again — keep up with your screenings and know your numbers.

And yes, guys, we’re talking to you. Men are especially bad at this: They’re 25 percent less likely to have seen their primary care doctor in the past year.

Libido

Then there’s the desire issue. Men and women both lose testosterone as they age. And occasionally, a lack of sex drive can be attributed to unusually low testosterone or thyroid levels or medication.

But 70 percent of your sex drive is in your brain, Pinkerton says. Hectic schedules and other relationship issues might combine to make sex a low priority.

Pinkerton’s recommendation? Schedule date nights and sex. Try mornings: Both men and women have slightly higher testosterone levels in the morning. There is a new medication for loss of libido in women, but decreasing pain during sex and addressing relationship issues should come first.

And, finally, we can’t say it enough: Talk to your doctor. Medications for depression, hypertension and nerve pain can affect desire. “This definitely falls into the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ category,” Pinkerton says. “Providers are reluctant to ask because they don’t know what to do, and patients are uncomfortable bringing it up. But you can’t move forward if you don’t bring it up.”

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