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Living Healthy After 50

Four keys to staying fit after the fifth decade

Dr. Sanaz Majd, a family medicine specialist at Scripps Coastal Medical Center in Vista, offers advice for staying health after age 50.

Four keys to staying fit after the fifth decade

We all know there is no way to stop the clock or turn back time on aging, but exercising smart and eating well can go a long way toward making 50 — and beyond — fun and fabulous.

“People are smarter about their health than in previous decades,” says Sanaz Majd, MD, a family medicine specialist at Scripps Coastal Medical Center in Vista. “While there is no denying that we may have to work a bit harder to stay fit and healthy after age 50 than we did at age 30, aging today definitely does not mean retiring from life.”

Take charge of your health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after the age of 30, the capacity of our organs, muscles and cells gradually diminishes in aerobic capacity and muscle strength, resulting in loss of lean tissue, slower metabolism and increased body fat. Your body’s connective tissues—muscles, tendons and ligaments— also start to shorten and tighten, losing elasticity and inhibiting blood flow.

Combined with hormonal changes — especially in women as they enter menopause — these changes can make it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight and body. And too many pounds can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, joint problems and depression.

Four simple steps can help keep your weight in check and your body moving optimally.

1. Eat a healthy diet

Good nutrition keeps muscles, bones and organs strong for the long haul. Since muscle mass diminishes with age, the rate at which your body uses calories decreases. Basically, you need to eat less than you did during your 30s and 40s, about 200 fewer calories per day, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

According to the National Institute on Aging, sedentary women over 50 need about 1,600 calories per day and those who are active need about 2,000 to 2,200. Sedentary men over 50 require about 2,000 calories, while those with an active lifestyle need about 2,400 to 2,800.

To make sure you still get the nutrition you need, choose fruits, vegetables and whole grains — all high-fiber foods that tend to make you feel fuller for longer periods of time. Eat sufficient high-quality protein from fish, skinless chicken and turkey, low-fat dairy and plant-based protein. Keep the hot dogs, bacon and salami to a minimum, as they can increase your risk of heart disease, cancer and other conditions.

2. Get your heart pumping with regular aerobic, or “cardio” exercise

Kick-starting your routine can help increase muscle mass and counteract a slowing metabolism, as well as keep your heart healthy. Take advantage of living in San Diego where we can stay active outside throughout the year. A brisk walk or run on the beach can get your heart rate up and keep your outlook bright. Hiking in the mountains or biking on the shore burns up calories while keeping you smiling. Dr. Majd recommends at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise, where the heart is pumping and you’re breaking a sweat, most days of the week.

3. Do resistance training, also called strength or weight training

It targets muscle strength and endurance, fending off muscle fiber and bone loss. The CDC recommends muscle-training activities twice a week to gain benefits. “The age-related loss of muscle and bone loss can lead to further conditions, such as poor posture, increased risk of injury, osteoporosis and joint pain,” says Dr. Majd.

With so many different types of resistance training, you can pick one that is best suited for your lifestyle. Free weights, weight machines, medicine balls, resistance bands and even your own body weight can all strengthen your muscles, whether at home or the gym. Body weight training, such as squats, push-ups and sit-ups, is particularly convenient because it’s free, does not require equipment and can be done at home or while traveling. In fact, body weight training is one of the top fitness trends predicted for 2015, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.

4. Participate in stretching and balance exercises

Stretching and balance help improve and maintain flexibility, increase your body’s range of motion and making you less prone to injury. The good news? No matter what your age, flexibility can be regained through regular stretching. When you stretch, you lengthen the muscles and tendons, enabling the joint to flex, extend and move in multiple directions. Yoga and tai chi are good ways to make stretching more fun.

Talk with your primary care doctor before starting any new exercise program or incorporating new activities into your current plan. If necessary, your doctor can also discuss weight management.