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A woman in your 50s? What you need to do now for your overall health

Get ready for your 50s, from diet and exercise to preparing for the menopause

Our bodies and our minds change as we go through life. Áilín Quinlan talks to the experts about the big issues for 50-somethings in terms of everything from menopause to high blood pressure and heart health.


Care of a woman's cardiovascular health is very important at this stage, says consultant nutritionist Gaye Godkin. "Your oestrogen levels are dipping now. Oestrogen is one of the biggest protectors against cardiovascular disease."

Eat lots of vegetables. Eat oily fish three times a week and incorporate plenty of fibre into your diet, such as porridge, milled linseed, chia seeds and quinoa. Make a point of eating lots of green vegetables which are high in folate, she advises – folate is very important to cardiovascular health.

Another issue coming to the fore during this decade, explains Godkin, is Sarcopenia, or muscle wastage. If you haven’t already done so, incorporate weight-lifting into your fitness regime, she advises, and eat the following foods to help your body fight back: “Eat natural yoghurt, every day – not low-fat, preferably sheep’s milk yoghurt, which is higher in protein and suitable for those who cannot take cow’s milk. Also eat anti-inflammatory foods such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds tinned salmon, sardines and mackerel.”


For good bone health, another issue which comes to the fore for women during this decade, Godkin advises taking a vitamin D supplement and tweak your diet. “For strong bones eat calcium-rich foods such as natural yoghurt, cheese, or tinned sardines and nuts if you don’t eat dairy.”

To maintain a healthy stable blood pressure level – high blood pressure can also become a problem for women during this decade – Godkin recommends avoiding processed meats, and the consumption of blueberries, aubergines, red cabbage and beetroot which are high in naturally occurring nitrates.

“They increase the levels of nitric oxide in the body for healthy blood vessels,” she explains.


There is a general rule of 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise for everyone in this age group, explains Galway GP and TV3's in-house doctor, Brian Higgins. "However, what you can do in your 50s is dependent on your ability. If you've looked after yourself you should be able to do everything a 30-year-old can do, albeit a little slower," he declares.

However, he adds, it’s all about pushing yourself within your personal limits so as to avoid injury and it’s also important to do something you enjoy.

“Weight-bearing exercise such as walking or jogging is particularly important for women during and after menopause as it is crucial for good bone health,” he adds.

Potential health issues

A variety of health concerns can arise for women in their 50s, says Cork GP and lifestyle medicine expert, Dr Fiona O’Reilly. “The menopause is a huge issue for women in their 50s. It occurs when a woman’s ovaries stop working and she experiences the effect of low oestrogen and a surge of the follicle stimulation hormone FH.

“Symptoms include bone pain, low mood, poor concentration, loss of skin elasticity and urinary tract infections. Meanwhile, FH surges cause everything from hot flushes and night sweats, anxiety, palpitation and poor quality sleep.”

There is a range of treatment options ranging from lifestyle tweaks to conventional and alternative medicine.

In terms of lifestyle, she says it’s important for women to be aware of the need to stay well hydrated, reduce their intake of caffeine, sugar and alcohol, take moderate exercise daily, eat more protein and take calcium magnesium and vitamin D supplements. If symptoms are severe, O’Reilly suggests talking to your GP about available treatment options which can range from hormone replacement therapy to herbal medicine or reflexology.

Another problem for women in their 50s, she warns, is middle-aged spread. “The metabolism slows down during menopause, on top of which we may be eating more and eating late and are less active in general,” she explains.

Now is also a good time to cut down on alcohol consumption, O’Reilly advises. “Alcohol is high in triglycerides which increase the waistline as well.”

This is important, O’Reilly points out, because fat deposited around the abdomen is a high-risk factor for developing breast, colon and oesophageal cancers. “Type 2 diabetes has become an epidemic mainly through people developing obesity in midlife.

“This is because the body’s insulin cannot work as fat blocks its ability to regulate blood sugars .This in turn causes disease of the blood vessels, nerves, kidneys, eyes and skin. Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial going forward. Get to know your hbA1c level which is a 100-day test of your sugar control,” she advises.

Heart health

Women in this category may also be at risk of reduced heart health. “Oestrogen protects women in terms of their cardiovascular health by reducing the risk of atherosclerosis which is narrowing of the arteries, which contributes to a risk of heart attacks and stroke. “

However, she explains, the drop in oestrogen levels as a result of menopause contributes to a higher risk of blood pressure.

Many people don't prepare for or manage menopause properly. From a mental health point of view, anxiety and depression can be part of this

“There is a need to manage stress, maintain a healthy weight and undergo regular checks in terms of blood pressure and cholesterol levels. For heart health, quit smoking.”

On top of all of this, ensure you are getting your cancer screenings, she advises. “It is very important to ensure you attend breast check and cervical check screenings. Pelvic cancer screening can be done through a simple blood test carried out by your GP.”

Mental wellbeing

The challenges that tend to face women in their 50s include coping with the consequences of menopause, managing teenage children and looking after ageing parents, and a lot of people don't prepare for this onslaught of demands, warns GP, mental health expert and best-selling author, Dr Harry Barry.

“Many people don’t prepare for or manage menopause properly. From a mental health point of view, anxiety and depression can be part of this, along with a fall in self-confidence, all of which can impact on an intimate relationship, leading to anxiety and risk of stress and depression.”

Prepare for menopause, he urges, don’t just fall into it.

Look after yourself and make a special effort to work on your relationship in this decade, he urges. “The 50s is often the decade where most relationships begin to show cracks,” says Barry, who refers to the life priority pyramid – prioritise yourself firstly and, secondly, make a point of prioritising your intimate relationship, he advises.

Tip for making the most of your decade

Invest in a Fitbit or similar device, suggests Dr O’Reilly. “This is a practical way to track your heart rate, encourage you to take 10,000 steps daily, guide you through breathing exercises, calculate calories burned and monitor the different stages of sleep among other things,” she declares.

“These stats help us to understand our basic level of fitness. They can demonstrate poor sleep patterns which can affect memory and mood and how simple breathing techniques can relax the mind and body.”

Health & Fitness advice through the Decades
- Women in their 20s
- Men in their 20s
- Women in their 30s
- Men in their 30s
- Women in their 40s
- Men in their 40s
- Women in their 50s
- Men in their 50s
- Women in their 60s
- Men in their 60s

- Women in their 70s
- Men in their 70s

- Women in their 80s
- Men in their 80s

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