When my mother was in her 50’s, she made me promise to “take care of” her chin hairs should she ever become unable to pluck them herself. I was baffled and probably rolled my eyes at her request, but she was my mother and so I made the promise. Now 50 myself, I understand, and find myself peering in the magnifying mirror every morning with a tweezer in hand.
She also told me I’d probably need reading glasses at this age and, sure enough, I found myself in the pharmacy of a local grocery store trying on over-the-counter reading glasses (a valuable lesson she taught me: drugstore reading glasses can be just as good as prescription).
I long ago learned not to roll my eyes at my mother – because she was usually right – but I have started to wonder what else my 50s have in store for me. I’ve already got the grey hair and creaky joints covered. What’s next?
The real question is what’s down? A decrease in hormone production in both men and women at this age is responsible for the symptoms we complain about; and some also symptoms nobody talks about. For women, slowed production of estrogen and progesterone can cause hot flashes, insomnia, a decreased sex drive, and increased depression and mood swings. Also correlated with a drop in estrogen is a drop in collagen production. Reduced collagen levels result in reduced bone density, loss of skin tone, wrinkles, and brittle hair and nails.
Although we mostly hear about women going through the change of life, men aren’t necessarily skating through these years unchanged. In men, decreasing testosterone can cause andropause, with symptoms that include increased depression; and decreased energy, muscle strength and sex drive or sexual performance.
But that’s not all. Hormonal slowdown also goes hand-in-hand with changes in metabolism, appearance, and sensory processing.
Although we tend to gain a pound or two per year as we age, weight gain may appear more noticeable in our 50’s. Hormonal changes tend to increase belly fat as our aging bodies become resistant to insulin. It’s not only a cosmetic issue, however. When the cells in fat, muscles, and the liver don’t respond to insulin the way they used to, the result is higher blood sugar levels. This raises our risk for type 2 diabetes.
Our metabolism slowdown actually begins in our 30’s, as does age-related muscle loss. In fact, both accelerate as the years go by. But they become more noticeable by the time we’re 50, when many of our systems are slowing down. Collagen production, for instance, slows down at this age, contributing to thinner skin, hair, and connective tissue. Together with decreasing muscle mass, this leads to weaker bones.
In fact, the decline in overall functioning we start to feel as we age is primarily caused by loss of muscle mass. Muscle changes also causes one of the symptoms of aging many find most embarrassing: loss of bladder control.
Of course, this is the time in our life when we notice those most obvious signs of aging: gray hair and wrinkles.
Those changes in hair pigment, thickness and texture we notice are due to slowing collagen production. Decreasing collagen production also causes skin to become thinner, drier, and more susceptible to cuts and sores. It also makes wrinkles apparent due to a decrease in the integrity of the dermal layer of skin.
Along with skin and hair changes, we may begin to notice a change in stature. We may stand a little less straight or notice our pants are a little bit longer. But this isn’t just a cosmetic issue, either. It’s a result of bone and muscle mass loss. As we age, bones lose minerals making them brittle and susceptible to fracture. Our vertebral disks also become drier and thinner, compressing the spine and, yes, causing us to shrink. Bone loss (osteoporosis) is more common in women due to decreasing estrogen production. In fact, osteoporosis causes about 50% of women over age 50 to break a bone.
You may have already given into the need for reading glasses. But did you know that aging eyes also need more light and have a decreased ability to see colors?
And how’s your hearing? By age 50, you may have been exposed to workplace noise, noise pollution, the side effects of medications, and even some fantastic (and loud) concerts. All take a toll on your hearing, although changes to the aging ear or nerves in the ear also cause hearing loss.
You probably expected your vision and hearing to decline, but they’re not the only senses affected by age. Changes in brain functioning, nerve damage, chronic diseases and medications may also decrease your ability to taste, smell, and feel.
It may seem like I’ve painted a grim picture of life after 50, but many of these changes happen so gradually that you adapt as you go. And many can be slowed down and even improved through exercise and diet. Changes to hair, skin and blood sugar, especially, respond to good nutrition and proper hydration. Supplementation with a high-quality marine collagen can also result in some impressive improvements in skin, hair, nails and bones. And weight bearing exercise can slow muscle and bone loss, keeping you healthier and more active overall. Being healthier overall helps you enjoy these years to the best of your ability.
While the downside of aging is frequently the focus of discussion, the best part of being over 50 shouldn’t be overlooked. By this age, most of us are settled comfortably in our careers, less interested in the competition and ladder climbing that characterized business-as-usual when we were younger. We tend to be happier with ourselves at this age, less interested in what others think of us, and more aware of our connection to the world around us. Many of us are enjoying adult children, grandchildren, retirement, and time – finally – to just be ourselves.
So embrace the changes with good health and a happy heart. 50 is, after all, nifty.