Now that you have reached your 50s, here are some recommendations to help you prevent health conditions that are more common at this age.
Any screening tests you should have will depend on your health. Talk to your doctor about what exactly you need, but most healthy people in their 50s should have the following tests.
- have an osteoporosis risk assessment
- have a dental check-up
Every 2 years
- have a heart disease risk assessment
- have a blood pressure check
- have a mammogram (women)
- have a check for bowel cancer
- have an eye test
Every 3 years
- have a blood glucose test
Every 5 years
- have your cholesterol and lipids checked
- have a cervical screening test (women)
At regular intervals
- have skin cancer checks
Healthy lifestyle recommendations
Some risk factors can contribute to certain diseases in your 50s, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease and cancer. To help you stay healthy:
Are you at risk?
You should enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods every day, including fruit and vegetables, grains, lean meats, poultry and fish, as well as milk, yoghurt and cheese. Limit foods containing saturated fat, added salt and sugar, and alcohol.
Drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day.
If you have a condition that can get worse with alcohol, your doctor may advise you not to drink.
Be physically active
Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on most, preferably all, days of the week. Moderate-intensity physical activity is an activity that is energetic and raises your heart rate but doesn't make you too breathless, such as fast walking.
It is better to do some physical activity in your 50s than none at all.
Once you are over 50, you are at greater risk of some diseases and complications of diseases. Once you turn 50, talk to your doctor about whether you need any of the following vaccinations or booster shots:
- MMR (measles, mumps and rubella)
- dTpa (diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough)
Staying healthy/preventative activities
The following health problems may become more common at this age, especially if you have other risk factors. However, there are also some things you can do in your 50s to help prevent these conditions from developing:
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) includes heart disease, stroke and blood vessel disease of the limbs (periphery).
You should have an assessment of CVD risk every 2 years unless your doctor already knows you are high risk. Your doctor may ask you questions and test your blood pressure and cholesterol as well as checking for other health conditions.
You can help prevent CVD by following the healthy lifestyle recommendations above, as well as reducing high blood pressure and cholesterol.
High blood pressure
You should have a blood pressure test every 2 years, or every 6 to 12 months if you have a moderate risk of CVD, or every 6 to 12 weeks if your risk is high.
Apart from the above diet and exercise recommendations, other ways to prevent high blood pressure include:
- maintaining a waist measurement of less than 94cm for men and less than 80cm for women
- limiting salt to 5mg per day, or 4mg if you have high blood pressure (this tool will help you check the amount of salt in processed food)
Cholesterol and lipids
It’s recommended you have your cholesterol and lipids checked every 5 years with a blood test, or every 1 to 2 years if you have a higher risk of CVD.
You can help maintain a healthy cholesterol level with exercise and a healthy diet.
Type 2 diabetes
In your 50s you should be tested every 3 years to see if you have type 2 diabetes, or every 12 months if you are at increased risk. Your doctor will organise a blood test to check your glucose level.
The above exercise, diet and weight recommendations can help prevent type 2 diabetes.
If you are at high risk of a stroke, your doctor should assess you every 12 months.
The assessment may involve a series of questions and tests for CVD risk factors including atrial fibrillation. Medicines may be available for these conditions if you have them.
Kidney disease should be assessed every 1 to 2 years if you are at high risk. Risk factors can be similar to CVD or could involve an injury to your kidney.
Your doctor may ask you a series of questions as well as checking your blood pressure and doing a urine test. You may need to take medicine to lower your blood pressure if it is high.
For women at a lower risk from breast cancer, a screening mammogram is recommended every 2 years from the age of 50. Women at higher risk may have an individual program developed by their doctor.
You should be familiar with the look and feel of your breasts and should see your doctor straight away if you see or feel any unusual changes.
If you are in your 50s, your doctor may check your skin even if you have an appointment for another reason. If you are at high risk for skin cancer you should have a complete skin check every 6 to 12 months.
Ensure that you ‘slip, slop, slap, seek and slide’ to protect your skin from future sun damage.
To test for cervical cancer women should have a cervical screening test 2 years after their last Pap test. After that, if your result is normal you will only need to have the cervical screening test every 5 years.
This screening test for HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) test has replaced the previous Pap test and is more accurate. However, the procedure to collect the sample is the same as a Pap test.
Colorectal (bowel or colon) cancer
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program sends free FOBTs to people every 4 years once they have turned 50. In 2020, this will occur every 2 years. With the FOBT you can take a sample of your faeces (poo), yourself.
Depending on your results your doctor may recommend that you have a colonoscopy.
Osteoporosis and fracture
Osteoporosis occurs when bones lose minerals and become more brittle, putting them at risk of fractures.
Your doctor may ask you screening questions every 12 months to assess your risk. Women over 50 with risk factors for osteoporosis or anyone over 50 who experiences a fracture following a small bump or fall should be investigated further. This involves a simple scan with a machine, taking around 10 to 15 minutes.
To help prevent osteoporosis, ensure you have 1,300mg calcium per day (if you are a woman) while men should consume 1,000mg per day. You should also follow the healthy diet and exercise recommendations above. Getting enough vitamin D, without risk of skin cancer is also advised.
Tooth decay and gum disease
You can help prevent tooth decay and gum disease by:
- brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste
- spitting out the toothpaste, not rinsing
- using dental floss
- limiting foods and drinks high in acid and sugar
- visiting a dentist every 12 months, or more if required
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: December 2020