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Manage your health in your 50s

10-minute read

Key facts

  • Ask your doctor about screening tests for heart problems and cancer.
  • Your doctor can also check for diabetes, kidney disease and osteoporosis.
  • Aim for a healthy lifestyle by eating well, being active and limiting alcohol and smoking.
  • Have regular eye tests and dental check-ups.
  • Your doctor may recommend some vaccinations.

What health screening tests should I have at 50?

Learn how to reduce your risks and to manage your health at this stage of your life. Be aware of the health conditions that can start to affect you in your 50s.

Talk to your doctor about what tests you need, based on your current health and family history.

Below is a list of health checks that you should get done.

Every year

Every 2 years

Every 3 years

  • a diabetes risk assessment
  • an eye test

Every 5 years

At regular intervals

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

What can I do to stay healthy?

To help stay healthy you should:

  • quit smoking
  • eat well
  • limit the alcohol you drink
  • be physically active
  • get immunised

This will help lower your risk of:

Are you at risk?

Find out if you're at risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes or kidney disease using our Risk Checker.

Quit smoking

You can get support to quit smoking from your doctor, who may also give you nicotine replacement therapy or other medicines to help. Read about how to quit smoking, or try a service such Quitline 13 7848.

Eat well

It's important to have a balanced diet and to stay within a healthy weight range. If you are overweight a 5%-10% weight loss can help reduce risk.

Try to eat to eat 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables each day. A healthy diet also includes:

  • grains
  • lean meats
  • poultry (chicken and turkey)
  • fish
  • milk, yoghurt and cheese

Limit how much sugar, saturated fat and salt you eat.

Limit your alcohol intake

Drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day. If you're driving or taking part in risky activities, it's best not to drink.

If you have a condition that can be made worse by alcohol, your doctor may advise you not to drink any alcohol.

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. Also include muscle strengthening activities twice a week.

It's better to do some physical activity in your 50s than none at all. Try to avoid sitting for long periods.

Immunisation

If you are aged over 50 you're at increased risk of some vaccine-preventable diseases, even if you are otherwise healthy. Some of these disease can cause serious complications.

Talk with 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)
  • pneumococcal vaccine (for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples)
  • influenza
  • COVID-19

How can I help prevent health problems?

Some health problems may become more common as you grow older, especially if you have other risk factors:

However, there are some things you can do in your 50s to help prevent these conditions from developing or getting worse.

Cardiovascular disease

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) includes heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease.

If you are aged 45 years or over, you should have a cardiovascular risk assessment every 2 years. Your doctor will ask you some questions and test your blood pressure and cholesterol as well as checking for other health conditions.

If you're an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person these checks should start from 35 years.

You can help prevent cardiovascular disease by following a healthy lifestyle and reducing any high blood pressure and cholesterol.

High blood pressure

How often you need a blood pressure test depends on your cardiovascular risk.

Your blood pressure should be checked:

  • every 2 years if your cardiovascular risk is low
  • every 6 to 12 months if your cardiovascular risk is moderate risk
  • every 6 to 12 weeks if your if your cardiovascular risk is high

If your blood pressure is high, you will need to follow the healthy lifestyle recommendations to try to reduce it. You may also need to take antihypertensive (high blood pressure) medicine.

Cholesterol and lipids

You should have your cholesterol and lipids checked every 5 years with a blood test. If you're at high risk of cardiovascular disease you will need a test every 1 to 2 years.

You can help maintain a healthy cholesterol level with exercise and a healthy diet. You may need to take cholesterol lowering medicine.

Type 2 diabetes

If you're in your 50s you should be screened every 3 years for type 2 diabetes risk factors.

If you're at high risk for diabetes a blood glucose test should be done every 3 years.

If your blood glucose test has been abnormal before you may need a test every year.

If you're an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person you should be screened regularly for diabetes from the age of 18 years.

The lifestyle recommendations above can help prevent type 2 diabetes.

Stroke

If you're aged over 45 years your doctor may ask you about symptoms and risk factors related to stroke.

If you have atrial fibrillation (AF) or another reason to be at high risk of a stroke, your doctor will assess you every 12 months.

Your doctor may recommend medicine for atrial fibrillation or other risk factors. This will reduce your chance of having a stroke.

Kidney disease

If you're at high risk for kidney disease your doctor will check your kidney function every 1 to 2 years. Your doctor will arrange a blood test and a urine test.

Breast cancer

A screening mammogram is recommended every 2 years from the age of 50.

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.

Females at higher risk may have an individual screening program developed by their doctor.

Skin cancer

If you are in your 50s, your doctor may check your skin when you visit for another reason.

If you're at high risk for skin cancer you should have a complete skin check every 6 to 12 months.

If you notice any new or changing skin spots you should see your doctor.

Ensure that you are SunSmart and protect your skin from future sun damage.

Cervical cancer

If you're a female in your 50s you should continue to be screened for cervical cancer. The cervical screening test has replaced the Pap test.

It detects human papillomavirus (HPV) and is more effective than the Pap test. HPV is a common infection that can lead to cervical cancer.

If you've had a Pap test, your first HPV test should be 2 years after your last Pap test. After that, you only need to have the test every 5 years if your result is normal.

Prostate cancer

If you are a male in your 50s you may wish to talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of prostate cancer screening.

Colorectal (bowel or colon) cancer

Your doctor will assess your risk of colorectal cancer. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, they may recommend a colonoscopy.

Otherwise, if you're aged 50 to 74 years, it's recommended that you do a screen for bowel cancer using a faecal occult blood test (FOBT).

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program will send you a free testing kit every 2 years, once you turn 50.

Depending on your result your doctor may recommend that you have a colonoscopy.

Osteoporosis and fracture

Osteoporosis is when your bones lose minerals and become more brittle. If you have osteoporosis, you're at risk of fractures.

Your doctor may ask you screening questions every 12 months to assess your risk of osteoporosis. You can also use the Know your Bones self-assessment tool.

If you have a fracture following a small bump or fall you may need a bone mineral density scan.

To help prevent osteoporosis:

  • females should have 1,300mg of calcium each day
  • males should have 1,000mg of calcium each day

This can come from food or supplements. You should also follow the lifestyle recommendations above and try to get enough vitamin D. Your doctor may also give you medicine to help strengthen your bones.

Tooth decay and gum disease

You can help prevent tooth decay and gum disease by:

  • brushing your teeth twice a day with a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste
  • using dental floss daily
  • limiting the foods and drinks you eat that are high in acid and sugar
  • visiting a dentist at least once a year

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

Resources and support

You can call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2023


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