Health tips for over 50s

As people move into their 50s, 60s and beyond, health problems may become more numerous and more varied.

Health tips for over 50s

As people move into their 50s, 60s and beyond, health problems may become more numerous and more varied. It is important as people age that they more closely monitor their own health and ensure they get all the important check-ups. Above all, it is vital that people have a GP they can see regularly and who can provide them with holistic health care and advice, as they grow older.
People should not be afraid to ask questions of their GP, especially in regard to conditions which are known risks for older people.
Here are simple and practical tips.


1. Prostate.
Discuss the prostate issue with your GP. The GP will know your health history and current state of health and will decide whether you need to be tested.
In general, unless you have a family history of prostate cancer the conversation should start when you are about 50. Remember, the jury is still out about the value of the PSA blood test and the digital rectal examination.


1. Breast screening
Every woman should attend for screening mammography from the age of 50 every two years. All women should become familiar with the look and feel of their breasts and any new or unusual change should be reported to your GP. Only five per cent of women are at substantially higher risk of breast cancer than the population. If you have a relative who was diagnosed with breast cancer below the age of 50, then see your GP to discuss the issue further.

2. Pap smear screening
Pap test screening is recommended every two years for women who have ever had sex. The over 50s represents an under-screened group. Eighty five per cent of women in Australia who develop cervical cancer either have not had a Pap test or are significantly under-screened. Remember, women who have female sexual partners are also at risk and need screening.


1. Bowel or colo-rectal cancer.
Bowel cancer is common in our society. The screening test is the faecal occult blood test. This is a very simple test that can be done at home and mailed in to the pathology company. Unless you have a family history of colo-rectal cancer, this can begin at age 50 years. It should be repeated every two years

2. Diet
Diet is the key to good health. A mix of different food provides the raw materials that the body needs to stay healthy. Sufficient fibre exercises your insides as well and reduces the risk of diverticular disease of the bowel. The biggest problem with diet is overeating. Remember, ‘energy in’ needs to match the energy ‘going out’. Also, our metabolism slows down as we age, and we need to eat less, or we will inevitably gradually put on weight.

3. Exercise
Exercise keeps your joints lubricated and your muscles strong. Many studies have shown that one hour of exercise three times per week can significantly reduce your risk of heart attack, will burn excess energy and improve your health. Many people enjoy running or jogging, but brisk walking is sufficient for most of us. We need to lift our heart rate and put some colour in our faces. If you are still able to hold a conversation after exercise, you will be well within your safe limits.

3. Weight
Weight goes hand in hand with diet and exercise and is usually the result of an error in one or the other. Our society is growing larger and larger each year. BMI is a good measure to guide us. But for men, if you circumference is greater than 102cm it is time to act. For women, the magic number is 88cm and the limits are tighter if you are Asian or of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander extraction.

4. Smoking
Quit. This is the very first thing that smokers can do to improve their health outlook. Smoking is the number one cause of quality life years lost in our modern society. Take some advice - cold turkey is pretty good but there are lots of techniques that can help. Find a reason to quit, make a plan, put your plan into action and stay on track. For more information visit

5. Alcohol
Alcohol is the next nasty. For a legal drug, it also robs our society of quality life years. Direct and indirect effects are enormous. Binge drinking among teenagers robs them of their full potential. Society has turned against smoking and now its collective wisdom must turn against alcohol. By limiting consumption to two standard drinks per man or woman reduces your risk of death or injury from alcohol to less than 1 in 100. Every drink above this level continues to increase your lifetime risk of death or injury from alcohol. While many young Australians drink frequently, the highest proportion of daily drinkers in 2007 were those over 60 years old.

6. Family history
- cancer
- heart disease
- stroke
- diabetes

Some diseases do run in families. If you have any of the above, particularly in younger members of your relatives you should talk to your Doctor about your own risks. You can't change your genes but you can avoid the factors that we know contribute to your risk of harm.

7. Blood pressure
Blood pressure check at your GP can give them a clue that early intervention is required. A simple thirty second test could prevent your life from being shortened by stroke or heart attack or renal failure. Home blood pressure monitors are quite accurate these days and you can check your relatives and friends also.
Most adults should have a blood pressure check at least every two years.

8. Screening tests
- blood sugar
- cholesterol
- faecal occult blood testing
- renal function test

Blood tests form a part of good medical management of your health and a thorough health check will include some or all of the above. If they are normal they can be repeated at from two to five year intervals.

9. Skin check
It is very important that we are aware of changes on our skin. We have one of the highest melanoma skin cancer and non-melanoma skin cancer rates in the world in Australia. The risk increases with increased sun exposure. If you have a fair complexion and a tendency to burn then you are at slightly higher risk.

Older people

1. Hearing
Hearing cuts you off from society. Wax build up is the most common cause and is the quickest to fix. Those exposed to loud noises should wear hearing protection. If you are concerned, an audiogram will tell us if a hearing aid will help you.

2. Osteoporosis
A lack of calcium in bones can lead to fractures that are unexpected for the degree of trauma. A broken bone in an older person can set off a viscous cycle, which is hard to stop. We should make sure that our diet contains sufficient calcium – about three serves per day or consider taking calcium supplements. For people who never see the sun, Vitamin D could be the problem.

3. Vision
Glaucoma begins silently robbing sight from the age of 40 and your optometrist or ophthalmologist will always check on it. If you have a family history you are at special risk. Cataracts are now readily dealt with. Macular degeneration cannot be fixed but it can be arrested in some cases. The secret is early diagnosis. Your GP can show you a simple test. If your vision changes, you need to find out why and make sure it is not serious.

4. Falls risk
If we are getting frail and our bones are thinning and our hearing is not so good, a fall can start you on a downward spiral. It is important to fix that rolling up carpet and put more rails on steps and in bathrooms and toilets. An ounce of prevention is not only better than the cure - it might also save your life.

Links for further reading

1. RACGP Red Book
2. Quit Smoking
3. Australian Guideline to reduce health risks of alcohol


    To make a comment, please register or login
    go veg!
    18th Aug 2014
    Re vision, it is best to go straight to an optometrist rather than a GP. Optometrists have the necessary very expensive equipment and their extensive training is eye-specific. Most of them can now write prescriptions for eye medications. The same applies to seeing a podiatrist for feet problems rather than a GP.
    18th Aug 2014
    I wouldn't follow this entire list.
    It should be remembered that cancer screening is far from a no-brainer. All screening has risks and hopefully, some benefit, and legally and ethically, it requires our informed consent. IMO, that's been sadly lacking in women's cancer screening.
    VERY few women can benefit from pap testing, almost all women are HPV- and cannot benefit, and we can identify the roughly 5% of women aged 30 to 60 who are HPV+ and could benefit from a 5 yearly pap test, but choose instead to drag all women into testing, and not just screening but serious over-screening, ignoring the evidence. Over-screening leads to high referral rates after false positive pap tests and means more excess biopsies and potentially harmful over-treatment. (for no additional benefit to women)
    The Finns have the lowest rates of cc in the world and refer FAR fewer women for biopsies etc. since the 1960s they've offered 7 pap tests, 5 yearly from 30 to 60. We "treat" more than 10 times the number of women, so this is not new evidence.
    I declined pap testing decades ago, I was content with my near zero risk of cc, rather than a 77% lifetime risk of colposcopy/biopsy under our program. Now I understand I'm HPV- and not at risk. I did not get the information I needed from Australian sources.

    I also, declined breast screening when I turned 50, the Nordic Cochrane Institute, an independent, not-for-profit, medical research group, have produced an excellent summary of the risks and ACTUAL benefits, it seems any benefit of screening is wiped out by those who die from heart attacks and lung cancer after treatments. So the risks of screening exceed any benefit. Screening also, leads to more mastectomies, not fewer (as claimed) and the fall in the death rate is mostly about better treatments, not screening. (as claimed)
    Sadly, there are powerful vested interests in cancer screening, govt screening targets and little respect for informed consent, so we need to be very careful.
    Q: is this test or exam really in MY best interests? Do your own research, never rely on official sources of "information", I've found them to be unreliable. (to put it politely)
    We can say NO, these things CAN harm us or even take our life.
    It's inappropriate and disrespectful to say all women "should" have breast screening from age 50, that's our decision.
    Pap tests, no one needs 2 yearly pap tests, that serious over-screening and testing before age 30 is of no proven benefit, but young women produce the most false positives. Sadly, no country in the world has shown a benefit pap testing young women, but all have evidence of harm. The same very rare cases occur whether you pap test or not.
    The Finns and Dutch have evidence based programs and they've never screened women under the age of 30.
    Now we know MOST women cannot benefit from pap testing. The new Dutch program is the best in the world IMO, for those who wish to screen, they'll scrap their 7 pap test program, 5 yearly from 30 to 60, and offer instead 5 HPV primary tests or HPV self-testing with the Delphi Screener, and ONLY the roughly 5% who are HPV+ will be offered a 5 yearly pap test. (NOT a colposcopy and biopsy) This will save more lives and takes most women out of pap testing and harms way.
    The FOBT and colonoscopies, do your own research, the concerning thing is screening does not change all cause mortality. There is an interesting randomized controlled trial going on at Dartmouth Medical School with Dr Gilbert Welch, comparing the effectiveness of FOBT and the colonoscopy. The latter has been pushed in the States and many suspect it's because it generates huge profits, but it comes with risk. The results of the RCT will be welcome.
    I totally agree with the lifestyle points though, I think the benefits of screening have been exaggerated and the risks downplayed, I think we'd all be better off making informed decisions about screening and largely focusing on lifestyle factors....too many now rely on screening to reassure them all is well, IMO, that's often false assurance.
    Diet, weight, exercise, keep an eye on stress levels, don't smoke, limit your intake of alcohol etc.....IMO, these are the really important things we overlook at our peril.
    Remember the No. 1 killer of men and women is heart disease, the No. 1 cancer is lung cancer.
    18th Aug 2014
    Well said,I agree, no screening or testing for me either. Apart from the cost I find most of it is very intrusive, stresses you out and makes you worry about things you may or may not have. The over diagnoses of illness is unbelievable and a money rort. If you are feeling not well then it is time to boost your immune system, exercise, change your diet and take your health into your own hands. Doctors only treat symptoms not the cause. Checking your vitamin levels can help especially B12, a deficiency can cause all sorts of problems, as well as making sure you get enough Essential Fatty Acids and minerals, go the Flax seed oil.
    18th Aug 2014
    If you continue smoking, drinking alcohol, not getting exercise and eating processed food, over eating acid food like meat, dairy and refined flours, then yes you will get sick and need testing. Prevention is better, a plant based diet has been proven to prevent disease along with daily exercise. It is not too late for anyone who is already ill, the human body has an amazing capability of healing.
    18th Aug 2014
    Yes, I think you're right, Go veg, back to basics.
    Too many make a lot of money from screening and there is an appalling lack of respect for informed consent and even consent itself. Our GPs even get target payments for pap testing, yet this potential conflict of interest is never mentioned to women. We also, IMO, get screening "stories", not the evidence. I really don't know how they get away with it, but I've watched the awful worry and harm screening (false positives, excess biopsies and over-treatment) has caused to so many friends, family and colleagues over the years. Almost all was completely unnecessary.
    I value and respect my asymptomatic body and will continue to protect it from so-called life-saving tests and exams.
    Porridge for breakfast, made from oats (not the microwave stuff) lots of fresh vegies and fruit, REAL's basic stuff really.
    I saw a documentary recently on UK school children and their shocking diets, many had an enema every few months, constipation was such an issue. When they spoke to the parents, they ate the same food, some didn't know how to cook, others preferred the taste and convenience of fast food. Some also, mentioned the cost of fruit and vegetables. Some of these kids had never tasted peas, broccoli, cauli or zucchini. I was amazed and concerned. Obese at 8 or 10 with that sort of diet makes me fear for their health in coming years.
    I go to the market and find the prices far more reasonable and I grow some vegies as well. (and herbs)
    Nice chatting...

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