Answers to Top 10 Questions About Healthy Aging

  1. Is memory loss a natural part of aging? How much is normal?

Some memory loss happens as we age. The aging brain stores information in a slightly different way, so it’s harder for you to recall recent events. So no need to worry if you find yourself stumped for a name or forget where you put the car keys.

But what’s not normal is if you can’t remember simple things like how to follow directions or recipes or forget the way to your home. That could be a sign of a more serious memory loss caused by a medical condition like dementia or Alzheimer's disease. If so, your memory likely will get worse over time.

  1. How much exercise do people over age 50 really need?

The more you can do, the better. Guidelines that call for working out 30-60 minutes a day are fine for younger adults. But that may not be realistic for many older folks.

It’s best to work with your doctor to come up with an exercise plan matched to your health and fitness level. Just remember that it's never too late to start! Even simple muscle-toning exercises can help you stay limber and mobile.

  1. Is osteoarthritis a part of aging, and can I do anything after age 50 to avoid it?

Getting older definitely makes it more likely that you’ll get osteoarthritis, when the cartilage between your joints breaks down. It usually starts after age 40 and becomes more and more noticeable. Almost everyone gets it to some degree if they live long enough. It can cause pain and stiffness in your knees, hips, hands, and neck.

How bad your osteoarthritis gets depends on how much pounding or injury your joints got when you were younger. The genes you inherited from your parents and your nutrition also can play a role.

Your weight also can be a big factor. Every extra pound of weight adds 3 pounds of pressure to your knees and 6 pounds of pressure on your hips. If you lose even a little weight and build muscles, it can help ease and slow your osteoarthritis.

  1. Do only women have to worry about bone health after age 50?


The main concern is osteoporosis, a condition that causes your bones to become less dense and more likely to break. Some 10 million Americans have it, and 80% of them are women. Many more people have osteopenia, a less-severe form of bone-density loss that can turn into osteoporosis.

Aging isn’t always the sole cause of fragile bones. Small bone structure, low weight, low testosterone, and medications like blood thinners and cholesterol pills all can play a role. So can menopause in women and hormone therapy for prostate cancer in men.

To keep your bones strong, it helps to get enough calcium, quit smoking, limit alcohol, and exercise.

  1. Do sleep needs change as we age? How much do I need after age 50?

Kids and adolescents need to sleep longer than young adults do. But in our senior years, we need to go back to the 7 to 9 hours of daily shut-eye as in our teens.

Studies show that most sleep problems are not related to aging. Instead, it can stem from medical or emotional conditions that come on as we get older. Aging also affects our sleep-wake pattern. It makes us sleepier earlier in the evening and wakes us up earlier in the morning. That’s true even if you were a night owl before. If you don’t get enough sleep after age 50, it can make you more likely to have memory problems, pain, depression, and nighttime falls.

  1. What is preventive care and what do I need?

It’s just a fancy term for making sure that you are doing everything you can to protect your health. You probably already do some of it if you have a good relationship with your doctor. To be sure, ask your doctor about these screening exams:

Men over 50:

  • Colorectal cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Skin cancer
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Vision and hearing

Women over 50:

  • Screenings for breast, colon, cervical, and skin cancers
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Osteoporosis
  • Vision and hearing

Many screening guidelines get updated, so ask your doctor yearly what tests you should get. You should consider a yearly flu shot. If you're 50 and older, check with your doctor about getting Shingrix, the newest shingles vaccine. Over 65? Then ask about a pneumonia vaccine.

  1. I see lots of vitamin supplements aimed at seniors. Do I need them?


Our nutritional needs change as we age. Many of us don't eat as well. Plus, older bodies can more easily lack certain vitamins and nutrients. These include vitamin B12 (we don’t absorb it from foods as well); calcium (we need more as we age); vitamin D (our skin doesn't soak it up as well from the sun); and vitamin B6 (we need it to keep red blood cells healthy and strong).

Usually, all you need is any multivitamin that offers the minimum daily requirement. You also don't need huge doses. In fact, they can be harmful. If you’re taking any prescription medications, let your doctor know which supplements you take so you can avoid any bad interactions.

  1. I just don't enjoy people, activities, and things as I used to. Is this normal?

Some experiences over the decades can change our outlook and attitude about life. The death of a loved one, retirement, or health problems can make us sad or just not our usual selves. Sometimes, a temporary "time out" to think and to reflect may be all you need before you start to feel better.

If that doesn’t happen, depression may be the reason. A less serious form known as "subsyndromal depression" is common among people over 50. You may lack desire or interest in things you once loved. If you feel this way for a few weeks or months, talk to your doctor. Simple lifestyle or diet changes -- and sometimes medication -- may be all you need to regain your enthusiasm for life.

  1. How important is it to stop smoking, and is it ever too late?

Quitting nicotine at any age can benefit your health right away. Giving up cigarettes immediately improves circulation in older people. After just 1 year, your chances of smoking-related heart disease drops by almost half. The same goes for stroke, lung disease, and some cancers.

Men who give up smoking at 65 can live up to 2 extra years, while women can add almost 4 years to their lifespan.

Need more reasons? Smoking makes you more likely to get dementia or Alzheimer's disease. It also encourages cataracts, which clouds eye lenses and is the top cause of vision loss in the country.

  1. How much alcohol can I drink safely after age 50? Does my tolerance go down as I get older?


Everyone has a different limit for booze. Some can have one or two drinks daily without problems, while other can’t sip a single glass without harm.

Still, alcohol tolerance usually moves in opposite direction of your age. That means you'll feel the effects like slower reaction time sooner and with fewer sips than when you were younger.

If you have more than one drink every day, it’s a good idea to let your doctor know. It’s an important part of your health record and could affect any medical treatments.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on April 24, 2018



National Institutes of Senior Health: "About Depression,"  "Sleeping and Aging."

National Institute on Aging: "More Is Not Always Better.”

National Arthritis Foundation: "Fact Sheet on Osteoarthritis," "Causes of Osteoarthritis."

National Sleep Foundation: "Aging Gracefully," "Sleeping Well."

National Osteoporosis Foundation:  "Osteoporosis in Me," "Osteoporosis: Who Is At Risk."

National Institutes of Health: "The Exercise Guide."

American Lung Association: "Smoking Among Older Adults."

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Position Statement: Osteoporosis/Bone Health in Adults as a National Public Health Priority."

CDC: “Common Eye Disorders.”

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