This decade is the perfect time to prioritize your health. Even if your dinner plates are full of greens and your Pilates instructor knows you by name, you’ll still want to take an active approach in monitoring your health with your doctor.
Not to sound too dramatic, but some health conditions or problems can sneak up on you, often from factors you can’t always control. Perimenopause and menopause, for example, can affect your heart health. And certain cancers, like colon cancer, are more likely to strike as you get older.
To detect any potential health problems early, regular and thorough health screenings are vital. Dr. Preeti Parikh, MD, recommends the following 12 tests women in their 50s should prioritize.
Check your blood pressure every two years if it’s normal (anything under 120 over 80), or yearly if it's higher. Monitoring your blood pressure is especially important after reaching menopause; blood pressure levels can rise due to hormonal changes during menopause.
Get your cholesterol levels checked every five years. “Bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides often increase during menopause.
Get tested for diabetes once every three years, especially if you had gestational diabetes or have other risk factors for diabetes.
Get a mammogram every one or two years, and be sure to speak with your doctor about any family history or risk factors of breast cancer you have.
For many people who are at normal risk for colon cancer, colon cancer screening begins at age 50; colonoscopies are then recommended every 10 years. Your doctor may recommend additional or more frequent screenings if you have a family history of colon cancer.
Get screened for lung cancer if you’re a smoker or former smoker. Most doctors recommend starting tests for lung cancer at age 55.
Continue visiting your gyno for Pap smears and pelvic exams every three years, especially if you’re sexually active. If your Pap and HPV tests are negative, every five years is sufficient. (Here’s how to prepare for an ob-gyn visit.)
Get skin and mole checks by a dermatologist. FYI, around half of Americans who live to age 65 will have non-melanoma skin cancer at least once.
Get a bone mineral density test if you have a history of fractures or other osteoporosis risk factors.
Make appointments with your eye doctor for vision checks at least every two years. Many women in their 50s need to start wearing glasses or change their prescription during this period. You may be prone to vision problems if you have diabetes, a family history of glaucoma, or take certain medications.
Visit the dentist for a dental exam and cleaning once or twice a year.
Get vaccinated. Get an annual flu shot, a Tdap vaccine if you’ve never had one, and a Td booster every 10 years.
If you are neglecting health tests due to money, remember that a variety of programs and organizations exist to make these screenings more affordable⸺or even free. The American Diabetes Association, for example, often provides free screenings at a touring health expo. Call your city, county, or state health department to see what other resources are available for you.
Health screening - women - ages 40 to 64. Bethesda, MD: US National Library of Medicine, 2015. (Accessed on September 27, 2016 at https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007467.htm.)