Ask a Nurse: Turning 50

Pamela is an RN, MSN/Ed.

Pamela is a mother of 6 amazing children ages 11 to 24. She is a nurse educator and loves to travel overseas to work in medical clinics and teach health-related topics to schools and communities. She has been married to her best friend, Steve, for 29 years. She has many different interests including reading, writing (NOT arithmetic!), baking, teaching, and spending time with her family. She lives in central Pennsylvania with her husband and two youngest daughters.

Turning 50

I have a pretty big birthday coming up, one that seems to be celebrated in an assortment of distasteful ways intended to embarrass and tease the recipient! Fifty-Wow! I can’t believe that I have almost (Tuesday) reached this momentous age! I would like to reflect on what this birthday means to me and what you can look forward to if you aren’t there yet.

There are many health issues that can become a problem around this age. My Father had a massive heart attack at age 49. Last year was a frightening birthday for me. I had reached the age my Dad almost died and the age his health began to spiral downward. I visited my Doctor and had my blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure evaluated. I was doing ok in those areas, thank goodness! My Dad died at age 56, six short years from my age now. Last year I resolved to improve the things I have control over; I had some successes and some failures.

What can you or I do to become or stay healthy as we get older? Well, let’s look at the latest figures for causes of death.

The 5 leading causes of death in 2009 (latest available statistics) were:

1. Diseases of heart

2. Malignant neoplasms

3. Chronic lower respiratory diseases

4. Cerebrovascular diseases

5. Accidents (unintentional injuries) (

If these are the top 5 things that we die from, it would make sense to take steps to improve our health in each of these areas! What concrete steps can you take to stay healthy? These are things I either already do, or will be sure to implement!

Here are some steps you can take now:

1. To help your heart health and risk of cerebrovascular diseases:

Eat a low saturated fat diet, including plenty of omega 3 sources which are found in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and anchovy.

I take a 1200 mg. fish oil capsule every day, and have been doing so for about a year now. My good cholesterol was fine before, but it jumped to very good after several months of fish oils supplements!

Regular aerobic exercise is essential, even if you begin slow and for short periods! Start where you are and increase as you are able. I personally recommend walking briskly. Walking can be done anywhere, is free, and is also a stress reliever!

This is one of my biggest areas for improvement. I was diagnosed with a chronic disease some years ago that really interferes with my physical activity. My ability to do aerobic activity changes day-to-day.

Brush and Floss! Studies have proven a link between cardiac health and dental care. Gums that are inflamed from poor dental habits can cause an inflammatory response that targets organs, especially the heart. Researchers have found that people who have heart disease have more inflamed gums. They don’t know exactly how this is connected, but do know that it is connected! You can read a short article about this on the Johns Hopkins health alert site, here.

2. To reduce the risk of developing cancer:

Obviously, I will not be able to list every way there is to dodge getting cancer, but here are the biggies-

Use sunscreen every day, year round. Do not use tanning beds, EVER (ever, ever, ever?!). Young people die from skin cancer; protect yourself and your family! If you really want a glow, use a good quality self-tanning gel or bronzer.

Don’t smoke, and stop if you do. Smoking and using any tobacco products are one leading cause of cancer and death from cancer ( Tobacco product use also contributes to heart disease, COPD (and other diseases of the lung, which
addresses the 3rd highest cause of death in our list), and cataracts. Smoking also causes yellowed, decayed teeth and wrinkles. There are a lot of resources to help you quit! Talk to your doctor about help available to you.

Eat healthy, unprocessed foods. Limit chemical exposure. If you choose to drink, do so in moderation. Alcohol abuse is associated with breast, colon, lung, kidney and liver cancer.

Do self-screening for breast lumps and get your mammograms! Men need to do self-testicular exams; this cancer often strikes younger men and is very treatable when caught early.

Check your skin for any changes or new moles or suspicious marks. Ask your doctor to check your skin yearly. Don’t forget your scalp and bottoms of your feet.

Finally, don’t engage in risky behavior. If you enjoy outdoor activities, use recommended safety equipment. Wear a helmet, follow rules, do your sport of hobby with a buddy. Have fun, but don’t be foolish!

What does 50 look like for me? I am fortunate to look younger than my age due to never smoking and probably genes. I have noticed some little laugh lines around my eyes, I honestly could care less! It shows that I laugh a lot, how could I find fault with that? The skin on my hands is starting to look a little less firm and somewhat thin. I guess I’ll try to use hand lotion a little bit more diligently, but it may not help much. These hands have done a lot of work; they deserve to look a little older! I am starting to get more grey hair- this probably bothers me more than anything. I am torn between embracing it and wanting to run to the nearest hair salon for emergency treatment!

While I don’t enjoy the sudden influx of emails from AARP or “hot singles over 50,” I feel more settled; more sure of who I am. My husband and I will soon celebrate 30 years of marriage. We are more in love today than we ever have been! Though at times I miss carrying new life in my womb and nursing my babies, I don’t miss the monthly cramps and periods. My priorities have not changed, I still try to keep God first, husband second, and family third. Everything else comes after those top three. I thank God for allowing me to live these 50 years.

I look forward to the joys of year 51! Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find some hand lotion!

Write me at [email protected]! I would love to hear ideas for future columns!

Be Well,


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  1. Lauralee Hensley says

    Here’s a little bit of an early Happy Birthday to you Pamela. Hey, there are natural hair colors out there now, so I say dye the gray until you’re really ready to embrace it fully. Yet, it’s up to you. I dye mine, because when it decided to start turning gray it also decided to turn a multitude of colors. I had dark blond hair, when the grays came in, so did some white, some dark brown, some reddish hairs and about three different hues of blond. It’s crazy, so they all get dyed back to dark blond, until they can all decide to be one uniform color, or maybe two.
    From your photo you really do look so much younger. I would have said you couldn’t be over 35. Unfortunately both of my parents died younger than should have. My Dad had his first of a series of heart attacks at 50. My Dad did live until 67, but struggeled with congestive heart failure, was on so many, many medications. A series of heart attacks just wore him down. My mom made it to 72, but had many strokes. Neither one of them really got to enjoy retirement because of their health. Unfortunately when they were both younger, they both smoked. I think this had a lot to do with their poor health when they were older. Granted they both stopped when they were older, but I think the damage was already done. Thankfully three of their living children decided as children to never smoke. Unfortunately my brother did take up that nasty habit, and he had a major heart attack at 50, and also ended up with a pace maker from that experience.
    We really do need to take care of ourselves when we are young in those areas that we can. That way maybe our bodies can take care of us when we are older.
    My husbands side of the family has longetivity on their side. I can’t believe there are people in his family (who were and still are crazy smokers) and they are in their late 80’s and early 90’s, living on their own, walking, talking, and doing just fine. So, yes, genes does have a bit to say about how long some people live, but when in doubt, stay away from the cigarettes.

  2. Barbara J Brown says

    Pamela …..i think this latest article is a very good, informative one. I hope people will heed your positive suggestions. Now about the gray hair!! Where were you when my hair decided to start a fast spiral to full blown gray?( I’m just teasing you on your birthday.) lol I’ll just take a bit of credit for some of the genes that have given you the younger look! Love you, Mum.

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