It’s human nature to always be ready to jump on the next “new thing” . . . whether it’s a diet that everyone is raving about, an exercise program that promises to get rid of cellulite or (finally!) the skin cream that will erase wrinkles as soon as you spot them. If something seems too good to be true, it’s usually not.
This time, instead of keeping your eyes, ears and hopes focused on the magic solution that’s lying in wait around the corner, how about doing something entirely new: go back to the basics.
The most important lesson I learned when researching and interviewing experts for “The Best of Everything After 50” is this: it’s the small, simple changes that can have the biggest impact on aging with health, vitality, beauty, and grace.
Here are the top 10 things you can do right now:
- Stop Dieting and Start Eating: Eat more, exercise less and going through menopause will be a recipe for packing on the pounds. The first thing we normally do when we start to gain weight is go on a diet. But don’t, because most of us have a 10 percent chance of being successful. Why? Diets don’t work, but eating good food — and eating often — do. Eat something healthy (whole grains, fruit, nuts, vegetables (especially dark, leafy greens like kale), beans, very lean meats) every two to three hours — in smaller portions — throughout the day, and you won’t be hungry, your blood sugar level will be even, and you will lose weight. Try switching from “white” (flour, pasta, potatoes) to whole grains, sweet potatoes and whole wheat pasta. Don’t deny yourself dessert. Just get back on track right after.
- Buy a Pedometer and Start Walking: Walking 10,000 steps (roughly five miles) every day is an effective way to lose weight and keep it off. You will burn calories, strengthen your lower body, exercise your heart and feel really good. For most of us, our daily routine doesn’t include 10,000 steps. We have to make a concerted effort to get out there and walk. When you’re up for it, add a few minutes of gentle, slow running into your walking routine. Before you know it, you’ll be calling yourself a runner! That’s how I started running a few years ago, after I turned 50, and this year to celebrate my 55th birthday I will run in the NYC Marathon. (Please see details of the program at the end of this article.)
- Get Back to Basics to Strengthen Your Muscles: The other part of the fitness equation is strength training. You need to strengthen your muscles, so that you can do simple things like open a jar, climb the stairs, push yourself up if you fall and keep osteoporosis at bay for many years to come. The added benefit is that you’ll improve the tone and look of your arms, trim your waistline and firm your body. The recommended program consists of push-ups, sit-ups, squats and “the plank,” and when done in rotation for fewer than 15 minutes a day, your body will get a complete and total workout. No gym, no trainer, just you and your yoga mat. For details on how to do the moves, please read “Transform Your Body With These 5 Moves.”
- Simple Skin Care Solutions: We’re the generation that baked in the sun with baby oil mixed with iodine slathered on our skin, and then held a reflector up to our faces. Many of us are now paying the price with wrinkles, brown spots and, in extreme cases, skin cancer. The good news is, it’s not too late to reverse some of the damage — and we don’t need to spend a lot of money. The experts I interviewed for “The Best of Everything After 50” suggested a simple program: exfoliate (I use a little bit of white sugar on my body and face); moisturize; restore with an antioxidant (a cream that contains coffee berry is very effective); and protect with sunscreen. For every day, use an inexpensive moisturizer that has an SPF of 40 or higher. In the cold winter months, add a tiny bit of olive oil for extra moisture. At night, apply a pea-size of a retinol product to help smooth fine lines and even out skin tone. If you’re doing more than this, you’re doing too much.
- Wear Less Makeup, Not More: Pare down what you put on your face, and you’ll look fresher, more modern and prettier. Here’s how to look fab in five minutes or less: Apply a little primer, which helps to keep the skin smooth; add a small amount of foundation where needed; blush around the cheekbones; keep eyeliner very thin and follow your natural eyelash line; black mascara on the upper lashes only; use a neutral eye shadow and bring it slightly above your crease; stick with pinkish tones for lips and apply a few dots of pearly highlighter under the brows, above the cheekbones and at the inside corner of eyes. Done.
- Change Your Hair Routine: After years of blow-drying, highlighting, and other forms of abuse, do you even know what your hair is anymore? Throw out the blow-dryer, and get a cut that will enhance your hair’s natural texture and shape. Try using shampoo only once a week (without sulfates), and just water and conditioner on the other days. If you color your hair, consider highlights/lowlights instead of single process, or letting some gray come in. With time, the health of your hair will improve, and you’ll be freeing your hair to be what it was meant to be.
- Own Your Sex Life: Don’t think just because you’re over 50, it’s time to lock this particular door and throw away the key. Sex can be better than ever after 50. For most of our lives, we’ve been having sex for a reason: to procreate. Now, we no longer have a goal, and there’s no risk of getting pregnant, so sex is something we can do for sheer pleasure. Don’t let physical symptoms associated with menopause stop you from enjoying it. There are over-the-counter remedies that can help alleviate most of the problems. Check out my chapter on sex for details.
- Get Medically Organized: Don’t be in a position where a health crisis arises — or even just a routine check-up — and you’re searching for your insurance card or your doctor’s address. Start a Personal Medical Information file for each person in your home. Include the following: health care providers’ names, address, phone and fax numbers; list of medicines you take and the dosage, when it was prescribed and why; list of all known allergies; immunization record going back as far possible; medical conditions for which you are currently being treated; copies of medical tests and reports; insurance policy and a copy of your insurance card. Keep this file in a place that everyone in your house will know where to look for it, and keep a shorter version in your wallet which should include your medications, allergies, insurance card and doctor’s name and phone number, just in case.
- Listen to Your Body: We’re very lucky to be living in a time when many diseases and illnesses can be prevented, and some can be caught earlier than ever due to screenings. However, even without a screening, your body will often give you a sign when something is wrong: a nagging cough that won’t go away; vaginal bleeding when you haven’t had your period in four years; a chronic stomachache no matter what you eat. If you pay attention, your body will tell you a lot. So take the time to listen to what it has to say. And, then share everything you hear with your primary care provider. Together, you’ll figure out the best course of action.
- Be Fearless After 50: Love your life, stay as healthy as you can, move your body, be informed, stay engaged, use your mind, keep a handle on your finances, live with style, be bold, be brave, walk with confidence, laugh often, smile always and you will be ready for anything.