Ten Commandments for Turning 50: A Manifesto for Any Age Most Liked Hot Conversation

If I only knew then what I know now.

I try to avoid thinking that because it reeks of regret. However, I find myself saying it often… mostly to women in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Why? Because, as Shakespeare once wrote, “What’s past is prologue” and what we do (or don’t do) in our younger years will have a huge impact on how we look and feel by the time we enter our 50s. Our earlier choices and decisions can also affect our finances, relationships, careers, and general sense of happiness later in life.

Now that I’m over 50, I look back at my younger self and wish that someone had pulled me aside, sat me down, looked me straight in the eye and told me what I’m about to tell you. For sure, many — if not all — of these “commandments” you intellectually already know to be true. However, your current younger you may not be emotionally ready to accept them. You might still be in that glorious, relatively carefree stage of life where you think, “Oh I don’t need to think about these things now. I’ve got plenty of time to think about them later,” which is a variation of The Ant and the Grasshopper fable from Aesop. Or, perhaps you’re simply too engaged with the business of life to bother. Or, you are caught up in the very youthful idea that you are invincible.

Whatever your reason, you can choose to think about these later and spend a bit of your early 50s playing catch-up, and hope for the best. Or, you can do them now, and be far ahead of the game.

Don’t Stop Networking: Whether you choose to stay home to raise children some day or work straight through, you should never stop networking, and building on that network. If you do choose to be a SAHM (stay-at-home mom) try to stay connected to your career by moving from full-time to part-time work, which will make it easier for you to move back into full-time work when you’re ready. It’s much better to have choices and options, than not. Don’t put yourself into a vulnerable financial position, potentially, by not taking the time to think in terms of the “big picture” and long-term goals.

Do Create a Personal “Board of Directors”: Whether you’re looking to change jobs or careers, pursue a relationship, or end one, having a trusted group with whom you can review life’s challenges, is essential. Invite several friends (or even just one) who will encourage, inspire and guide you. Having a regular group you can depend on for unbiased and objective views and advice is critical, especially as you are facing major life decisions.

Don’t Smoke: Lung cancer is the #1 leading cause of cancer death for women, but it is avoidable. The #1 cause? Smoking, which is also associated with many other illnesses. We are considered the smarter sex, and yet women are picking up the habit more than ever before. On top of the health risks, what about the little bits of tobacco that linger at the bottom of your handbag, or the smell of smoke in your hair, clothes, breath? It’s not pretty or sophisticated, and definitely not sexy.

Do Wear Sunscreen: I spent my teenage summers basking in the sun at Coney Island, with baby oil mixed with iodine slathered on my body, a reflector aimed at my face. I threw away the reflector and tried to remember to put on sunscreen, but it wasn’t until my mid-40s — when I saw sun damage on my face (wrinkles, brown spots) — and I developed skin cancer on my chest, that I got serious. Soaking up the sun feels great and who doesn’t look fabulous with a little peachy-bronzy glow. But, if you don’t apply sunscreen every single day of the year, including on your neck, chest and hands, you will put yourself at high risk for skin cancer (highly avoidable) and skin that looks much older than its years (wrinkles, brown spots, sagging, leathery skin). Steer clear of tanning booths, too.

Don’t Have Risky Sex: Unsafe sex = higher risk for pregnancies and STDs, some of which are life long. Don’t think because you are young, you are immune and invincible. You are not. And don’t put pleasure before common sense. Make sure you know the scoop on your partner before you proceed, including your boyfriend or husband. Use condoms. Discuss your risk factors with your gynecologist, and get tested for HIV, Hepatitis B and C, and syphilis, especially when you start a new relationship. Insist that your partner does the same.

Do Move Your Body Every Day: Get yourself into the habit of working out, and don’t let excuses (even really good ones) get in the way of giving yourself this daily gift. Obesity is the culprit in many serious illnesses, including certain cancers. One third of all cancer deaths are related to obesity, physical inactivity, or poor nutrition. Make fitness a lifelong commitment.

Don’t Ignore Your Young Bones: Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones that we associate with aging, and rightly so. But, it takes time to get there. Poor nutrition, specifically a lack of adequate amounts of calcium and Vitamin D (which helps the body to absorb the calcium) is partly to blame. A more powerful contributor is the lack of regular strength-training exercises. I was told that I had osteopenia, the first stop before full-fledged osteoporosis, when I was 50. My doctor told me that every woman should start — and maintain — strength-training exercises in her early 20s, and make them part of her life forever. Added bonus? Your body will be toned and sexy, as well as strong.

Do Save More and Spend Less: Retirement is, presumably, years away, but it’s never too early to plan for it. The more money you have when you reach 50, the less stress and anxiety you will have. One of the biggest fears among women over 50 is not having enough money to live a good life as they age. Many of the women I interviewed for the article I wrote about this fear admitted that they wish they had made better and smarter financial choices earlier in their lives. It’s not always easy to do, but the sooner you start saving (IRAs, 401Ks, and so on) the better you will be down the road. And, take the advice of the top money experts: use a fee-only financial planner to get you on the right path.

Don’t Be Apathetic: We’re all busy with family, work, friends… but that’s no excuse to stop thinking about causes that are important to us and to the world. Americans are weary, it seems, about the economy, jobs, war, politics, and are turning away from getting involved. More than ever, America needs the energy and ideas that youth can provide. For example, the Equal Rights Amendment is still not a part of the U.S. Constitution, which many young women don’t realize. This country is looking to you, the next generation, for support. We don’t want to pass the baton. We want to hold it out to you, so you can grab it, and hold onto it with us by your sides. Get involved, stay involved. Be the change.

Do Embrace Your Age: Don’t fight aging. Embrace it. This doesn’t mean you should spend your life focused on getting older, and how to stop the process. On the contrary, live fully engaged with each year of your life, embracing the future ones with joy. It is a very powerful concept — letting go of your younger self, and embracing and loving your aging self. Treat yourself with kindness and respect, and take care of you — body, mind, and soul — as you would your children, your family and your friends.

Share this with the women in your life, and share your own “commandments” with us by leaving a comment.

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Posted in Best of Everything After 50, health & fitness, Our Blog Circle.

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16 Responses

  1. Generic Image hedda says

    Excellent advice. I agree with all of them – bravo to you for putting them down for others to heed. Vibrant Nation provides such a great forum for this important kind of sharing from other female sages. I really like the last one about embracing aging instead of fighting it – that doesn’t mean we stop making healthy choices (daily exercise, eating the right food, giving up bad habits like smoking) but that we understand that “aging happens” and that is okay. After so many decades here falling down and getting back up again, we earn those wrinkles and lose skin ;-) .

    2 like

  2. Generic Image dfey says

    Terrific commandments.  I especially like the one about having a Board of Directors.  I have never had one, have wanted one for 20 years at least, and would still love to assemble one.  I wonder if doing something like this on line would solve the problem of having potential members strewn from NJ to Alaska.  Hmmm.  You’ve got me thinking.
    Thank you!!!

    2 like

  3. Judy Steinberg Judy Steinberg says

    Wish I’d had that Board of Directors when I made some
    life-changing decisions that turned out not to be so prudent!  Your whole message is brilliantly on target.  I agree, endorse and support this list.  Bravo!

    2 like

  4. Generic Image poetatlarge says

    I would add one more:  learn a foreign language.  It’s increases your brain bandwidth and helps to widen your perspective!  I don’t know about anyone else, but after a certain age you just get sick of focusing on your own narrow world; learning a foreign language helps you remember to not only stay engaged through networking, but to stretch farther.

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    • Sandy Dumont Sandy Dumont says

      Thank you, Barbara, for this thoughtful list.
      I agree with Poetatlarge about learning a foreign language and would add that spending an extended time in a foreign country (even a couple of months) broadens your awareness profoundly and gives you a greater understanding of your “American” self.

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  5. Generic Image Moongirl007 says

    A most excellent list, Barbara. Thanks. I also like the one about the board of directions.  And if I would have heeded a couple of the health related ones earlier, would not be having some issues that I am now. Most behaviors have consequences, even when they are things you did 30 years ago.
    One I might add: Tune up your coping skills. While it has its pluses, life post-60 will deal you a long and steady string of losses. And even the most fit among us will have some health complications. Research consistently has shown that people with good coping skills, strong personal and spiritual connections, and a positive outlook tend to do better in older age.

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  6. Generic Image nystromcuz says

    …take the class called ‘Literature in Translation’! (They’re trend is translating the books from other parts of the world..going back to even 1600s and seeing what happened and how we got to this point..for example:Guaman Poma’s ‘Good Government’ was during the Spanish conquest. (wow, that was good..ever…)

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  7. Ellen Naylor Ellen Naylor says

    I like this list, Barbara. I also like Moongirl007′s idea about coping skills. I also agree on the Personal Board of Directors, which is connected to networking, another of your points.

    I would add: take time every day to look inward, however you can, whether through prayer, a short walk, contemplation, meditation…

    It’s just too easy for the years to go by, and let life run you rather than you running and appreciating your life and the gifts you are here to share. In today’s craziness, I find this is a huge, but very worthwhile challenge, to find that quiet time.

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  8. Generic Image Robin Frank, CLTC says

    Wow, its great having insight to issues I haven’t yet faced.  Thanks for the heads up. 
    I would emphatically add become educated about creating a funding source for long term care by age 50!  Health insurance and Medicare do not pay for ongoing custodial care which 70% of All Americans will need in their lifetime (better than 1 in 2 people!).  Health care costs are increasing 4 to 5% every year, leaving people vulnerable to the devastating costs of uninsured long-term care.
    With medical advances and healthier lifestyles we are living longer than ever before.  When you don’t die, you live, when you live you get old, when you get old, you get frail, when you get frail you need care.  The question is how will you pay for it??  It is also important to note, that over 40% of people utilizing long term care benefits are between the ages of 18-64, so it is not only important for elderly to plan for extended care. 

    You can only buy long term care insurance with your health, no money will help you if you can’t health qualify. It will however save you money to buy protection young, and waiting never ends up saving you money if you should need care.  Today there are more options for protection, and ways to structure policies to keep costs low. But again, if you don’t get educated on this important issue while young and healthy, it can quickly devastate even the best thought out financial planning. 

    I know from the school of hard knocks how this can have severe consequences for families if not addressed before crisis.  I am one of the “Sandwich” generation caring for parents and teens at the same time.  LTC insurance protects not only your quality of life by giving you choices for care, but protects your loved ones as well. 

    It had such an impact on my life, it became my passion to help others avoid this issue and I became a LTC insurance specialist.  It is an especially pertinent concern for women;
    ·     66% of caregivers are female
    ·     62% of women are the recipients of Long Term Care
    ·     If you live over age 65, you have a 70% chance of needing some form of long-term care.  Most prefer that care be at home.
    ·     Women live longer and make up more than 2/3 of Americans age 85 or older.
    ·     Those who reach 65 can expect to live an average of 20 more years, outliving men by about 5 years      

    Hope this helps lots of people look into planning. 

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  9. Doreen Fulton Doreen Fulton says

    Thank you for a very fine article.  This provided much food for thought and I love all your commandments.  I believe one additional one is needed.

    Find a reason to laugh every day!

    Laughter truly gives you the energy to do all the others. 

    I linked to your blog posting and added this commandment to the list along with a very funny video.    http://believeinarayofhope-doreen.blogspot.com/

    Let me know what you think.

    1 like

  10. Lily woods Lily woods says

    Great advice.  Do move your body everyday has been my motto even  before excercise was oh so popular.  I used to tell my friends to not neglect this and now I do see the consequences.

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  11. Generic Image Holly Osterman says

    My favorite commandment is “Embrace Your Age”. Think of all the hard work you’ve done over the last how many years. We’ve all put in the time and should be happy at 40, 50 or whatever.

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  12. Generic Image LucyBHoffman says

    I too particularly like the Board of Directors part.  I began to recognize how important that was in business a few years ago – I didn’t think of it in regards to my personal life.  How do I find them?

    0 like

  13. Magnolia Miller Magnolia Miller says

    Excellent advice.  Seems rather simple and maybe even trite…..but once you hit the big 5-0, things look decidedly different, don’t they?
    Magnolia – pushing 55

    0 like

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