I used to be in my 40s. Then I woke up one day and the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) magazine was on my doorstep. Ah, the 50s - the decade of the breaking parts. The good news? They can still be fixed. I've always been athletic. I ran college track and played women's league soccer in my 20s, learned to cross-country ski and kayak in my 30s, kept up the running and biking and boating in my 40s. Like a good horse, I had shiny hair and strong teeth, lots of energy and good coordination. I come from good physical stock and married into good stock, and life was - and continues to be - full of outdoor activities. In 2004, at age 52, I moved to Arizona with my family, to a house three minutes from the Ahwatukee Foothill Family YMCA and its shiny weight machines. We added indoor physical activity to our agendas. But still, the 50s has been a bit of a shock - one of those events that's better not to know about in advance, like childbirth. The 50s is when I started racking up new firsts - my first trip to the cardiologist, my first colonoscopy, my first night guard for my grinding teeth, my first trip to the physical therapist and my first missed period that had nothing to do with trying to get pregnant. In the 50s you start using your health insurance on yourself instead of your kids. You have a rotary toothbrush and white strips. You have a plastic pill box on your refrigerator (the kind your father has and you used to make fun of) filled with daily vitamins for the "mature" adult: calcium for thinning bones and fish oil for rising cholesterol. If you're female, you discover your body really can alternate between hot and cold every three seconds - and you develop a new appreciation for layering. If you live with a 50s female, you develop a new level of patience. If you're in your 50s, chances are you're reading this article with some sort of visual enhancement - glasses or contact lenses, with one lens adjusted for distance and one for close-up reading (if you aren't, you soon will be). Your hearing still works, but more and more people around you seem to mumble, not just your teenaged son and his friends. The 50s is when all the bad habits of your youth - and your genetic shortcomings - start to catch up with you, and you find out what you have to work with for the next 30 years. But don't let the black humor get to you. In your 50s, you have to be pro-active. 1. Get sleep. Consider catnaps. 2. Don't smoke. Stop if you do. I did. 3. Lift weights. Lifting twice a week significantly improves muscle tone and bone density, more than lifting once a week and almost as much as lifting three times a week. 4. Go for grains and greens, fruits and fluids. 5. Do some kind of cardio. It doesn't matter what. A Gazillion studies have proven the health benefits of simply walking on a regular basis. 6. Listen to your body. If eating chocolate and drinking wine with dinner interrupts your sleep (no matter how it allegedly benefits your heart), eat chocolate or drink wine. Eat spicy food, but take Tums afterwards for GERDS. 7. Hydrate. Skin and eyes get drier as we age, especially if we're female. 8. Never pass up the chance to go to the bathroom. 9. Moisturize. Use sun block. 10. Get an annual physical and all those annoying tests that accompany it. Find out where you stand. 11. Challenge yourself physically. Last year I discovered sprint triathlons. I had no illusions of breaking records but went for the experience (and won a few prizes). Now I look at the stats for 60-somethings and realize I have time to improve. 12. Maintain a sense of humor. Take comfort in the fact that the 60-somethings have already been through this, and the 40-somethings are about to! Cynthia Elek is a 55-year-old Ahwatukee Foothills resident. She recently began doing triathlons to stay healthy.

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