7 Health Challenges of Aging
Experts explain how to prepare for the health issues people face as they age.
"If I'd known I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care
of myself." So said Eubie Blake, the great ragtime composer and pianist who
was still performing at the age of 99, the year before his death. Let's face
it: old age is what lies ahead. If you're 40 or 50 or even 60, you might not
give much thought to the health challenges of aging. But just as planning for
future financial needs is important, so is planning for optimum health.
What should you prepare for, and how? WebMD talked to experts about the
major health issues. While some diseases, such as Alzheimer's and certain
cancers, continue to confound researchers, a great number can be prevented,
forestalled, or minimized with a healthy lifestyle and regular health
Sharon Brangman, MD, AGSF, spokeswoman for the American Geriatrics Society,
tells WebMD, "The more you do in middle age to prepare yourself for
successful aging, the better."
Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome
About three-fourths of adults aged 60 and older are overweight or obese.
Obesity is related to type 2 diabetes,
cardiovascular disease, breast and colon cancer, gall bladder
disease, and high blood
More than 40% of adults 60 and older have a combination of risk factors
known as metabolic syndrome, which puts people at increased risk for developing
diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers. It is characterized
- Waist measurement greater than 40 inches in men, 35 inches in women
- Triglyceride level of 150 mg/dL or higher
- HDL "good" cholesterol level less than 40mg/dL in men, 50 mg/dL in
- Blood pressure of 130/85 or higher
- Fasting glucose level of 110 mg/dL or higher
"Women in perimenopause and menopause tend to
accumulate fat around the waist and hips, and men get the gut," says
Brangman. "The best way to fight it is with increasing exercise, reducing
alcohol intake -- because a lot of alcohol calories go right to the gut -- and
reducing calorie intake. Also, increase your healthy fat intake -- omega-3
fatty acids and unsaturated fats. And eliminate trans fats completely because
there's no safe amount of those."
She also advises avoiding foods sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup. The
common sweetener is found in everything from sodas to breakfast cereal to
low-fat yogurt. "In middle age, we should eat foods as close to naturally
prepared as possible."
Arthritis affects nearly half the elderly population and is a leading cause
of disability. "Old injuries from playing weekend warrior or high school
football, and years of wearing high-heeled shoes catch up with us," says
Brangman. "And arthritis in the knees is the price we pay for walking
upright on two legs." The keys to prevention: avoid overuse, do steady,
regular exercise rather than in weekend spurts, and stop if you feel pain.
"The adage, 'no pain, no gain,' is not true."
And managing your weight is just as essential for joint health as
cardiovascular health. The Framingham osteoarthritis
study showed that a weight
loss of just 11 pounds could reduce the risk of developing
osteoarthritis in the knees by 50%.