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50+: Live Better, Longer

7 Health Challenges of Aging

Experts explain how to prepare for the health issues people face as they age.
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Arthritis

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%.

Osteoporosis and Falls

Osteoporosis and low bone mass affect almost 44 million adults age 50 and older, most of them women. According to the National Osteoporosis Association, osteoporosis is not part of normal aging. Healthy behaviors and treatment, when appropriate, can prevent or minimize the condition.

In a given year, more than one-third of adults age 65 and older experience a fall. Twenty percent to 30% of those who fall suffer injuries that decrease mobility and independence; falls are the leading cause of death from injury in this age group.

"Stop smoking, watch your alcohol intake, get plenty of calcium, and limit foods with high acidic content," says Brangman. "Avoid sodas. They encourage loss of calcium. Our bodies always maintain calcium, and when there's not enough coming in from our diet, it comes out from our bones. One reason women are especially at risk for osteoporosis is that if they've had children; it takes a whole lot of calcium to develop a baby, and that calcium is taken from the mother's bones if she's not getting enough in her diet." Adults in middle age need 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily.

Vitamin D, "the sunshine vitamin," is also important. Using sunscreens to protect against skin cancer is wise, but sunscreens block ultraviolet rays the body needs to make vitamin D. Furthermore, with age our bodies become less efficient at making vitamin D from sunlight, Brangman tells WebMD. "There is a move to get the FDA to increase the minimum requirement for vitamin D to at least 800 and maybe 1,000 units. Most multiple vitamins contain 400 units. Make sure you're getting enough from low-fat dairy products, or take a supplement."

Weight-bearing exercise also helps to keep bones healthy. "If you're not exercising, starting at any age is beneficial," says Brangman. "It's never too late, but the sooner the better."

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