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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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Cancer

Risk for developing most types of cancer increases with age.

"As women age, the rate of cervical cancer decreases, and endometrial cancer increases," says Brangman. "Sometimes women slack off gynecological exams after their childbearing years, but I still think it's important for women to get regular exams."

The risk of prostate cancer increases with age, and black men have a higher rate than white men. Screening should start in your 40s, and at the very least should involve a digital rectal examination.

Lung cancer accounts for more deaths than breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer combined. Brangman's advice: "Stop smoking."

Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)

Younger baby boomers take heed: cardiovascular disease (CVD) affects more than one-third of men and women in the 45- to 54-year age group, and the incidence increases with age. Cardiovascular diseases, which are diseases of the heart or blood vessels, are the leading cause of death in the U.S. They include arteriosclerosis, coronary heart disease, arrhythmia, heart failure, hypertension, orthostatic hypotension, stroke, and congenital heart disease.

A healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of heart disease by as much as 80%, according to data from the Nurses' Health Study, an extensive research effort that followed more than 120,000 women aged 30 to 55 starting in 1976. Looking at data over 14 years, the researchers showed that women who were not overweight, did not smoke, consumed about one alcoholic drink per day, exercised vigorously for 30 minutes or more per day, and ate a low-fat, high-fiber diet had the lowest risk for heart disease.

"If you have high blood pressure, get it under control," says Brangman. "It reduces the rate of stroke and heart attacks. People say the medicines have bad side effects, but there are enough medications to choose from that you and your physician should be able to find one that's right for you."

And limit salt intake to control high blood pressure. "Prepared foods are loaded with salt," says Brangman. "The minute food comes out of a can or frozen food package or from a fast-food environment, you lose control of the ingredients. This is another reason to eat foods as close to naturally prepared as possible."

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