5 Surprising Health Challenges of Aging

You exercise. You eat right. You’re in pretty good shape for someone your age.

Still, getting older can bring on health problems as our bodies change. Not everyone will get them. But some medical conditions become more common or more serious after we get a few decades under our belts.

Here are five surprising ways that age itself can pose health challenges.


When you’re over age 65, your immune system isn’t as strong as it used to be. Seniors make up the bulk of the people who die or are hospitalized for flu-related problems. Age raises the chances of serious flu complications like:

  • Pneumonia
  • Sepsis (bacterial infection in blood)
  • Worsening of lung and heart disease

A yearly flu shot is a must. If you’re older than age 65, ask your doctor about the high-dose version, which offers more protection.

Weight Gain

Getting older can be a triple whammy. You lose muscle as you age. That makes it harder to keep the pounds from creeping up. You also become less active. At the same time, your body burns fewer calories for the same physical activities as when you were younger.

You probably know that being overweight or obese raises you chances for many conditions, like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. But the extra pounds can pose an even bigger burden for older people. Everyday movements like walking and getting out of chairs get harder. Obesity and arthritis often go together.

So whether your age 50 or 80, ask your doctor about smart ways to fight the weight gain. Every bit helps.

Fragile Bones

Many seniors fear falling. Advancing years can affect your balance and make you less steady and sure on your feet. Falls can be especially dangerous if you have osteoporosis, when your bones become less dense and more prone to breaks and fractures. Women ages 50 and older are twice more likely than their male peers to break a bone because of this “brittle bone disease.”

You can keep your bones stronger if you:

  • Eat lots of fruits, veggies, and foods high in calcium.
  • Ask your doctor if you need a vitamin D supplement. Older bodies absorb less of it from the sun.
  • Lift weights or do exercises that use your own body weight (walking, pushups, squats).
  • Quit smoking and avoid too much alcohol (more than two or three drinks a day).



Did you know that age is the single biggest predictor of your chances of getting cancer? It jumps up after you hit age 50. Half of all cancers happen in people over age 65. For lung cancer, the median age is 70.

Scientists don’t know exactly why older people are more susceptible to cancer. It could simply be that you’ve been exposed to cancer-causing agents for longer. Or maybe your body is less able to make repairs when cells go haywire.

Still, getting older doesn’t mean you’re destined to get cancer. You can adopt healthy habits proven to help you lower the odds.

  • Slim down. Obesity is linked to 13 different types of cancer, including breast, colon, and pancreatic cancers.
  • Cut down on red and processed meat.
  • Exercise regularly. It helps to not only prevent some cancers, but keep them from coming back.


It’s not an unavoidable part of getting older. In fact, about 1 in 20 Americans ages 60 and older has depression, the lowest rate of any age group. But many depressed seniors don’t get diagnosed. Older Americans themselves and their doctors may dismiss any symptoms as a natural reaction to illnesses and life’s setbacks.

Many more older Americans may have something called subsyndromal depression. You may feel less pleasure or interest in activities and people as you did before, but you don’t have full-blown symptoms for major depression.

You’re more likely to be depressed if you have long-term health issues like heart disease or arthritis that put limits on your life. People who need home health care are more likely to have the condition compared to other older adults.

Medication and psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, can treat it. Loneliness can lead to depression. So seek out ways to connect with others. Talk to friends and family. Join a class or a group. Do volunteer work. Find whatever ways to enrich your body and spirit.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on June 08, 2020



CDC: "What You Should Know and Do this Flu Season If You Are 65 Years and Older,” "Flu Symptoms & Complications,” "Depression is Not a Normal Part of Growing Older,” “Depression in the U.S. Household Population, 2009-2012,” “Depression is Not a Normal Part of Growing Older.”

Journal of Clinical Gerontology and Geriatrics: "Health consequences of obesity in the elderly.”

American Heart Association: "About Metabolic Syndrome.”

National Osteoporosis Foundation: "Bone Health Basics: Get the Facts.”

Dana Farber Cancer Institute: "Why Does Cancer Risk Increase As We Get Older?”

National Institutes of Health: "Age-Related Eye Diseases,” "Age-Related Hearing Loss.”

Wake Forest Baptist Health: "Age-Related Heart Disease.”

The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry: “Exergames for Subsyndromal Depression in Older Adults: A Pilot Study of a Novel Intervention.”

BioMed Central: “Does treatment of subsyndromal depression improve depression and diabetes related outcomes: protocol for a randomised controlled comparison of psycho-education, physical exercise and treatment as usual.”

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