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Outsmart Your Age

More than 9 in 10 older adults have some type of chronic disease, and almost 8 in 10 have more than one. So chances are, you'll have one sooner or later. But there are things you can do to live a healthier life.

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High Blood Pressure

As you age, your blood vessels get less flexible, and that puts pressure on the system that carries blood through your body. That might explain why about 2 in 3 adults over 60 have high blood pressure. But there are other causes you can control: Watch your weight, exercise, stop smoking, find ways to deal with stress, and eat healthy.

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mature man checking blood glucose
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Since 1980, the number of middle-aged and older adults with diabetes has almost doubled. Because of that, the CDC calls it an epidemic. Your risk of getting the disease goes up after you hit 45, and it can be serious. It can lead to heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, and other problems. Talk with your doctor about having your blood sugar checked.

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arterial plaque illustration
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Heart Disease

Plaque buildup in your arteries is a major cause of heart disease. It starts in childhood and gets worse as you age. That's why people age 40 to 59 are more than five times as likely to have heart disease as people 20 to 39.

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If you weigh a lot more than is healthy for your height, you could be considered obese -- it’s not having just a few extra pounds. It’s linked to at least 20 chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, and arthritis. The highest rate among all age groups is in adults ages 40 to 59 -- 41% of whom are obese.

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At one time, doctors chalked up this disease of the joints to the wear and tear of age, and that is a factor (37% of people 45 and over have osteoarthritis of the knee). But genetics and lifestyle probably have something to do with it as well. And previous joint injuries, a lack of physical activity, diabetes, and being overweight can all play a part, too.

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About half of women over 50, and up to 25% of men in that age group, break bones because they’ve lost too much bone mass, and their bodies haven’t replaced it. A couple of things that can help: a healthy diet rich in calcium and vitamin D (you need both for strong bones) and regular weight-bearing exercise, like dancing, jogging, or climbing stairs.

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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

This causes inflammation and blocks air from your lungs. It’s a slow-moving disease that you could have for years without knowing it -- symptoms usually show up in your 40s or 50s. It can make you have trouble breathing, and you may cough, wheeze, and spit up mucus. Exercise, a healthy diet, and avoiding smoke and pollution can help.

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Hearing Loss

Maybe nothing says “You’re getting older” more than having to ask, “What did you say?” Some 18% of Americans 45 to 64 have some sort of hearing trouble, and it tends to get worse as you age. Loud noise, disease, and your genes all play a part. Some medications can cause hearing problems, too. See your doctor if you’re not able to hear as well as you used to.

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Vision Problems

That annoying blurriness when you try to read the small type on labels or menus isn’t the only threat to your vision as you age. Cataracts (which cloud the lens of your eye) and glaucoma (a group of eye conditions that damage your optic nerve) can harm your eyesight. See your eye doctor for regular exams.

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Bladder Problems

Whether you can’t go when you need to or you have to go too often, problems with bladder control tend to happen as we get older. They can be caused by nerve problems, muscle weakness, thickening tissue, or an enlarged prostate. Exercises and lifestyle changes -- drinking less caffeine or not lifting heavy things, for example -- often help.

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Age is the biggest risk factor for cancer. The disease affects young people, too, but your odds of having it more than double between 45 and 54. You can’t control your age or your genes, but you do have a say in things like smoking or spending too much time in the sun.

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People between the ages of 40 and 59 have a higher rate of depression than any other age group. Many people get down as health problems crop up, loved ones are lost or move away, and other life changes happen. It gets better, though. After 59, the numbers fall to only 7% of women and 5% of men.

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Back Pain

The older you get, the more common this is. Lots of things can make you more likely to have it: being overweight, smoking, not getting enough exercise, or diseases like arthritis and cancer. Watch your weight, exercise, and get plenty of vitamin D and calcium to keep your bones strong. And strengthen those back muscles -- you’ll need them.

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Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia, usually doesn’t pop up until 65 or so. One in 9 people that age or older have Alzheimer’s, but the rate rises to 1 in 3 for ages 85 or up. Some risk factors (like age and heredity) are uncontrollable. But evidence suggests that a heart-healthy diet and watching your blood pressure and blood sugar might help.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 11/09/2018 Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on November 09, 2018


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National Council on Aging: “Healthy Aging Facts.”

CDC: “Chronic Disease Overview,” “Diabetes Public Health Resource,” "Diabetes," “Osteoarthritis,” "QuickStats: Prevalence of Current Depression* Among Persons Aged ≥12 Years, by Age Group and Sex -- United States, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2007–2010," “Depression is Not a Normal Part of Growing Older.”

National Institute on Aging: “NIH Senior Health: High Blood Pressure,” “NIH Senior Health: Hearing Loss,” “Urinary Incontinence.”

American Heart Association: “Understand Your Risk for High Blood Pressure,” "Prevalence of coronary heart disease by age and sex."

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Who Is At Risk for Heart Disease?”

Trust for America’s Health: “The State of Obesity 2016: Better Policies for a Healthier America.”

Stop Obesity Alliance: “Fast Facts: Obesity-Related Chronic Disease.”

Arthritis Foundation: “Osteoarthritis Causes,” “Osteoarthritis Prevention: What You Can Do.”

National Osteoporosis Foundation: “What is Osteoporosis and What Causes It?”

International Osteoporosis Foundation. “Preventing Osteoporosis.”

Mayo Clinic. “COPD.”

American Optometric Association. “Adult Vision: 41 to 60 Years of Age.”

National Eye Institute. “Facts About Cataract.”

Siroky, M.B. Urology, 2004.

National Cancer Institute. “Age.”

American Psychological Association. “Aging and Depression.”

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. “What Is Back Pain? Fast Facts: An Easy-to-Read Series of Publications for the Public.”

Alzheimer’s Association. “Risk Factors.”

Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on November 09, 2018

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.