Preventive Measures You Can Take in Your 50, 60s and Beyond

Woman in her early 60s practicing yoga. Exercise is one way to keep practicing prevention as we age.

We often think of prevention from the perspective of youth. If we had started eating healthy in our 20s, if we had built strong exercise habits in our 30s, if we had maintained a healthy weight in our 40s … While we can do a lot of good — or bad — when we’re young, we can still have an impact on our health as we age. Prevention never stops. 

Here are some of things you can do to improve your health and keep chronic illness and other age-related issues at bay. 

Find a doctor — and stick with them
First, it’s important to have a good relationship with a primary care physician. Studies show that if your doctor-patient relationship is solid, sticking with your primary care physician can lead to better outcomes. 

You should also see your primary care physician when you are well. That’s right. Primary care doctors aren’t just for prescriptions and sick visits. The right primary care doctor can be partner in health and help guide you through age-appropriate preventive testing and help you develop a plan for preventing illness.

Keep getting tested
Just because you’re aging, doesn’t mean you should let preventive screenings and vaccinations lapse. In fact, some testing ramps up when your turn 50 and doesn’t slow down until after you turn 70. Here is a list of recommended screening tests for women; and here’s one for men.

Beyond screenings, make sure you’re up-to-date on your vaccinations. From flu to shingles, vaccines can keep you from getting sick and make sickness milder if you catch a bug.

Take steps to reduce chronic illness risk
By the time some people turn 50, they’ve increased their risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, among other chronic conditions. Poor lifestyle habits coupled with genetic risks put them on a path towards issues as they age. 

If you fall into this category, there are steps you can take to reduce that risk even as you age. For example, we often accumulate weight in our 50s and 60s. Keeping that weight off can help lower your risk for a number of chronic conditions from heart disease and diabetes to cancer. Changing your diet and eating healthier can help keep that weight off, especially if you slow down.

But don’t slow down! Exercise is just as important as we age as it is when we are young. When it comes to heart disease, the number one killer in the U.S., exercise in our middle age can help reduce our risk by improving the elasticity of blood vessels. 

We tend to lose muscle mass as we age too – up to 5 percent per decade after age 30. But you can slow this decline by continuing to work out. And that’s really important because 30 percent of adults over 70 have trouble walking, getting out of a chair or climbing stairs. 

Keep muscles strong to avoid falls
Falls are also common. In fact, among older adults, falls are a leading cause of injury and death. To reduce your risk of falling, it’s key to stay active — and you need more than just aerobic exercise. Studies show that resistance training can help reduce muscle wasting (called sarcopenia) and muscle weakness (called dynapenia), which are common as we age and often contribute to falls. 

Diet also plays a role. Studies suggest that diets rich in protein, vitamin D, selenium, magnesium and omega 3 fatty acids may help build muscle mass. 

Always talk to your primary care doctor before making changes in exercise or diet. 

Focus on your mental health 
Even as you focus on lifestyle changes to prevent illness, you also need to take care of your mental health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20% of people age 55 years or older experience some type of mental health concern. 

Whether this is stress, anxiety or depression, mental health issues can also impact your physical health. Unfortunately, physical health issues as you age can also cause mental health issues. And those physical and mental health issues can feed off each other. 

All the things you do for physical health – exercising, eating healthy, getting sleep — also help your mental health, especially as we age. Yoga, meditation and mindfulness practices also are shown to have positive impact and prevent the onset or spiraling of mental health issues. (They also have pain management benefits for older people and may even help with cognitive health.)

But it’s also important to seek help for your mental health. Your primary care physician is a good start. Primary care doctors can prescribe medications as well as refer patients to specialists. 

As with preventing chronic diseases, staying mentally healthy means eating right, getting enough exercise and sleep, and staying socially connected. 

Avoid social isolation
An increasing body of research has proven that loneliness and social isolation are risk factors for several health problems, especially depression, anxiety and dementia. This impacts people in their 60s and 70s and can manifest in a host of physical ailments, including weakened immunity, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, anxiety, cognitive decline and depression, according to the National Council on Aging.

But you can reduce social isolation by volunteering, pursuing hobbies and joining clubs. They can help you meet new and potentially lifelong friends and maintain regular social contact. 

Consider combining group social activities with exercising — join an water aerobics class at your local community pool or gym classes specifically tailored for seniors. If you prefer a less strenuous way to socialize, try a book club or get together with friends for card games or dominos.

Most importantly, stay in touch regularly with friends and family by phone, video chat, email or through social media — especially if they’re far away.

Preventing disease as we age isn’t as easy as it is when we’re younger, but the efforts you make in your 50s, 60s and 70s can have a major impact on the quantity and quality of life you live. 

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