10 Major Causes of Bad Health After 60
Minimize risk and maximize your well-being.
It's an unfortunate fact of life: Health-related challenges are more common as we grow older. But that doesn't mean age-related illness is inevitable. Major risk factors for many chronic diseases can be reduced through simple lifestyle changes. The keys are recognizing what your vulnerabilities are and taking action to protect your good health. These are ten major causes of bad health after age 60.
According to Harvard Medical School, more than 70 percent of men older than 55 technically have high blood pressure, defined as a measurement higher than 120/80. Over time, high blood presssure can damage blood vessels, increasing your chances of a heart attack, stroke, erectile dysfunction, kidney problems, and dementia—just to name a few. Get your blood pressure checked every year, and follow your doctor's advice about improving it if necessary.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 41.5% of Americans over the age of 60 are obese. "Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer," says the CDC. "These are among the leading causes of preventable, premature death." Annual medical costs for adults with obesity are $1,861 higher, on average, than medical costs for people with healthy weight.
Muscle mass naturally declines with age, a process called sarcopenia. After the age of 30, muscle mass declines about 3% to 5% per decade. Bone density also declines, which can contribute to mobility issues and an increased risk of falls. To guard against this, experts recommend regular resistance training, which strengthens both muscle and bone.
The immune system weakens with age, making older people more susceptible to illness. "Beginning with the sixth decade of life, the human immune system undergoes dramatic aging-related changes," says a 2016 study in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society. "The aging immune system loses the ability to protect against infections and cancer and fails to support appropriate wound healing. Vaccine responses are typically impaired in older individuals. Conversely, inflammatory responses mediated by the innate immune system gain in intensity and duration, rendering older individuals susceptible to tissue-damaging immunity and inflammatory disease."
Experts consider social isolation to be epidemic in people over 60. Studies have found that being lonely can have negative health effects similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day and may increase older adults' risk of developing dementia by 50%. Doctors think that's because socializing keeps the brain active and reduces stress, thereby lowering the risk of everything from Alzheimer's to heart disease and cancer.
Experts recommend that adults of every age get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. Unfortunately, only about 20% of us do. Regular exercise is especially important after age 60—it slashes the risk of heart disease, cancer, obesity, dementia and other serious health conditions and can literally keep your body young.
Because of reduced immunity, older people have a higher risk of becoming seriously ill or dying from diseases that only minorly afflict the young, including the flu. The CDC recommends an annual flu and COVID-19 shot for everyone. Ask your healthcare provider about other routine vaccines that are right for you, including those for RSV, shingles, and pneumococcal pneumonia.
According to a 2023 CDC report, 8.3% of Americans over age 65 still smoke, raising their risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and lung disease. "It doesn't matter how old you are or how long you've been smoking, quitting smoking at any time improves your health," says the National Institutes of Health. "When you quit, you are likely to add years to your life, breathe more easily, have more energy, and save money."
Studies have found that older adults are binge drinking more than ever. Excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and at least seven types of cancer, the incidence of which all increase with age.
According to a UK study, untreated hearing loss was associated with a 42 percent greater risk of dementia compared to people with normal hearing. And research published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that older people who have cataracts removed are nearly 30 percent less likely to develop dementia, including Alzheimer's. A person who has trouble seeing or hearing is less likely to keep the mind active by reading, watching movies and TV, playing games, and socializing with others.
A study published in PLOS Medicine found that following a healthy lifestyle—observing guidelines about smoking, alcohol consumption, weight, diet and exercise—can lower your risk of cognitive impairment by 55%. That's true even among people with an increased genetic risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, and "even among the oldest old," researchers said.