Making healthy choices during any decade of life increases the chances of staying healthy as you age.
It’s never too late to embark on a healthy lifestyle, even in your 40s, 50s and 60s. Taking steps during those decades to reduce the risk of heart disease and other chronic illnesses can help your quality of life as you grow older.
“We are increasingly understanding that what you do earlier in life has a long-term impact,” said Norrina Allen, an associate professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
Middle age is the time to focus on your health for now — and for the future.
See your doctor, get on a healthy path
Visiting your doctor isn’t just for when you feel sick. While in good health, arrange for an annual checkup to discuss whether your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar are in a normal range. You can also track your blood pressure between exams with an at-home monitor or a machine in a drug store or grocery store.
A normal blood pressure range is less than 120 for systolic (the top number) and less than 80 for the diastolic (the bottom number).
If your numbers are in unhealthy ranges, a physician can help you decide whether medication is needed to control heart disease risk factors. Lifestyle changes can help, too.
“You can step up your game, essentially, in terms of diet and physical activity,” Allen said. “Anything you can do at any age is going to make your future healthier and happier.”
Consider eating more fruits and vegetables and eliminating sugary beverages.
Maintain or begin an exercise program. You don’t have to run a marathon. Begin gradually by adding 20 to 30 minutes of brisk walking to your daily routine.
The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week for adults, aiming for 30 minutes of exercise per day, five days a week.
A nutritious diet and physical activity are two of Life’s Simple 7, which are seven measures and actions identified by the AHA as having the most impact on heart health. The others are managing blood pressure, controlling cholesterol, reducing blood sugar, losing weight and quitting smoking.
Quitting smoking can result in an almost immediate benefit. Stopping smoking reduces your risk for heart disease and other illnesses. For some diseases, that risk eventually drops to pre-smoking levels.
Feeling good in your 40s
Your 40s may be consumed with your job and childrearing, but you shouldn’t neglect your own well-being.
“People put their health kind of on the sidelines,” Allen said. “Making time for yourself is an age-old adage, but there are long-term benefits with being healthy — and even short-term benefits.”
Her team of researchers examined health records for more than 25,000 people over the course of several decades from the Chicago Health Association study. Heart disease risk factors, including high blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index, diabetes and smoking, were assessed for each person in medical exams in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the average participant was in their early 40s.
Cardiovascular disease risk factors that were present (or not) in that early 40s age group were “highly predictive” of what kind of health one had at ages 65, 75 and 85, Allen said.
Those with no major risk factors lived longer, lived more years without heart disease or other chronic illnesses, and saved money on health care in their later years, according to the study published in the journal Circulation in 2017.
Meanwhile, people in their 40s should also be aware of health issues that tend to arise in middle age. More than 30 million Americans have diabetes, and 90 percent to 95 percent of them have Type 2 diabetes, which most often develops in people over 45, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Heart health in the 50s and 60s
Cardiovascular health (link opens in new window)impacts your ability to live a productive life as you age, including your ability to work in middle age.
Employees with better cardiovascular health, as measured by the Life’s Simple 7 factors, experienced fewer sick days and better concentration at work, one study found. Other research found that annual employer health care costs were on average $2,021 less for employees with at least six ideal scores of the seven heart health metrics.
For women, menopause doesn’t cause cardiovascular disease, but risk factors can begin to occur around this period of a woman’s life, and heart disease symptoms may become more evident afterward.
The 50s and 60s is often a time when people accumulate more weight, and heart disease risk factors appear.
Research has shown that exercising regularly in middle age can improve the elasticity of blood vessels brought on by a sedentary lifestyle and reduce cardiovascular disease risk.
Think about ways to do more walking, whether it’s a few blocks in your neighborhood or a trek to the local farmer’s market to find fresh produce. Also keep in mind that preparing meals at home rather than eating out is usually a good way to ensure healthy eating.
In your 60s and beyond, medical problems can become more prevalent. But people with fewer health issues are likely to have fewer doctor visits and less hospital or nursing home care.
Those with more favorable heart disease risk factors in middle age saved approximately $18,000 during their time on Medicare, according to Allen’s research. Even those who developed chronic diseases later in life experienced less severity of those illnesses.
Whatever your age, reducing your cardiovascular disease risk is worth the effort. It’s often a good idea to involve the whole family — spouses, children and grandchildren.
“Work as a team,” Allen said. “Making it a group activity is good for everyone.”
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