by Sari Harrar, AARP The Magazine
The good news in your 60s: Making healthy changes will have a greater impact today than at any other time in your life.
The reality check in your 60s: Better get to know your blood pressure and blood sugar numbers now.
- You have a long, healthy life ahead. Indeed, men turning 65 this year can expect to live, on average, to age 84.3; women, until age 86.6. And 1 in 10 of us will thrive past 95. That’s two or three more decades of adventure that you don’t want to miss out on.
- Allergies, once the bane of springtime, may now be a thing of the past. This is the result of a changing immune system. As we age, some of our immune responses become less aggressive.
- But you may need to update your vaccines. After 65 you’re eligible for the higher-dose flu vaccine. Get it. And talk to your doctor about being vaccinated against shingles and pneumococcal disease.
- Be sure to get a hep C test. Eighty percent of undiagnosed hepatitis C cases lurk in people born between 1945 and 1955, but just 14 percent of us have been checked for the disease.
- Your fitness is more pliable than ever. Older adults benefit from healthy lifestyle changes to a greater degree than any other population group, according to the landmark DiabetesPrevention Program study. Over the course of 10 years, subjects 60 and older saw a 49 percent decrease in diabetes incidence after making healthy lifestyle changes; for adults under 60, the same changes resulted in, at most, a 34 percent reduction. And making changes is easier than ever. This year, Medicare will start picking up the tab for subscribers with prediabetes who enroll in a diabetes prevention program (DPP). Join classes at YMCAs, hospitals, health centers, churches, work sites and other locations.
- But it’s time to take action. Your fasting blood sugar level may rise between six and 14 points in your 60s. If you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes, your risk of developing the full-blown disease in the next year is 1 in 10. Consult with your doctor about diet and lifestyle changes that are right for you (or take that free DPP class).
- Your heart is the same super pump it has always been. An older heart can pump about the same volume of blood with each beat as a younger one can. But remaining active is key. A University of Texas Southwestern study revealed the precise weekly exercise quota to boost your ticker’s pumping power by 18 percent. It involves four half-hour workouts a week — two for strength training, one of fast-and-slow interval training, and one at a steady pace — plus one hour-long workout that is moderately paced.
- You’re 26 percent less likely to die of cancer than those in your parents’ generation were. Thanks to more potent new treatments and a drop in smoking, cancer death rates have dropped dramatically since the 1990s, saving 2.4 million lives. As long as you’re getting screened that is. Pursue recommended colon cancer screenings — something 1 in 3 adults in their 60s are skipping, the American Cancer Society reports. Screenings are the top reason that colon cancer deaths fell 52 percent between 1970 and 2015. Can’t deal with a colonoscopy? Ask your doctor to prescribe a test that allows you to mail a stool sample to a lab for screening.
- Your stomach might want you to try acetaminophen. Glands in your digestive tract don’t pump out as much protective mucus or acid-neutralizing bicarbonates now, which is why you have to be more careful with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin. Be sure to take them on a full stomach, or switch to a more forgiving pain reliever.
- Up the the salmon entrées too. Chronic inflammation of the stomach lining, common in aging, reduces levels of digestive stomach acids. Taking proton pump inhibitors for heartburn can do this, too. Both interfere with your body’s ability to extract vitamin B12 from food and to absorb it. The easiest solution: Up your intake of fatty fish such as lake trout or sardines, or get 2.4 micrograms of B12 a day from a multivitamin or separate supplement.
- Your left ventricle needs a little love. Your heart’s left ventricle — the chamber that pumps oxygen-rich blood to your body — becomes stiffer as you age. That increases your risk for offbeat heart rhythms called atrial fibrillation (A-fib). One in 11 people have A-fib by their late 60s — tripling your risk for heart failure and boosting your odds for a stroke. Because it’s often symptom free, A-fib is easy to ignore. Don’t. If you’ve been told you have A-fib, don’t postpone treatment. Catheter ablation, in which the misfiring tissue is burned away, is a relatively quick and painless procedure.