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What to Expect in Your 60s

The good, the bad and the ugly. Plus advice on feeling happy, sexy and pain-free

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Forty-one percent of age 50-plus Americans say they are "optimistic" about getting older.
Photo by Craig Cutler

Staying mentally and physically active can help keep you, well, younger — particularly in your 60s, when you're just getting used to the idea that the reading glasses and wrinkles are here to stay.

So what can you expect this decade? Everyone ages differently, and lifestyle plays a major role, but you'll experience both hard-to-notice and impossible-to-miss changes in your physical and mental health.

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Read on for the good, the bad and the what's-up-with-that? transformations you'll soon encounter — plus the latest advice on feeling happy, sexy and pain-free.

See also: The best places to retire in 2012.

Save Your Skin

The Good News: Your skin is drier, so you're less likely to suffer from unsightly breakouts. While some women do experience menopause-related skin issues, they're usually treatable with hormone-replacement therapy.

The Not-So-Good News: You may notice your skin is more fragile, and you may have an increasing number of age spots. Consider using a prescription hydroquinone product — "the gold standard for reducing age spots," says Helen M. Torok, M.D., medical director for the Dermatology & Surgery Center at Trillium Creek in Medina, Ohio. Also, the fine lines and wrinkles that started appearing in your 50s are becoming more dramatic, especially if you smoked or sunned significantly in your younger years. One remedy: prescription retinol products like Retin-A or Renova, Torok says. These creams repair damaged skin by speeding skin cell turnover.

What's Up With That? In your 60s you may develop dilated superficial blood vessels (called telangiectasias) on the cheeks, nose, chin and legs, but don't worry: Doctors can zap them with a laser that destroys the blood vessels underneath the skin — with no scarring. Another option to help make skin look younger: a radio-frequency-emitting device, which uses heat to contract collagen and tighten the skin, without injuring the outer epidermis.

What's Ahead: In your 70s you're likely to notice a big spike in skin tags, as well as excess skin around the neck and jowl lines. Skin tags are usually benign and can be removed through freezing or cauterizing. If you are bothered by sagging skin under the jaw, consider a skin-tightening radio-frequency treatment.

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Weight-bearing activities stimulate the bones to grow stronger and denser, which can protect against bone fractures and osteoporosis.
Photo by Craig Cutler

Bone Up for Good Health

The Good News: If you've been active all your life, your bones, joints and muscles can stay in pretty good shape during your 60s.

The Not-So-Good News: Aging and inactivity can lead to achy joints because of the wearing down of cartilage, loss of lubricating joint fluid and weaker muscles. Some remedies: maintaining a normal weight and strength training. Weight-bearing activities stimulate the bones to grow stronger and denser, which can protect against bone fractures and osteoporosis. Also, talk to your doctor about vitamin D and calcium supplements. The recommended dose of vitamin D for people in their 60s is 600 IU a day; for people in their 70s it's 800 IU a day. And women in their 60s need about 1,200 mg of calcium a day.

What's Up With That? Your joints may sound like snapping twigs, but those creaking and popping noises are usually not serious, unless accompanied by pain and swelling.

What's Ahead: Most knee replacements are done after age 65.

Motivate Your Metabolism

The Good News: While metabolism typically slows up to 5 percent per decade, that doesn't mean you have to gain weight in your 60s. Just stay active and cut calories if needed, says Alice Lichtenstein, D.Sc., director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.

The Not-So-Good News: In your 60s you may secrete less hydrochloric acid, which decreases the availability of vitamin B12, says Lichtenstein. Ask your doctor whether you need a B12 supplement (optimal dose: 2.4 mcg daily).

What's Up With That? Your stomach empties more slowly, which can increase the risk of reflux. And the slowing of digested material through the large intestine can trigger constipation. The easy fix? Fiber and water. Adding fiber to your diet may also help protect against colon polyps. Almost half of those over 60 have colon polyps that may develop into cancer.

What's Ahead: Older adults get dehydrated easily. So it's important to drink even when you're not thirsty.

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Inactivity is a more common risk factor for heart disease than obesity is.
Photo by Craig Cutler

Keep Your Heart Strong

The Good News: An older heart can pump about the same volume of blood with each beat as a younger one can.

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The Not-So-Good News: Heart disease accounts for more than 20 percent of all deaths among men and women ages 65 to 74. But thanks to advances in the treatment of this disease, the death rate from heart disease declined 27.8 percent from 1997 to 2007, according to the American Heart Association. One way to improve your odds? Keep moving. Just 150 minutes of moderately intense activity a week lowers your chance of developing coronary artery disease by 14 percent, compared with people who are not physically active.

What's Up With That? A skipped beat or a racing heart could be atrial fibrillation, a type of heart arrhythmia that becomes more common with age. Since it can increase the risk of stroke, mention it to your doctor.

What's Ahead: The incidence of heart disease rises with age: It's the leading cause of death for people 75 to 84.

Preserve Your Senses

The Good News: Lifestyle plays a major role in helping to maintain your senses as you age. So stay away from loud noises, eat a well-balanced diet (which can help ward off some age-related eye disorders) and see a doctor immediately if you notice that your senses of smell or taste diminish significantly. (This may indicate a sinus infection or be a reaction to medication.)

The Not-So-Good News: Age-related hearing loss becomes more common, primarily as a result of degenerative changes in the ear canal, eardrum and other structures of the ear. About 45 percent of 60-somethings experience some degree of hearing loss, rising to 68 percent among 70-somethings. After age 60, the ability to hear high-frequency tones also diminishes. What to do? Swallow your pride and get tested for hearing aids. Plagued by dry eye? The medication Restasis can help create more tears, while omega-3 fatty acids — found in fish such as tuna and salmon as well as fish oil supplements — may help tear quality.

What's Up With That? You might find it harder to see well in dim light; in general, 60-year-olds need three times as much light to read as 20-year-olds. And after age 60, the risk of macular degeneration increases. Fish oil and a diet rich in antioxidants can help prevent this condition.

What's Ahead: By age 70, smell and taste have likely declined, reducing the ability to enjoy subtle flavors. Taste buds decrease in number and sensitivity, and nerve endings in the nose may not work as well. The fix? Turn up the dial on seasonings. Ethnic cuisines like Indian and Thai contain spices and herbs that amplify the aromas and tastes of foods.

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Sex in your 60s can be better than ever.
Photo by Craig Cutler

Improve Your Sex Life

The Good News: Sex in your 60s can be better than ever: You've got more time and fewer distractions. And getting older often means becoming more comfortable in your own skin. In fact, sexual satisfaction among women rises with age, a recent University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine study found. In that study, two-thirds of sexually active women (with a median age of 67) were moderately or very satisfied with their sex lives.

The Not-So-Good News: Sex-related hormones — estrogen and progesterone in women, testosterone in men — decline, and vaginal dryness may become more noticeable, but over-the-counter lubricants are effective, as are prescription creams and tablets.

What's Up With That? Rates of erectile dysfunction (ED) increase with age; in one study of men with ED, 40 percent first experienced symptoms in their 60s. Research shows that not smoking and eating a diet rich in antioxidants can help.

What's Ahead: Sexual satisfaction only gets better with age.

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You're less susceptible to allergies in your 60s.
Photo by Craig Cutler

Ramp Up Your Immunity

The Good News: Allergies, which result from an overreactive immune system, are probably a thing of the past, because your immune system isn't as sensitive.

The Not-So-Good News: That less-aggressive immune response means you're more susceptible to getting sick. Chronic inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, diabetes and arthritis, makes it even harder for the body to mount an effective immune response. So it's important to shed excess pounds, eat a good diet and exercise.

What's Up With That? Your response to vaccines decreases with age, leaving you even more vulnerable to illnesses like flu and pneumonia. After 65 you're eligible to get a higher-dose flu vaccine. In your 60s you'll also need vaccines against shingles and pneumococcal disease, as these conditions mostly strike after age 60.

What's Ahead: Rates of cancer rise with age, with the majority of cancer cases occurring in patients older than 65, so get recommended screenings.

Take Fewer "Nighttime Trips"

The Good News: If you're generally healthy, your urological system likely works about as well as when you were younger. And an array of therapies can help when problems crop up.

The Not-So-Good News: Gotta go during the night? Not to worry; that's normal during this decade. "In their 60s, 80 percent of people need to get up at least once a night," says Ryan P. Terlecki, M.D., assistant professor of urology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. Try decreasing fluids after 6 p.m. and avoiding caffeine in the afternoon. And if you're on diuretics for high blood pressure, speak to your doctor about taking your pill in the morning. Stress incontinence — urine loss when coughing or sneezing — affects one in three women in their 60s. And women in their 60s also are more prone to experience urge incontinence (an uncontrollable urge to "go"). You can reduce symptoms through bladder training, medications and pelvic floor exercises ("Kegels"), which strengthen the muscles around the bladder.

What's Up With That? Find yourself running to the bathroom all the time? You may have overactive bladder, a condition caused by bladder muscles that contract sporadically. Many people write it off as just another symptom of aging, but Kegels, meds and bladder training can help.

What's Ahead: More than half of men in their 70s will have prostate issues. See a urologist if you suspect you might have a problem.

Be Happy

The Good News: We get happier. A recent AARP survey showed that from your early 50s on, happiness increases over time. One explanation for the trend: years of experience. "As you get older, you know that bad times are going to pass," says Laura Carstensen, Ph.D., director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. "You also know that good times will pass, which makes those good times even more precious."

The Not-So-Good News: You might stay away from stressful situations, thereby missing out on new opportunities. Just make sure all your social interactions stay strong. They may be key to facing future challenges with resilience.

What's Up With That? Are you worried that you're not as worried these days? "The ability to regulate one's emotions improves as you get older," says Bob Knight, Ph.D., professor of gerontology and psychology at the USC Davis School of Gerontology in Los Angeles.

What's Ahead: People in their 70s are consistently happy and satisfied with their lives, studies show.

Stay Sharp

The Good News: The growth of new brain cells, called neurogenesis, continues well into your 60s. And the capacity to learn new things stays strong, says Gary J. Kennedy, M.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral science in the division of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in New York.

The Not-So-Good News: Part of your brain circuitry starts to burn out with age, but most of us compensate by relying on other parts of our brain, and our past experiences, to make decisions. "That's the 'wisdom' that accrues with older age," says Kennedy. In your 60s you may also find yourself slow to access memories. But the loss of memory — once thought intrinsic to aging — is often avoidable, new research shows. "You can improve your brain health by getting regular mental stimulation, social interaction and physical activity," Kennedy says. Case in point: MRIs show that adults who exercise regularly have a bigger hippocampus (the brain region responsible for memory and learning), which helps keep the mind sharp.

What's Up With That? So you find yourself looking into a cabinet with no idea why you opened it. Relax. In your 60s mild forgetfulness happens because the transmission of nerve impulses between cells slows down. It's rarely a sign of something serious. While many folks in their 60s start to worry about Alzheimer's, the risk of developing this devastating disease is fairly low in this decade: Less than 5 percent of Alzheimer's patients are under 65.

What's Ahead: Real cognitive decline becomes especially prevalent in your 70s and 80s; nearly half of Americans 85 or older have Alzheimer's. Your best prevention plan: regular exercise, intellectual stimulation and plenty of social interaction with family and friends.

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