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Your Body's General Health at 70+

What to expect, what to look forward to and what to do now for a longer, happier life

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In your 70s your health is more pliable than ever. While medicine has made tremendous advances in heart disease and cancer, diabetes management is largely in your hands.
Peter Arkle

The good news in your 70s: Yes, you still have many great adventures ahead.

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The reality check in your 70s: Your quality of life is in your hands.

  • You feel optimistic about aging. Sixty-six percent of people in their 70s felt very good about growing older, compared with 46 percent of people in their 30s, a recent University of Chicago survey found. One in five 70-year-olds even said they were “excited” about getting older. In another study, half of people in their 70s said their lives have turned out better than they ever expected.
  • You can expect plenty of good years to come. By age 65, women are projected to live another 20.6 years; men, 18 — a two-year jump for women and a four-year increase for men since 1981. 
  • You’re 26 percent less likely to die of cancer than those in your parents’ generation were. Thanks to more powerful treatments and a drop in smoking, cancer death rates have dropped dramatically since the 1990s — saving 2.4 million lives. But it is important to get screened. Here’s one way to stack the deck in your favor: Pursue recommended colon cancer screenings, something many older Americans are skipping, the American Cancer Society reports. Screenings are the top reason colon cancer deaths fell 52 percent between 1970 and 2015. If you can’t deal with a colonoscopy, ask your physician to prescribe a test that will allow you to mail a stool sample to a lab for screening.  
  • Your heart may need a fresh battery. The number of natural “pacemaker” cells in your ticker is declining; by age 75 you’ll have 90 percent fewer than you had in your youth. Not surprisingly, the average age for a first pacemaker is (you guessed it) 75; approximately 225,000 people per year in the United States have pacemakers implanted. But once in place, this device is like a fresh battery for your heart — it can keep you ticking for decades to come.
  • A dog wouldn’t hurt, either. Forty percent of people in their 70s own a pet, for good reason. Older adults who walk their dogs have a healthier body weight, go to the doctor less often, get more exercise, and mix and mingle with other people more frequently than those without dogs. Even the American Heart Association is on board with the “Dogs are heart healthy” message. You don’t need to adopt Marmaduke to get the exercise-related benefits. Owners of cuddly, toy-size pooches had a 15 percent lower risk of an early death than did those who didn’t have dogs, a recent Swedish study of 3.4 million older adults found.
  • Focus on healthy food. “My standard breakfast is whole-grain bread with sunflower seed butter, almond butter or peanut butter, and skim milk. I enjoy it, don’t get bored, and it keeps me going until lunch. For dinner I always start with a salad: Whatever greens are in the refrigerator go in first and then raw veggies,” said Alice H. Lichtenstein, 70, Gershoff Professor of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

Learn what to expect for your health and wellness in your 50s, 60s and 70s in this series from AARP The Magazine. 

  • Snack on nuts. People in their 70s who ate a Mediterranean-style diet (plenty of produce, whole grains, lean protein) and munched on a handful of nuts three times a week cut their risk for a heart-threatening prediabetic condition called metabolic syndrome by 60 percent over three years, compared with those who ate a conventional Western-style diet. This eating strategy cools off inflammation and protects your heart. “It is never too late to change dietary habits to improve cardiovascular health,” the researchers note.
  • Salt sensitive? Brain scans show that hot red peppers increase activity in brain regions also stimulated by consuming salt. That’s likely why, in a recent study of 606 adults from China’s Third Military Medical University, Chinese women and men who loved very spicy food consumed less salt and had blood pressure readings four to seven points lower than those who steered clear of tongue-sizzling tastes.
  • Your health is more pliable than ever. Medicine has made tremendous advances in treatments for heart disease and cancer. But fighting the third serious health threat — diabetes — primarily comes down to you. Fortunately, older adults benefit from healthy lifestyle changes to a greater degree than any other population group, according to the landmark Diabetes Prevention Program follow-up study. Over 10 years, subjects 60 and older saw a 49 percent decrease in their odds for developing diabetes after making healthy lifestyle changes; for adults under 60, the same adjustments resulted in a 34 percent reduction. Younger adults responded better to the diabetes drug metformin, however; older adults who took metformin had a slightly higher risk for diabetes than did the control group — another reason diet and exercise trumps drugs.
  • You need to be serious about blood sugar. Diabetes and prediabetes affect 73 percent of older Americans. If your blood sugar continues to rise, it will go after your heart, your brain, your eyes and just about everything else. Diabetes doubles your risk for a silent heart attack, triples your risk for a second (or third) cardiovascular event if you’ve already had one, raises your odds for a stroke and doubles your risk for an earlier-age heart-related death. If you don’t have a fitness and diet program designed to attack this No. 1 threat, now is the time to get one.
  • Thankfully, making changes is easier than ever. Now there’s no excuse for you not to get healthy. This year, Medicare will start picking up the tab for subscribers who have prediabetes and enroll in a diabetes prevention program. You can join classes held at YMCAs, hospitals, health centers, workplaces and other locations across the United States.

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