Aging men’s health issues might take a backseat to women’s, though they are just as important. What’s more, many of men’s health risks are preventable or mitigated through healthy lifestyle habits. Turning 50 and beyond does not need to be a doomed sentence of poor health.
Learn about the most common risks to men’s health over 50, and discover how to prevent them in order to enjoy a long, high-quality life.
Normal Aging After 50
While the health concerns associated with advancing age are partly preventable, the natural aging process is unavoidable to a large extent. Nonetheless, it can help provide context as to why men’s health risks like cardiovascular disease and obesity rise, especially after the age of fifty.
The natural aging process affects nearly every bodily system from cardiovascular to muscular to the reproductive thanks to slowed cellular function. Hence why longevity research centers around DNA telomeres and mitochondria optimization. As cells function slower, every single organ is affected and generally loses efficiency, increasing risk of health conditions and disease.
Some normal aging processes common to men over 50 include:
- Decreased maximum heart rate (lower exercise performance)
- Weakened bones joints and muscles (osteoporosis and osteopenia)
- Structural changes to the large intestine (constipation, lower B12 production)
- Weakened bladder and pelvic floor muscles (urinating often or loss of bladder control)
- Slight memory decline (not as severe as dementia or Alzheimer’s)
- Diminished senses (hear, taste, smell)
- Decaying gums and teeth (relates to cardiovascular health)
- Skin changes (less elasticity, bruising easily, dryness, wrinkles, age spots, skin tags)
- Slowed metabolism (less lean muscle mass)
- Sexual dysfunction (decreased desire and performance)
Now, defining normal aging is not always easy, because many factors like genetics and environment contribute to the process and everyone experiences it to a different degree. Some aspects of aging (also called pure aging) like the ones just mentioned are expected. But other health conditions like diabetes, heart attack, and stroke are not and usually a consequence of poor lifestyle habits.
Top Aging Men’s Health Issues
According to the CDC, the leading causes of death among adult men in the U.S. include heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke. Other health conditions following closely behind are diabetes, alcoholism and alcohol-related conditions, Alzheimer’s disease, and suicide.
Irrespective of mortality, common health issues among men over 50 include:
- Declined mental function and memory
- Decreased immune system, muscle mass and senses
- Weakened bones
- Lessened bowel function and hydrochloric acid production
- Urinary incontinence
- Overweight and obesity
- Erectile dysfunction
Unsurprisingly, many of these conditions are interrelated and improving one area of health tends to have a ripple effect on other aspects. This is why leading an overall healthy lifestyle through multiple behaviors is more important than only focusing on one area. What’s even better, taking measures to reduce the risk of the more preventable health issues also inherently slows the natural process of aging.
Here are the top preventable health problems pertaining to men over fifty.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) refers to a group of heart and related conditions like heart disease and heart attack and is related to high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Nearly all of these preventable conditions are caused by atherosclerosis, a process by which blood vessels and arteries become stiffened due to plaque build up. This reduces blood flow to the heart and throughout the body, diminishing oxygen and nutrient delivery. Over time, the heart compensates by thickening and pumping harder, which ultimately stresses and tires it.
Among men, non-melanoma skin, prostate, lung, and colorectal (colon) cancer are the most common cancers. Prostate cancer is largely hereditary, but early screening tests reduce overall mortality risk.
Conversely, the other three types are impacted by lifestyle choices, and therefore more preventable.
Diabetes (Type 2)
Type 2 diabetes results when the beta cells of the pancreas stop producing sufficient insulin to manage blood sugar levels and/or cells become resistant to insulin. Yet, even beyond diabetes, poor blood sugar management correlates with many other diseases like obesity, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Unlike type 1 diabetes that is an autoimmune condition, type 2 is most impacted by a highly refined carbohydrate and high saturated fat diet. The first signs of diabetes include trouble losing weight, increased thirst, hunger and urination and tingling in the extremities.
A stroke is similar to a heart attack in that oxygen and blood supply are cut off from the brain, usually due to a blood clot or hardening of the arteries. This can cause necrosis (death) of certain areas of brain tissue, which then affect motor and mental function.
Common signs of a stroke include paralysis or numbness in the face, arm or leg, vision problems, headache, dizziness and a drooping mouth.
Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are two of the most common types of COPD, otherwise known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A common consequence of chronic smoking, COPD is characterized by damage to the lung tissue and a decreased ability to transport oxygen and nutrients throughout the blood.
COPD reduces cellular function and vitality and can make simple, everyday tasks like walking up stairs, cooking and breathing cumbersome. Often, respiratory assistance is needed.
Overweight and Obesity
Two main types of fat exist and one is more dangerous than the other. The fat visible to the human eye, residing just underneath the skin, is called subcutaneous fat. Invisible fat that surrounds organs is known as visceral fat.
Though generally unhealthy to carry too much subcutaneous fat, visceral fat is more imminent a risk towards health because it directly affects organ function. Furthermore, while genetics play a role in determining where people carry subcutaneous fat, visceral fat is almost solely impacted by diet and lifestyle choices.
Prevent Common Men’s Health Risks
Very specific measures and behaviors can reduce the risk of each specific health concern. However, leading a healthy lifestyle by doing the following reduces risk of every single health-related problem while also slowing or optimizing the natural aging processes.
Eat a Mostly Whole Foods Diet
Eating a variety of colorful whole foods is arguably the best prevention method against chronic disease. A varied, whole foods diet includes:
- Many fruits and veggies
- Lean protein like chicken and fish
- Healthy fats like olive oil and avocado
- Hearty grains like brown rice and oats
Whole, nutrient-dense foods help maintain cellular health and healthy weight, balance blood sugar, and decrease inflammation. All greatly reduce the typical aging process and risk of developing health issues.
Of course, next in line is engaging in physical activity regularly. Regardless of weight loss, exercise promotes many health benefits such:
- Lowered blood pressure
- Better cardiovascular function
- Enhanced insulin sensitivity
- Improved mood
Exercise also serves as a stress reliever and strengthens bones, joints, and muscles. Incorporating a variety of cardio and strength training achieves a well-rounded regimen that reduces risk of developing chronic conditions.
Sleep is still a highly underrated wellness practice. While sleep allows the mind to rest, it supports growth, development and rejuvenation for the body. Plus, lack of sleep is associated with unbalanced hormones, increased hunger and cravings for refined carbohydrates and less mental clarity.
Chronic sleep deprivation is implicated in overweight and obesity and many other diseases. Aim to achieve seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night.
To many people’s surprise, stress management plays an enormous role in the development of many diseases, and particularly cardiovascular ones.
Unmanaged stress results in increased cortisol (stress hormone) production, which then affects just about every body system. Not only does it cause the heart to pump harder, often leading to high blood pressure, it can lead to insulin resistance, reduced exercise recovery and a quicker natural aging response.
Stop Smoking & Drink Less Alcohol
Smoking is one of the leading factors implicated in many diseases including cardiovascular, stroke, cancer and COPD among others. It also accelerates the aging process and decreases exercise tolerance. Similarly, the overconsumption of alcohol is associated with various health issues like diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
The current guidelines recommend no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women, or fourteen and seven per week, respectively.
Drink Enough Water
Conversely, staying hydrated with the majority coming from plain water promotes stellar health. Water keeps cells vital and able to function optimally.
Moreover, drinking water can displace sugary drinks like soda and juice. These beverages are absolutely associated with negative health outcomes like obesity and diabetes.
Go to the Doctor Regularly
Getting regular check ups promotes early screening for potential disease and can offer the opportunity to change lifestyle habits to prevent pre-disease states from progressing.
For example, someone recently diagnosed with prediabetes can adopt a healthier diet and catching cancer in early stages improves outcomes.
Some aspects of aging after a man turns 50 are to be expected. However, many of the dreadful diseases considered inevitable, like obesity and diabetes, can be prevented through a healthy lifestyle.
Not only do behaviors like eating a whole foods diet and cessation of smoking slow natural aging, engaging or not engaging in these behaviors can truly mean the difference between a long, vibrant or illness-ridden, low quality life after 50.
Take hold of your health today to avoid conditions like heart disease and stroke.
Besdine RW. Overview of Aging – Older People’s Health Issues. Merck Manuals Consumer Version. Published July 2019. www.merckmanuals.com/home/older-people%E2%80%99s-health-issues/the-aging-body/overview-of-aging.
Cancer Facts for Men. American Cancer Society. Revised May 27, 2020. www.cancer.org/healthy/cancer-facts/cancer-facts-for-men.html.
Health Tips for Men Over 50. Cleveland Clinic. Reviewed September 10, 2020. my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/16422-mens-health-lifestyle-tips-for-men-over-age-50.
Aging: What to Expect. Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Published November 19, 2020. www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/healthy-aging/in-depth/aging/art-20046070.
Men’s Health: Prevent the Top Threats. Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Published January 18, 2020. www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/mens-health/in-depth/mens-health/art-20047764.
Stroke. Mayo Clinic. Published February 9, 2021. www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stroke/symptoms-causes/syc-20350113.
What All Men Over 50 Need to Know About Their Health. Medical Guardian. Published July 13, 2016. www.medicalguardian.com/medical-alert-blog/health-wellness/what-all-men-over-50-need-to-know-about-their-health.
Your Body in Your 50s: Hair, Skin, Brain Health, and More. Reviewed June 6, 2013. www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/ss/slideshow-what-to-expect-in-your-50s.