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The #1 Causes of Bad Health After 50, Says Science

Slash your chances of serious illness and premature death by avoiding these high-risk habits.

No one wants to admit they're getting older and the machinery isn't quite what it used to be. Plenty of us keep our heads in the sand, avoiding healthy best practices like we did in our 20s. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the serious flaw in that philosophy—as the body ages, it becomes more vulnerable to illness. The good news is that you can slash your chances of serious illness and premature death by avoiding a few high-risk habits. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Drinking Too Much Alcohol

drinking alcohol

Studies have found that adults over 50 are drinking more than ever. That can result in real problems. Excessive alcohol consumption raises your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and at least seven types of cancer—and the incidence of all of them already increases with age. To reduce your risk, experts advise that men have no more than two drinks a day, and women have no more than one.


Not Getting the COVID Vaccine

Doctor with a syringe of COVID-19 vaccine and a patient's hand refusing.

In the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, 95 percent of those who died were over age 50. Effective vaccines have slashed the rates of severe illness and death. If you're over 50, get fully vaccinated against COVID, and the CDC recommends you get a booster shot. Research from Israel found that in older people, booster shots provided four times more protection against COVID infection—and five to six times more protection against serious illness and hospitalization—than the first two shots alone.

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Being Physically Inactive

woman watching t

Being sedentary raises your risk of several life-shortening health conditions that increase in frequency after age 50: Obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke, just to name a few. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN medical correspondent, says you should consider physical inactivity to be as serious as a disease. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise) each week. 


Uncontrolled Diabetes

Doctor with glucometer and insulin pen device talking to male patient at medical office in hospital.

Although type 2 diabetes can strike at any age, risk increases significantly after age 40. Left untreated, the condition can lead to severe complications including heart disease, stroke, blindness, and dementia. The American Diabetes Association recommends a regular diabetes screening for all adults over 45. Get tested ASAP, and if you have diabetes, follow your doctor's recommendations about medication and lifestyle changes to get it under control.

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High Cholesterol

high cholesterol

According to American Family Physician, the first risk factor for high cholesterol is being over 55. As we age, the body produces more cholesterol, which can build up in the arteries, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Experts advise getting your cholesterol checked every five years, but older adults may need to get it done more frequently. Your total cholesterol level should be less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), with an LDL level of less than 100 mg/dL and an HDL level of 60 mg/dL or higher. 

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High Blood Pressure

blood pressure

High blood pressure is one of the most serious health risks there is. Over time, it can damage blood vessels, increasing your chances of a heart attack, stroke, erectile dysfunction, kidney problems, and dementia—just to name a few. What's more: According to Harvard Medical School, more than 70 percent of men older than 55 technically have high blood pressure, defined as a measurement higher than 120/80. Get your blood pressure checked every year, and follow your doctor's advice about improving it if necessary. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael
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