50 Unhealthiest Habits After 50
A funny thing happens when you’re in your 50s: You feel more determined than ever to make every minute count, living life to its fullest. And yet, healthwise, you’ve never had to be more careful. One wrong step could result in a broken bone. One drink too many and you’re asleep on the couch. One rock concert with the kids and suddenly your ear’s ringing—or worse.
We talked with the country’s top doctors to discover the 50 Unhealthiest Habits After 50—and got their advice about how to minimize the damage from each. We don’t want you to stop living; we want you to keep living. And to ensure your house is safe for you and the entire family, don’t miss this essential list of 100 Ways Your Home Could be Making You Sick.
Letting Yourself Stagnate
“Don’t quit learning and doing,” advises Robert Beam, MD, a family medicine specialist with Novant Health-GoHealth Urgent Care in North Carolina. “At 50 years of age, the actuarial tables predict that you will live to be age 80. If you assume adult life begins at 21, you’ve lived 29 years as an adult, and you have 30 years left to live.”
Recommendation: “At 50, your adult life is only half over,” says Beam. “There is plenty of time to learn a new language, learn to play a musical instrument, check out scuba diving, kickboxing or even go to college.” Studies show that staying active and engaged can ward off cognitive decline and dementia.
Not Protecting Your Sexual Health
When dating in your 50s and beyond, “It’s still important to practice safe sex,” says J.D. Zipkin, MD, associate medical director of Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care in New York City. “Even if pregnancy is no longer a concern, sexually transmitted diseases haven’t gone away.” In fact, among people aged 55 and older, chlamydia cases nearly doubled and gonorrhea cases nearly tripled between 2013 and 2017, according to the CDC. And STDs don’t always make themselves apparent: Chlamydia and gonorrhea can be passed along symptom-free but lead to complications.
Recommendation: “Be sure to have open conversations with new sexual partners and continue to use condoms to reduce the risk of STD transmission when needed,” says Zipkin. And talk to your doctor about regular STD screenings.
Not Getting Regular Health Tests
“Get those cancer screenings,” says Zipkin. “New medical testing, especially something like colonoscopy, can be daunting and not particularly desirable. But remember: the goal is to prevent any life-shortening illnesses by detecting them early.”
Recommendation: Talk to your doctor and stay up to date with the American Cancer Society’s recommendations about regular screening for breast, prostate, and colon cancers, among others. Your 50s are the decade in which a number of cancer screening tests become crucial.
Not Getting Regular Vaccinations
“The chance of being hospitalized or dying from illnesses like influenza or pneumonia increases as we age,” says Zipkin. “It’s important to protect yourself by getting all the recommended vaccines.”
Recommendation: Talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated against the flu, pneumonia, whooping cough and shingles, a painful blistered rash that almost one-quarter of adults develop later on in life. The CDC says everyone over age 6 months should get an annual flu vaccine, and people over 50 are a priority group. The CDC also recommends two pneumoccocal pneumonia vaccines for people 65 and older, and two doses of shingles vaccine (Shingrex) for people over age 50.
Ignoring Acid Reflux
Heartburn, or acid reflux, can damage the lining of your esophagus, leading to a precancerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus. In some cases, that can progress to esophageal cancer, a particularly deadly form of the disease.
Recommendation: If you suffer from regular heartburn, don’t just take antacids. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms.
Being Overly Restrictive With Your Diet
When it comes to a healthy diet, let yourself live a little. “As a dietitian, I often explain to clients the mental health benefits of a less-restrictive diet,” says Rachel Fine, RD, CSSD, CDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist with To The Pointe Nutrition in New York City. “An ‘eat less’ mindset can set us up for a cycle of guilt when unfair expectations are not met due to the biological consequences of food restrictions (such as increased cravings).”
Recommendation: “Practice an inclusive approach to dieting,” says Fine. “Instead of rules, make choices. Add more minimally processed, nutrient-dense, plant-based foods like fresh produce, nuts, seeds, and legumes to your meals. Psychologically, an inclusive approach allows for enjoyment of all foods. Once we grant ourselves unconditional permission to eat our favorite foods, we relieve the weight of responsibility that these foods hold over us.”
Not wearing earplugs
“One of the unhealthiest habits for people over the age of 50 is to go to loud events without earplugs,” says Lawrence R. Grobman MD, a South Florida otolaryngologist. ”It can hasten hearing loss and associated tinnitus.”
Recommendation: “Hearing loss can be prevented with customized or even over-the-counter earplugs,” he says.
Using OTC Medications Indiscriminately
“Being very careful with use of over-the-counter medications is incredibly important,” says Rob Malizia, MD, associate medical director at Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care in New York. “The assumption is that because they are over the counter, they must be safe. But many OTC medications can exacerbate or even cause hypertensive emergencies, cardiac dysrhythmias, gastrointestinal problems—like ulcers, gastritis and diverticulitis—and can interfere with prescription medications.”
Recommendation: “Seek medical advice before taking over-the-counters, especially if you’re taking other prescription medications,” says Malizia.
Not Covering Up In The Sun Or Using Sunscreen
“The 50-and-older group is of the generation that used baby oil when going in the sun,” says Jacob Freiman, MD, a board-certified plastic surgeon in Miami. “Although most have taken steps to make up for past mistakes, it’s important to find the right sunblock, one with titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide to prevent wrinkles and more importantly, skin cancer.”
Recommendation: Apply sunscreen daily to your face and neck, and to any parts of your body that will be exposed to the sun for extended periods. Make sure it’s at least 15 SPF.
Not Knowing Your Blood Pressure
Think your blood pressure is fine? You might be behind the times. In 2018, the American Heart Association lowered the guidelines for healthy blood pressure from 140/90 (and 150/80 for those older than 65) to 130/80 for all adults. According to Harvard Medical School, that means more than 70 percent of men over age 55 technically have high blood pressure.
Recommendation: Over time, high blood pressure can weaken the walls of blood vessels, increasing your risk of stroke, heart attack and dementia. To lower your risk, get your blood pressure checked soon—and regularly.
Not Laughing Enough
Seriously. Regular laughter has demonstrable health benefits. Laughter “enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain,” says the Mayo Clinic. “Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.” Laughter has also been shown to strengthen your immune system, relieve pain and improve your mood.
Drinking Your Calories
“Avoiding soft drinks and juice is a good idea, as they’re very high in sugar,” says Malizia. Empty calories are terrible for your waistline and heart, and sugar-sweetened beverages like soda contain some of the emptiest calories of all. A March 2019 study published in the journal Circulation found that people who drank the most sugary drinks had the highest risk of death. “The optimal intake of these drinks is zero,” said the study’s lead author, Vasanti S. Malik, a research scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “They have no health benefits.”
TheRecommendation: Hydrate with classic H20, seltzers—choose those without artificial sweeteners or flavorings—or homemade spa water.
Not Getting Regular Exercise
“People tend to be less active as they age,” says Adam Splaver, MD, a cardiologist with NanoHealth Associates in Hollywood, Florida. “Exercising regularly improves muscle tone and mass, decreases bone loss, improves memory, increases metabolism and improves sleep. On the other hand, recent research confirms how a sedentary life can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular and metabolic disease.”
Recommendation: The American Heart Association recommends that adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise—or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise—each week. Some examples of moderate-intensity exercise are brisk walking, dancing or gardening; vigorous exercise includes running, hiking or swimming.
Not Getting Enough Sleep
Sleep is essential to good health and a longer life. Not getting enough has been linked to an increased risk of weight gain, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression, even dementia. That’s because the body repairs itself during sleep, resolving cellular damage, sweeping toxins out of the brain and tuning metabolism.
Recommendation: Experts such as the National Sleep Foundation recommend getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night. If you’re having chronic trouble getting that amount, talk to your doctor. He or she might advise cutting back on caffeine, limiting naps, getting more exercise or addressing anxiety or depression.
Not Letting Things Go
“One of the most important pieces of advice I can give is to rid yourself of toxicity,” says Eileen Moran, LCSW-R, a therapist in New York City. “For the toxic individuals from our past, forgive them and leave them in the past. For the times we were toxic—and that has been the case for us all—learn from those moments and forgive yourself.”
Not Living in the Now
It might seem like a cosmic joke: Aging can come with as many anxieties as more naive eras such as adolescence or new parenthood. But your after-50s are also an uncertain new frontier of life, and worries can be managed with a research-backed psychological technique.
Recommendation: “Practice mindfulness and live in the moment,” says Moran. “That monster named anxiety will not help you in the present. Living in a possible future will only cause you stress. Let anxiety play alone. You play with the present.”
Not Recovering After Workouts
“When it comes to exercise, we still want to feel like we can work out like we did in our 20s,” says Chris Cooper, NCSA-CPT, a certified personal trainer with Active Movement & Performance in Massapequa Park, New York. “To bounce back from workouts, recovery workouts are important so your body can rebuild and repair itself.”
Recommendation: Allow yourself to recover for a day or two between workouts. Stay active, just don’t go all-out. “Recovery days can include stretching doing mobility exercises or simply walking,” says Cooper.
Not Doing Strength Training
“The best thing someone can do for their overall health is to lift weights, performing compound movements such as squats, lunges, bench press, and deadlifts, which use the major muscle groups,” says Robert S. Herbst, a personal trainer and 19-time world champion powerlifter. “I’m 61, so I know what I’m talking about.”
He elaborates: “By building muscle, those exercises slow or reverse the natural loss of muscle that occurs with aging. By stressing the spine and long bones, they cause the body to make new bone, which slows or reverses the normal loss of bone density and prevents osteoporosis. Weightlifting also causes the body to produce more testosterone and human growth hormone, whose levels also decline as people age. It builds strength and coordination, which will make it easier for people to do daily activities and prevent debilitating falls. It is a win-win all around.”
Recommendation: Anthony Kouri, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Toledo Medical Center, concurs: “By age 40, our bone density drops by about 1 percent annually. When we weight train, the muscles pull on the bone, which increases the density of the bone. Recent evidence suggests that even light weight lifting with higher repetitions can increase bone density up to 8 percent.” Aim to do two strength-training workouts per week.
Dwelling on Things
It’s no mystery why some older people are described as bitter; they’re living in a world of past hurts. You don’t have to. “If you’re recalling the painful betrayal of a friend, a particularly cruel breakup or a time you were wronged, consciously decide to let it go,” says Christine Scott-Hudson, a psychotherapist in Santa Barbara, California. “We cannot change the past. People often suffer when they keep repeating hurtful memories over and over in their heads. Ruminating on someone who did you wrong, or a mean thing a person said, does not serve us in the present moment.”
Recommendation: Scott-Hudson shares a mental exercise that has helped some of her clients struggling to stop ruminating: “Think of a color that reminds you of the person whom you are struggling to forgive,” she says. “Imagine their head as a balloon of that same color. When you notice you’re beginning to recall the betrayal or offense, imagine you’re holding a balloon of that associated color, then imagine releasing the balloon. Visualize it floating far away. Then consciously say ‘I release you.’ Quickly, this exercise will train you to become mindful of how much time and emotional bandwidth it takes to rehash these old hurts.”
Not Aligning Yourself
“As we age, maintaining mobility is essential if we want to keep doing the things we love without pain or limitation,” says Sukie Baxter, CR, LMT, LAMT, a posture and movement specialist in Seattle. “One of the most overlooked health tips is to work on physical alignment. What tends to happen is that a tight muscle that pulls your body out of alignment in one place—say, your chest—will cause another muscle to overwork and thus become chronically stiff and sore—in this case, usually your upper back muscles.”
Recommendation: “Stretching is great to release general tension, but for long-term health, working toward perfecting your posture is mission-critical,” says Baxter. “The good news is that if you’ve let your posture slip for a number of years, it’s never too late to address these compensations. I’ve worked with clients as old as 75 to help them find better alignment and youthful agility. Good posture can be had at any age.”
“The best investment we can make in our health as we age is a commitment to creating and sustaining meaningful, lasting friendships,” says Gina Handley Schmitt, MA, CMHS, LMHC, a psychotherapist in Seattle and author of the book Friending. A growing body of research shows that social isolation can result in a shorter life. “Loneliness is the leading epidemic plaguing individuals over the age of 50 in America today,” says Prakash S. Masand, MD, CEO of the Centers of Psychiatric Excellence (COPE).
Recommendation: Hit the gym, develop hobbies, take classes, volunteer. Take time to call or text with friends or family. If you’re feeling socially isolated or depressed, talk to your doctor about the best course of action.
Eating Too Fast
It’s not just the kids and grandkids who are guilty of scarfing meals. Eating too speedily can lead to over-consuming calories, which is especially hard for the post-50 metabolism to keep from turning into weight gain.
Recommendation: “By slowing down a little to chew food well—and taking a full inhale and exhale after swallowing—the parasympathetic nervous system is activated,” says Heather Lynn Darby, NASM, CNC, a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach in Richardson, Texas. “This ‘rest and digest’ response maximizes absorption of the nutrients from your food and inhibits chronic stress.”
Not Thinking Positively
“What happens in the brain influences the rest of your body,” says Kouri. “Numerous studies have demonstrated that those people who are forward thinking, and don’t dwell on the past, are more likely to live a longer life. Positive thoughts and emotions help boost your immune system and lower your blood pressure. The power of positive thinking not only helps extend our life, it allows us to have a higher quality of life with the time we have.”
Recommendation: “There are learned skills that anyone can apply to their life to think more positively,” says Kouri. “These include acknowledging a positive event each day and journaling about it, setting attainable goals and thinking about your progress, thinking about minor stresses and spinning them in a positive light, doing small acts of kindness each day and thinking about personal strengths and how you can use them.”
Eating Too Much Takeout
“Not packing your own lunch or eating out on a regular basis is an unhealthy habit in general, but becomes more of a problem as we age,” says Patrick J. Amar, MD, a gastroenterologist in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Our metabolism decreases as we get older. We require fewer calories, making it difficult to lose weight or even maintain a stable weight. Additionally, making wise food choices decreases our risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.”
Recommendation: “We can better control what we eat and what is in our food choices when we prepare them ourselves,” says Amar. “Though meal prepping and filling your pantry with healthy snacks can be time consuming, healthy habits prevent temptation, weight gain and a host of medical issues.”
Not Challenging Your Brain
“When we stop using something dynamically, it has a tendency to stagnate and/or decline health-wise,” says Stephen B. Hill, DC, a chiropractor with Hill Functional Wellness in Tempe, Arizona. “By consistently stimulating your cognitive ability, your brain will continue to maintain plasticity: its ability to adapt and remodel.”
Recommendation: “Some straightforward ways to do this are to read regularly, do puzzles and play games,” says Hill.
Drinking Too Much
A recent study found that 10 percent of people over age 65 engage in binge drinking, which is defined as having four or more drinks in one sitting. Excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancer and heart disease at any age, but as we mature, there are even more reasons to moderate.
“As we age, our lean body weight decreases, which creates a higher concentration of alcohol relative to our younger bodies and all of the issues that come with it,” says Dr. Zipkin. “For example, experiencing a drunken fall later in life is more likely to produce injury—sometimes life-shortening—without as much padding. Similarly, we tend to have a higher need for long-term medications later in life compared to youth, which may lead to alcohol interacting with those new drugs.”
Recommendation: Experts say women should have no more than one alcoholic beverage per day, and men should limit themselves to two.
Not Understanding Your Basic Blood Tests and Monitoring Them Regularly
“Most blood labs are taken to test for disease instead of monitoring health, but there are practitioners who will help patients learn about what the numbers mean,” says Hill.
Recommendation: “Monitor your numbers every three to six months, and talk to your doctor about how you improve your health through diet and lifestyle recommendations,” he adds.
Not Managing Stress
While implementing stress management techniques is important throughout life, it becomes even more important after 40,” says Rachel Fiske, NC, CPT-NASM, a nutritionist and personal trainer on the advisory board for Smart Healthy Living. “Stress is closely tied with inflammation and many diseases, and can be a root cause of common ailments as we age.”
Recommendation: “Think of what works for you, whether you find peace with meditation, yoga, tai chi, dance, art or simply deep breathing every day,” says Fiske.
Continuing to Smoke
In addition to raising your risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, “Smoking wreaks havoc on your mouth,” says David Magid, DMD, a dentist with Magid Dental Care in New Jersey. “Smoking causes dry mouth, which increases the risk of cavities, causes staining, inflamed gums which can lead to periodontal disease, slower healing and sores, as well as bad breath. As you get older, your body’s immune system doesn’t work as well, so it can’t fight off the harmful effects of smoking as well, and your salivary flow decreases, so smoking magnifies that problem.”
Recommendation: Quit. Now.
Skipping Regular Dental Checkups
“Often people over the age of 50 skip going for regular dental checkups and cleanings, since they haven’t had dental problems or cavities in a while,” says Mark R. Dennis, DDS, a dentist in North Miami Beach, Florida. “When they finally go see the dentist, they need a root canal treatment rather than a small filling. Or on the periodontal front, they will need deep scaling under a local anesthetic rather than a regular cleaning.
Recommendation: See your dentist every six months.
Not Eating Enough Fiber
“Fiber can often be forgotten in the everyday diet, but it’s essential in healthy nutrition,” says Kim Yu, MD, a family physician in Mission Viejo, California. “Not eating enough fiber can lead to constipation, decrease bowel transit and increase risk for colon cancer.”
Recommendation: Aim for five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Other high-fiber foods include whole grains, nuts, seeds and oatmeal.
Not Drinking Coffee
Your morning joe is packed with antioxidants, which protect your heart and liver and guard against diabetes and cancer. “Moderate coffee consumption (three to four cups per day) has been linked with longer lifespan,” says Robert H. Shmerling, MD, faculty editor of Harvard Health Publishing. “In fact, a November 2015 study in Circulation found that coffee consumption was associated with an 8% to 15% reduction in the risk of death, with larger reductions among those with higher coffee consumption.”
Recommendation: Enjoy coffee in moderation.
Having a Negative Mindset About Exercise
“Staying fit over 40 is just as much about your level of motivation as it is about the workout plan you pick,” says Dennis Timpanaro of GOtivation. “While workouts typically target your weakest area, fitness motivation works best if you focus on your strengths.”
Recommendation: Focus on making exercise something look forward to. Do what you enjoy. You don’t have to run marathons; any amount of physical activity is better than none. Advises Timpanaro: “Say you’re motived by exercising with friends. If you commit to lonely workouts in your basement, you’ll find your commitment fading almost instantly. It’s much smarter to sign up for a group fitness class at your local studio. If you’re truly looking to stay motivated for the next 40 years, spend time discovering what motivates you and play to your strengths.”
Pushing Yourself Too Far
Regular exercise is crucial to staying healthy as we age, but pushing yourself to the point of injury will undermine your fitness goals. “Realize the power of your body and use your voice,” says Lisa Corsello, a personal trainer and owner of the Burn Pilates studios in San Francisco. “The older you are, the better your relationship with your body, and the more empowered and confident you should feel saying ‘no’ to things that don’t feel right physically.”
Recommendation: Corsello says it’s time to say “when” when you’re doing any movement that causes pain or discomfort or gives you the sense that it’s not safe. “There’s a difference between the burn that you feel in your muscles that tends to be in a general area—like hamstrings, quads and biceps—and a sharp/shooting pain that comes in suddenly and doesn’t get better,” she says.
Not Eating An Anti-Inflammatory Diet
“That means staying away from packaged/processed foods and eating foods from nature, most of them being plants,” says Fiske. “This provides your body with nutrients, polyphenols and antioxidants to reduce inflammation, which is at the root of many chronic diseases.”
Recommendation: An anti-inflammatory diet, like the Mediterranean Diet, contains plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats like avocados and olive oil.
Not Eating Enough Healthy Fats
“Our brains need omega-3 fatty acids for optimal brain function and mood stability. This is probably the #1 thing you can do for your brain,” says Lorraine Miano, a certified integrated healthy coach and author of The Magic of Menopause. “Omega-3’s improve the health of brain cell membranes. Eating healthy fats also combats anxiety and depression.”
Recommendation: “Eat foods such as wild caught fatty fish, flax and chia seeds, avocado and walnuts,” says Miano.
Staying Totally Out of the Sun
Applying sunscreen is a smart idea to prevent skin cancer and premature aging. But don’t avoid the sun entirely. “We need a moderate amount of sunlight to boost our Vitamin D levels. Not enough D can lead to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and an early death,” says Miano.
Recommendation: The Vitamin D Council recommends exposing your skin to the sun for a short time—not long enough to tan or burn. That will allow your skin to generate Vitamin D.
Being Unkind to Yourself
“We need to practice deep kindfulness, because the truth is we’re not always kind to our bodies,” says Simone Levy, a registered APA pain physiotherapist. “In our daily lives of relentless pushing and constant going, having a gentle kindfulness with regard to our physical limitations can help us make better choices about what we can do and about being content with what we have done. Being grateful for those choices is important as well.”
Not Getting a Hormone Panel Checkup
“Your endocrine system is crucial to everything from mood to function, muscle gain and fat loss, and more,” says Phil Catudal, NASM, a certified personal trainer and author of Just Your Type: The Ultimate Guide to Eating and Training Right for Your Body. “If you’re eating super healthy and working out but your hormones are low, crashing or imbalanced, you will not get results—and it’s not your fault. My first recommendation to everyone after age 40 is to book a hormone-panel checkup with their physician.”
Recommendation: “Note: this is not just a CBC [complete blood count] or regular checkup,” says Catudal. “Some doctors check, but some don’t. Ask specifically for a hormone panel.”
Not Eating a Low-Glycemic Diet
“A low-glycemic diet (low carbohydrate) is a benefit at any age, as it will decrease the conditions that lead to the metabolic syndrome, which is obesity, diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia,” says Malizia.
Recommendation: Always opt for complex carbs (such as whole grains) over processed foods and simple starches such as white bread, cookies and cakes. Complex carbs are absorbed more slowly by the body, keeping you fuller longer and your blood sugar stable.
Not Applying Enough Sunscreen
“One unhealthy habit is applying sunscreen but not enough,” says Jeffrey Fromowitz, MD, a dermatologist in Boca Raton, Florida. “SPF is calculated by applying 2mg/sq cm of sunscreen. Most people apply half to a third of that amount. Even if they apply enough, they forget to apply sunscreen to the lips, tips of the ears, the back of the knees and the scalp. Or they apply sunscreen religiously when going outside, but not when it’s a cloudy day or when they are inside.”
Recommendation: “To cover your whole body, you need one ounce of sunscreen, which is the size of a golf ball or enough to fill a shot glass,” says Fromowitz. “Sunscreen is a habit like brushing teeth. You should apply it daily, no matter where you’ll be spending the day.”
Not Practicing Daily Gratitude
Life is challenging, and it can be easy to focus on difficulties and things that aren’t going quite right. But without balance, that mindset can lead to depression. Expressing gratitude each day—whether mentally or by writing a list of things you’re thankful for—has been shown to be effective at alleviating the blues.
Recommendation: “Take five minutes every day and think about what you do feel grateful for,” says Gail Saltz, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine. “You’ll find that even over a couple of weeks you’ll feel more positively.”
Not Doing Kegel Exercises
This is one of the most important workouts you’re probably not doing. ”Kegels strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, especially for women,” says Jennifer Lane, a registered nurse in California. Those muscles can be weakened by aging, causing incontinence and erectile difficulties. “Both men and women can benefit from doing pelvic floor exercises daily. They’ll help improve bladder control and possibly improve sexual performance.”
Recommendation: Do at least one set of 10 Kegels per day. Here’s how.
Not Knowing Your Cholesterol Level
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. Older adults may need 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.
Recommendation: To keep cholesterol levels on point, limit saturated and trans fats, exercise and maintain an ideal weight.
Ignoring Your Risk of Stroke
As with heart attacks, the risk of strokes increases as we age—and the vast majority can be avoided. The National Stroke Association says that up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable.
Recommendation: Keep your blood pressure down and weight in a healthy range. If you have high cholesterol, diabetes or AFib, get them under control—all are risk factors for stroke, according to the NSA. Don’t smoke, and keep your alcohol intake under two drinks a day.
Eating Too Much Added Sugar
Consuming too much added sugar—the sugar that manufacturers add to foods to sweeten them or extend their shelf life—is a major risk factor for heart disease. According to the National Cancer Institute, adult men consume 24 teaspoons of sugar a day, the equivalent of 384 calories. “The effects of added sugar intake—higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease—are all linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke,” says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Recommendation: Always check nutrition labels. The amount of sugars in unlikely products may shock you—from whole-wheat bread to pasta sauce.The American Heart Association advises that adults consume no more than 150 calories (about 9 teaspoons, or 36 grams) of added sugar daily. That’s about the amount in one 12-ounce can of soda.
Drinking Diet Soda
Diet soda is no healthy alternative to sugar-sweetened drinks. Multiple studies show that people who drink diet sodas and artificially sweetened beverages have a higher risk of metabolic syndrome—in which the body can’t process insulin, leading to diabetes—weight gain, osteoporosis and a decline in kidney function.
Recommendation: Switch out that soda for water or seltzer without artificial sweeteners.
Eating Too Much Saturated Fat
Unfortunately, this habit seems to be ageless. Consuming too much saturated fat—the “bad” fat found in red meat, cheese, baked goods and fried foods—boosts the amount of cholesterol in your blood, which increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Recommendation: Eat no more than three moderate servings of red meat each week. The American Heart Association recommends that you get no more than 13 grams of saturated fat per day.
Ignoring Your Snoring
Frequent snoring could be the sign of a dangerous condition called sleep apnea, in which the airway behind the tongue collapses when you breathe in, reducing or even stopping your airflow for up to a minute. Sleep apnea has been associated with high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Researchers think that’s because the condition causes repeated oxygen deprivation that stresses the blood vessels and heart.
Recommendation: If you’ve been told that you snore, talk to your doctor about it.
Loneliness and social isolation can increase a person’s risk of having a heart attack, according to a study published in the journal Heart. People who reported poor social relationships had a 29 percent higher risk of coronary disease, and a 32 percent higher risk of stroke, than those with robust friendships. Researchers believe loneliness increases chronic stress, a risk factor for heart disease.
Recommendation: Consider socializing as important to your health as exercise—maintain connections to family and friends, and join regular group activities. And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don’t miss these 40 Things Doctors Do to Live Longer.