A proactive health guide for people 40+

March 28, 2019 Providence Health Team

If you are among the lucky people in their 40s who haven't experienced any major health issues in your life, then it could be because you inherited some amazing genes, or you actively look for ways to proactively to take care of yourself.

After you reach 40, however, it becomes more likely that the normal aging process will introduce new and perhaps surprising health concerns that are relatively common for people in otherwise good health.

We put together a list of typical health issues that may start to affect both men and women over age 40 for the first time and highlight what you can do to stay as healthy as possible as you age.

High blood pressure. For most people over 40 who have never had an issue with their blood pressure, hearing a doctor say they are now showing signs of borderline hypertension during an annual exam can come as a complete surprise. While this is a fairly common health alert, this will be an excellent time to get serious about lowering your sodium intake, eating healthier, and making the time to exercise regularly.  If you don't adjust your routine, you could hear from your doctor about being at increased risk of strokes and heart attacks, and no one wants that.

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High cholesterol. The CDC reports 95 million people over 20 to have total cholesterol levels higher than 200 mg/dl, and only 43 million (55%) of people who could benefit from cholesterol-controlling medications currently take them. One of the reasons for this is that high cholesterol has no symptoms. When you combine these statistics with research studies that have found correlations between increased risks of heart disease and even slightly increased cholesterol levels in people between 35-55, it makes it extra important for anyone over 40 to get the simple blood test that is needed to monitor healthy cholesterol levels as you age.

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Skin cancer. The sun is one of our skin's worst enemies, and it is hard to avoid. It is reported that 90% of skin aging comes as a result of exposure to the sun. Furthermore, it is estimated that by age 41, the average person has accumulated 74% of their lifetime exposure levels to the sun. This makes it easy to understand why 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the time they are 70. You can do yourself a great service to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer by using sunscreen regularly when outdoors and see a dermatologist annually when you turn 40+.

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Liver and kidney health. Aging is a risk factor for many chronic diseases, especially those associated with the liver and kidneys, which are crucial parts of your body’s on-board cleansing system. The liver has a remarkable ability to regenerate, but after we turn 40, the volume and blood flow of the liver gradually decreases as does the liver's cell production capability. Aging plays a substantial role in the severity and recovery capability from various liver diseases including nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, alcoholic liver disease, hepatitis C, and liver transplantation. Aging, stressed kidneys are not as resilient as younger kidneys, and as such become more susceptible to chronic kidney disease, nephrotic syndrome, electrolyte imbalances, and renovascular disease. Simple blood and urine tests can monitor your liver and kidney function as you age, and regular discussions with your doctors should include monitoring of how any medications you may take are affecting your liver and kidney health.

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Urinary Tract Infections. Bladder infections, kidney infections, and urethra infections are typical issues that can affect your urinary tract. As you might expect, as you age your bladder also changes. The elastic tissue of the bladder tends to become tougher and less stretchy over time, reducing the amount of urine it can hold.

Additionally, the muscles of the bladder wall and pelvic floor may weaken and make it harder to empty the bladder fully. The combination of symptoms can cause urine to stay in the bladder longer, and when urine remains in the bladder too long, infections of the urinary tract become more likely.

The more significant concern is that bladder infections can spread to the kidneys, which can lead to more significant problems. There are a lot of things that can contribute to deteriorating urinary tract health: being overweight, diabetes, low physical activity, medications, smoking, constipation, alcohol, caffeine, diet, and pelvic injuries.

The best way to stay ahead of any issues is to get regular physical exams and communicate openly with your doctor so they can perform simple tests to preserve your urinary tract health.

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Osteoarthritis. Getting older can adversely affect some people more than others, especially in the joints. Osteoarthritis is the degeneration of joint cartilage and bone that causes pain and stiffness in the joints, most noticeably in the hips, knees, and hands.

Aging affects the entire musculoskeletal system as our bones go through a process called remodeling. Continuous bone absorption and reformation occurs in our bodies due to the remodeling process, and this leads to bone loss which causes our bones to become less dense and more fragile.

We also know that being overweight increases the risk of osteoarthritis, so the best proactive course you can take to help reduce the pain associated with the natural aging process is to view exercise as essential, not optional, and see a doctor if you are experiencing increasing discomfort in your joints. If your pain is persistent and severe, safe and effective pain management options are available.

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Depression and anxiety. Depression and anxiety are not a normal part of aging, but older adults are at higher risk of experiencing depression and anxiety due to the onset of other health issues, reduced socialization, and life changes in general.

The good news is that clinical depression and anxiety are treatable medical conditions. The key is to communicate with your caregivers through open, transparent discussions about persistent adverse changes in your feelings.

Dealing with challenges to mental wellness as we age is all about learning to be more observant, communicative, and open to inviting loved ones and caregivers to help address issues as early as possible.

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To age well and reduce the onset and severity of common-related health issues, partner with your doctor to make better food choices, exercise regularly, maintain healthy body weight, and get screenings and check-ups as your doctor recommends. If you do, there is no reason why you can't live your healthiest and happiest years past 40 and well beyond.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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