For men over 50: Take control of your health

What if men approached their health at midlife the same way that financial experts advise them to plan for retirement? Some of the same rules apply: take a close look at where things stand now, and then take steps to protect your future. Midlife is a good time to lower health risks and invest for long-term health benefits.

How? First, acknowledge what you can't control. Then put your energies into changing what you can — for the better.

What you can't control

You can't change the following factors, but you should take them into account when making a plan to reduce your health risks.

  • Age. The aging body undergoes gradual physical changes that are normal and inevitable. Although your body has many built-in repair systems, sometimes these also break down, and over time the damage accumulates.
  • Family history. When an immediate family member — a parent or a sibling — develops a problem such as heart disease or cancer, it could mean that you are at risk as well. Shared genes explain some of this risk, but so do shared lifestyles, such as the types of food you eat and how active you are.

What you can control

The factors you can control have a big influence on your health. Here are some of the most important things to consider as you look at the health investments you want to make going forward:

  • Whether you smoke. If you smoke, kicking the habit is the single most important thing you can do to improve your health.
  • What you eat. Choosing and following a healthy diet is an excellent way to reduce your chances of getting a number of life-threatening illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, and some of the most common cancers.
  • How much you move. Get active and you'll live longer. Not only that, but you'll live better, too. Study after study has linked greater amounts of physical activity to improved mood, better blood sugar control, reduced risk of heart disease, and other benefits.

Intrigued? For more information on leading a longer and healthier life, buy A Guide to Men's Health Fifty and Forward, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

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