generally increase with age. For men, being older than 45 is a risk factor for raised cholesterol levels, while if you’re a woman, the key age is 55. This means that older people tend to be at greater risk of developing heart disease.
Cholesterol and ageing
“Good” HDL are unaffected by ageing in men, and actually rise for women. However, everyone’s “bad” LDL cholesterol levels tend to rise as we get older. This is because our bodies’ LDL receptors (which remove LDL cholesterol from the blood) become less active over time.
Men over 45, and women over 55, should have their cholesterol checked every 2–3 years.
Women have an additional risk as they reach menopause, which usually happens in the early 50s. Read more about menopause and cholesterol
Ageing and health
Apart from the link between age and heart disease, there are other ways that ageing can affect our health. Here’s how to find out the key risks for older people and how to combat them.
Your joints are a complicated arrangement of bones, muscles and cartilage (the connective tissue which acts as a shock absorber). You can strengthen all of these and keep your joints flexible with gentle exercise like walking, cycling and swimming. Exercise that improves your balance, like Tai Chi or yoga, is beneficial at any age, but particularly helps reduce your risk of falling as you get older.
Older people will find that their muscles don’t spring back into shape in the way they did. So staying fit gets a little harder with age, and you’re more prone to strained muscles. That makes it even more important to warm up and warm down when exercising – and try to avoid sudden changes of temperature too.
Your bones are strongest in your twenties and gradually start getting thinner after that. Women’s bones become much less dense after the menopause, but once we hit our seventies, both men and women are at risk of osteoporosis (thinning of the bones). This makes you more prone to breaking bones after minor falls. It’s never too soon to protect your bones from osteoporosis. A diet rich in calcium and Vitamin D will help, as will weight-bearing exercise like walking or running.
As you get older, the amount of air your lungs can hold decreases. But this doesn’t mean you can’t keep fit – in fact, regular exercise is the best way to keep your lung capacity up. Obviously, stopping smoking will do your lungs good. But a more unusual way to keep your lungs in shape is by playing a wind instrument!
The single best way to protect your brain is to stop smoking. Otherwise, the old maxim ‘use it or lose it’ applies. Word or number puzzles, stimulating debate or just reading the newspaper regularly can help keep your brain in shape. Omega 3 fatty acids may help too – you can get the minimum recommended amount (about 500mg a day) by eating one portion of oily fish (like salmon, mackerel or sardines) each week. Or, if you really hate fish, you could take a cod liver oil supplement.
Your skin starts to lose its elasticity in your late twenties, but quenching its thirst will help keep you looking more youthful. Drinking plenty of fluids, avoiding excess sun and using moisturiser regularly can all help, while smoking reduces your skin’s blood supply, making you prone to premature ageing.
Eyes and ears
After your forties, the risk of glaucoma increases, which can damage your eyesight. It can be picked up by an optician long before you see any symptoms. So get your eyes checked at least every two years.
Your liver is your largest organ, and it’s crucial in processing food, drugs and alcohol. Drinking too much puts your liver under strain, while if you’re overweight, your liver can get infiltrated by fat, making it work less efficiently. Fortunately, if you don’t drink to excess, your liver is very likely to last you a lifetime.
Your kidneys filter out impurities and toxins. But as you get older, they get less efficient; this can cause high blood pressure, which puts even more stress on them. You may not notice any symptoms, so it’s vital to have regular blood pressure and kidney function checks if your GP advises it. Drinking 2 to 2½ litres of fluid a day will help flush your kidneys and avoid infections.