"When we're young, we think we're invincible," says Georges Benjamin, MD, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association. "But we're not." And increasingly, diseases we commonly associate with people in their 60s and 70s are hitting two, three, or even four decades earlier. Why? Better screening and early detection are part of the picture, but lifestyle factors such as poor diet and the fact that we're living more sedentary lives are to blame as well. Here, 7 diseases you can do something about today--to make sure you feel better, longer.
Typical age of diagnosis: 50s and beyond
But it can hit as early as: Late teens and early twenties
What you can do now: Steer clear of tanning salons--even occasional trips to the tanning bed can triple your chances of developing melanoma, according to the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Avoiding the sun altogether is next to impossible, so use a daily moisturizer with at least SPF 15--but many experts think SPF 30 is preferable. Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen if you're going to be outside, and avoid going out between 10 a.m.-2 p.m., when the rays are most intense, says Thomas S. Kupper, MD, professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School. There's also some evidence that a daily vitamin D supplement can help keep melanoma at bay, he adds.
Typical Age of Diagnosis: 65 and beyond
But it can hit as early as: 50s
you can do now: Don't wait! "It's vital to strengthen bones early with
vitamin D supplements and calcium," says Kathryn Diemer, MD, clinical
director of the Bone Health Program at Washington University School of Medicine.
Do regular exercises that build muscle and strengthen your skeleton--such as
jogging, walking, or climbing stairs. "Smoking and alcohol are really
toxic to the bones," says Dr. Diemer. Stick to one glass a day for women,
two for men, and ditch smoking. Finally, avoid cola: Its high phosphoric acid
content can leach calcium from your bones.
Typical age of diagnosis: Over 65
But it can hit as early as: 20s or 30s
you can do now: If you smoke cigarettes even occasionally, now's the time to quit
because smoking doubles your chance of stroke. Something else that ratchets up
risk? Health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and high
cholesterol. "Diseases that increase risk should be treated early--and be
controlled," explains Shazam Hussain, MD, Section Head of the Cleveland
Clinic Stroke Program. Dr. Hussain also recommends reducing your salt and trans
fat intake, eating fish twice a week, and exercising. "Even if it's 30
minutes of walking a day, it will make a difference," he says.
Typical age of diagnosis: 45 and above
But it can hit as early as: Teens
you can do now: For most women, exercising regularly, staying slim, and
restricting alcohol to one glass of wine a day can help reduce risk, says Ann
Partridge, MD, Director of the Program for Young Women with Breast Cancer at
the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. But if there is a clear hereditary
predisposition, says Dr. Partridge, there are more drastic options for
prevention, such as prescription drugs or--if risk is high--double mastectomy.
Typical age of diagnosis: Over 65
But it can hit as early as: 40s
What you can
do now: Work your mental muscle! "We can prime our bodies and minds to
lower our susceptibility to the problem," says Gustavo Alva, MD,
distinguished fellow of the American Board of Psychiatry. Using parts of the
brain that are infrequently exercised--by picking up a new language or learning
to play a musical instrument--will help to counter cognitive decline.
"What's good for the heart is also good for the brain," adds Alva,
"so it's important to maintain low cholesterol, keep blood pressure down,
and stay in shape."
Typical age of diagnosis: 40s and 50s
But it can hit as early as: Childhood
What you can do now: Food is your medicine here. "The increase of young
people with type 2 diabetes is largely due to how they're eating and a
sedentary lifestyle," says Michelle F. Magee, MD, Director of the MedStar
Diabetes Institute. Most people are overweight when diagnosed, and excess
weight--especially around the waist--increases risk. Be sure to avoid high
glycemic, low-fiber foods--and you might want to add nitrates to the don't-eat
list. A 2009 study found a connection between the disease and exposure to nitrates,
nitrites and nitrosamines through processed and preserved foods.
Typical age of diagnosis: 50s and 60s
But it can hit as early as: 30s
can do now: While gout is common in older adults, it's becoming increasingly
common in 30-somethings, too--and that can be prevented by laying off the booze
and keeping your weight in check. "Obesity and binge drinking are mostly
to blame for younger adults developing gout," says E. Robert Harris, MD,
of the Arthritis Foundation. "But rapid weight loss from crash diets also
results in elevated levels of uric acid--which causes attacks."
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