In many ways, your 40s should be the best years of your life. Aside from having hopefully achieved many of your personal and professional goals, your fourth decade brings a certain level of wisdom that you didn’t have in your 20s and 30s. That’s all the more reason why, as you age, you should know better than you did a decade ago about how to take care of yourself. Because, while you may feel more invincible than ever, your body might beg to differ.
Whether it’s your pancreas, your kidneys, your prostate, or your bones, age brings wear and tear and opens the door for aches and illnesses that can blindside you. So, before that nagging pain becomes a chronic issue, make sure you’re well-acquainted with these 40 health concerns over 40 that men can’t afford to miss.
“Men over the age of 40 are at a higher risk for developing asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma,” says Dr. Snehal Smart, a practitioner at The Mesothelioma Center in Orlando, Florida. Unfortunately, many of mesothelioma’s symptoms—including a cough, wheezing, and chest pain—are identical to those associated with less aggressive health issues.
“Anyone with a history of asbestos exposure should alert their primary care physician and closely monitor their health for any changes,.
“Sun damage is cumulative, and as a result, men are increasingly at risk for skin cancers such as melanoma as they reach middle age,” says Dr. Joshua Zuckerman, MD, FACS, of New York City. In addition to wearing sunscreen every day, men should be sensitive to any changes in their skin, such as growths or discolorations, and bring them to the attention of their primary care physician or a dermatologist as soon as they become apparent.
The dangers of high cholesterol, including heart disease and stroke, are well documented. But less well-known is that even a diet without cholesterol does not necessarily lower it, according to Dr. Carolyn Dean, author of Atrial Fibrillation: Remineralize Your Heart. That means even the healthiest of men could be at risk for high cholesterol.
You may need to get creative with your diet or implement a medication routine to bring it under control.
If, despite lifestyle changes, a high level of cholesterol remains in your bloodstream, it might be due to a nagging lack of magnesium, according to Dean. “If there is not enough magnesium to limit the activity of the cholesterol-converting enzyme, we are bound to make more cholesterol than is needed,” she explains.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. The fact is, the heart ages, too, and it’s important to do all you can, including maintaining a healthy diet and getting regular exercise, to reduce the stress on it and make sure it’s not aging faster than the rest of you.
The risk of sustaining a stroke doubles each decade after the age of the 45, according to a 2011 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. That means there’s no better time than now to begin paying attention to your own risk factors, which include smoking, elevated blood pressure, and a sedentary lifestyle.
The good news? You don’t need to commit to running a marathon to lower your risk. According to oft-cited 1998 research conducted at Columbia University, even leisurely physical activity can slash your stroke risk.
According to Dean, “20 to 40 percent of men have elevated levels of homocysteine,” a dangerous byproduct of digestion. “Individuals with high levels have almost four times the risk of suffering a heart attack,” Dean says. Some ways to reduce your levels include exercising, avoiding dairy and red meat, and reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption.
Erectile dysfunction affects almost 30 million Americans and its “prevalence increases with age,” says David Barbour, co-founder of Vivio Life Sciences, a health and wellness company in Sherman Oaks, California. While the disorder is typically the result of various other health issues, like poor circulation or obesity, 40 seems to be the sweet spot at which these diverse problems converge and begin to affect your sex life.
Just like any road experiencing lots of traffic, over the years, the arteries begin to accumulate unwanted rubbish. These deposits—called plaques—can cause inflammation and clogging, eventually leading to other problems, like erectile dysfunction and heart attack. “Instead of taking a pill to force an erection, men would be better off to begin focusing on preventing clogged arteries to begin with,” says Ali Cody, a certified holistic nutritionist.
After 40, a man’s risk of prostate cancer jumps from .005 percent to 2.2 percent, according to 2008 research from the University of Vienna. That means there’s no better time than your 40th birthday to begin getting serious about paying attention to your prostate, and to make sure you’re getting an annual exam.
BENIGN PROSTATIC HYPERPLASIA (BPH)
Cancer isn’t the only illness that can affect your prostate with age. A more common condition affecting men is BPH, or benign prostatic hyperplasia. Also known as prostate gland enlargement, this swelling of the prostate can make it difficult to urinate and can lead to irritation. If you begin having trouble urinating as you age, it’s time to see a doctor sooner rather than later.
While pancreatic cancer rarely affects men before 45, 2014 research published in the journal Pancreas reveals that the incidence of the disease begins to spike shortly thereafter. Coupled with the fact that survival rates for pancreatic cancer remain devastatingly low, it’s crucial that men begin to understand the risk factors for the disease, including obesity and tobacco use, as they age.
Colon cancer is one of the most common male health concerns over 40. The American Cancer Society reports that, in the United States alone, an estimated 97,220 cases of colon cancer will be diagnosed each year, with men having a one in 22 risk of developing the disease in their lifetime. And while the prognosis for those diagnosed early continues to improve, the disease still causes more than 50,000 deaths in the United States each year, the bulk of them in men over 40.
Kidney disease, like many other illnesses on this list, is positively correlated with age. Scarier yet, the American Kidney Fund suggests that up to one in three individuals is at risk.
Unfortunately, kidney disease can fail to present any symptoms until the kidney has lost much of its function. If you have other risk factors, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, it’s important to ask your doctor for a blood test to determine your kidneys’ health before it’s too late.
Kidney stones affect almost five percent of the entire population, with men being twice as likely as women to form the painful calcium buildup, according to Harvard Medical School. While the peak age of their occurrence in men is 30, the chances of forming a second kidney stone after passing a first within the following five to seven years is an absurdly high 50 percent.
Male androgenetic alopecia, the most common form of male hair loss, affects between 30 to 50 percent of men by age 50, according to 2016 research from the University of Melbourne. While not harmful on its own, hair loss has been linked to depression and is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a common condition that can lead to life-threatening health problems, including heart attack or stroke. To help lower your risk of developing hypertension, and to manage it if you are diagnosed, the Mayo Clinic recommends getting a blood pressure reading from your doctor every year.
Hydrocele is a swelling in the scrotum that sometimes occurs in baby boys and can be brought about in older males as a result of an injury. If the size of your scrotum appears abnormal, it’s important to bring it to a doctor’s attention immediately—it might be caused by an infection that could lead to a reduced sperm count or erectile dysfunction, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Similar to hydrocele, epididymitis is swelling in the scrotum, but one that affects the epididymis at the back of the testicles, the part that carries sperm, according to the Mayo Clinic. It’s most often caused by bacterial infections, including sexually transmitted diseases. Symptoms include swelling, redness, tenderness, and, in the worst cases, blood in the semen. Suspected epididymitis should be brought to a doctor’s attention immediately as it may be a sign of an underlying illness. If untreated, it may also become chronic.
In your 20s, having one too many drinks at a bar may have seemed like a normal part of socializing, but once you hit 40, it’s time to get serious about your alcohol consumption. Because of the many effects heavy drinking can have on the rest of your body, including cirrhosis, obesity, and an increased risk of digestive cancers, it’s important to think about the way you drink as you enter your second prime.
A 2012 study from the University of London found that people who turned 42 in 2012 were “considerably more likely to be overweight” than earlier generations. In other words, middle age is increasingly being linked to unhealthy weight gain, likely due to more sedentary lifestyles. Couple this with the fact that obesity at middle age is “strongly linked” to poor physical and mental health, and it’s clear why maintaining a healthy weight through your 40s is crucial.
It’s almost impossible to avoid stress in your 40s—after all, you’ve likely got a heaping load of responsibility on your plate. Nonetheless, it’s important to manage this stress—taking time off when necessary, and allowing yourself to relax every once in a while—to avoid enduring some of the more life-altering side effects stress can bring, such as weight gain, high blood pressure, hair loss, depression, and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
The idea of a mid-life crisis is often used as the butt of a joke, or the fulcrum of a wacky TV plot. However, its underlying impulse—unhappiness with one’s place in life—is no laughing matter. And considering suicide is most common between the ages 45 and 54, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, it’s important to talk to a professional about how you’re feeling before those blue days turn into a depression you can’t break out of.
Emphysema is a condition in which the lung’s air sacs are damaged, leading to a chronic shortness of breath. Because the main cause is long-term exposure to airborne irritants–such as smoke, pollution, or dust—men are at an increased risk of developing emphysema as they age. If you’re experiencing symptoms like inability to climb stairs, or notice your lips turning blue from exertion, it’s time to consult a doctor, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Chronic bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes that carry air to the lungs. It leads to coughing and increased production of mucus, making it harder to breathe and making everyday activities more difficult. Much like emphysema, it is often a result of built-up pollutants, meaning risk levels increase with age. Fortunately, if brought to a professional’s attention, treatment can significantly improve your quality of life.
Cirrhosis is a build-up of scar tissue in the liver that impedes its function over time. Often a result of chronic alcohol use, viral hepatitis, or fat accumulation in the liver, it primarily affects men in middle age or older. While the damage generally can’t be undone, if the cirrhosis is caught early, the worst of it can be avoided.
Like most cancers, the risk for liver cancer increases with age, according to the American Cancer Society. However, incidence rates for men specifically begin to increase steeply after age 40. While symptoms generally won’t appear until the later stages of the cancer’s growth, these may include loss of appetite, vomiting, and abdominal swelling, and should be brought to a doctor’s attention immediately.
A 2011 study published in the journal Diabetologia found that type 2 diabetes is one of the most common male health concerns over 40, even among men with low BMIs. Thus, it’s important to stay on the lookout for symptoms—excessive thirst and frequent urination, to name a few—in order to get the illness under control immediately, avoiding possible complications, like gangrene, blindness, and organ failure.
While the times of influenza wiping out entire continents have thankfully come and gone, the dangers of the flu are still very real, especially as you age. A case of the flu can prove hazardous or even deadly if left untreated. However, with the flu, a good offense is the best defense, meaning flu shots, frequent hand-washing, and avoiding contact with sick people are your best bets for reducing your risk.
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that tends to be most dangerous for young children and older adults, and can prove deadly if left untreated. In fact, in 2013 alone, pneumonia and the flu were responsible for nearly 57,000 deaths in the United States, according to the American Lung Association, making them the eighth-deadliest diseases in the country. If you’re experiencing a fever, chest pain, frequent cough, muscle aches, or chills, it’s time to talk to your doctor and nip this in the bud while it’s still possible.
After the age of 20, the body begins losing bone mass. Unfortunately, if you lose too much of this mass, you can develop osteoporosis, a condition that causes brittle and weak bones and can significantly contribute to your risk of falls and fractures. To help avoid this painful condition, make sure you’re consuming adequate calcium and protein, and that you maintain a healthy body weight to avoid undue wear and tear on your bones, according to the Mayo Clinic.
As you age, the muscles in your bladder and urethra begin to lose some of their strength, leading to the possibility of incontinence. And it’s an uncomfortable—and awkward—problem to have.
Therefore, it’s important that afflicted individuals contact their medical professionals as soon as they experience any kind of leakage—especially since this issue might be an indication of a more serious condition, like a tumor pressing on your bladder.
“One health concern in men over 40 is low testosterone levels,” says Dr. Chirag Shah, co-founder of Accesa Labs. As he explains, testosterone production naturally decreases with age, but an abnormally low level can lead to fatigue, low sex drive, and decreased muscle mass. Fortunately, he says, this can be assessed with simple blood tests and treatment is widely available.
As men age, tendons become less able to tolerate stress and movement, leading to an increased risk of tendinitis. This painful condition, in which a tendon becomes inflamed, can be caused by a range of activities from gardening to tennis, and is likely to linger if not treated. If you begin to feel pain in your joints, cease the activity likely causing it immediately and try icing the injury; if the pain continues, over-the-counter anti-inflammatories may help, but a doctor should be consulted if your pain doesn’t go away.
According to a 2015 study published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, social isolation is associated with “increased risk for mortality.” Given that many men find themselves in their 40s with few close friends—and much of their time for socializing swallowed up by work—it’s crucial to take steps to avoid loneliness.
According to research out of Harvard Medical School, duodenal ulcers—a sore in the lining of the small intestine—typically occur in men between the ages of 30 and 50. It’s important to treat them as promptly as possible, both to avoid complications as well as to lessen the likelihood of requiring more invasive treatments, like surgery or blood transfusions.
Often, fatigue is simply the result of a draining day of activity. However, if that fatigue never seems to go away, it may be a symptom of something more concerning, like sleep apnea, a condition that causes you to suddenly stop breathing in your sleep, potentially causing sudden death. Fortunately, CPAP machines can help reduce some of the condition’s symptoms, as can lowering your weight.
Getting dizzy at 20 might have been the result of a few too many beers. However, at 40, sudden dizziness shouldn’t be overlooked. Unfortunately, the sudden drop in blood pressure causing the dizziness may be sign that you are at risk for potentially-deadly circulatory problems, including heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.
Memory loss is more than just forgetting your keys—it’s a frequent inability to remember even the most basic of things. As you age, your risk of memory loss spikes dramatically—in fact, according to a review of research published in the BMJ in 2002, by age 65, an estimated 45 percent of adults will be dealing with some form of memory loss or another, with one percent of that population developing dementia.
The good news is that by catching this problem early and treating it with modifications in diet, exercise, and medication, you can start to get your memory back on track before it progresses.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation of the joints, leading to severe pain and restricted movement. While there are some cases involving younger individuals, the condition typically doesn’t begin to affect men until middle age. If you find yourself unable to bend certain joints, it’s important to see a doctor, both to lessen the pain and to explore options to avoid worsening the condition going forward.