5 Most Common Causes of Death in Older Men

There's good news for men in their quest for longevity. Though women still live longer in most countries of the world, the difference in life expectancy, known as the mortality gap, is closing.

In North America, a man can expect to live to between 75 and 78 years of age, depending on where he lives. For women, life expectancy hovers between about 80 and 83 years of age. Though you can't control your biological sex, men can take steps to prevent some of the major causes of death as they age.

This article explains common conditions that cause death in older men and how you can reduce your risk of dying from these diseases.


Heart Disease

senior man stretching for exercise

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Blend Images / Getty Images

The narrowing and hardening of the arteries is the leading cause of all heart attacks. Known as coronary artery disease, this condition is of great concern to older men, whose risk of heart disease rises significantly after the age of 45.

What you can do to prevent it:

  • Quit smoking: Tobacco use is associated with a higher risk of heart disease.
  • Eat heart-healthy foods: Choose foods associated with a Mediterranean-style diet, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish, and other foods that are high in fiber and low in saturated and trans fats.
  • Get regular aerobic exercise: Boost your heart rate with 30 minutes of exercise five times a week.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: If you are overweight, talk with your doctor about how to safely reach your goal weight.
  • Monitor cholesterol levels: Keeping these within a healthy range lowers your risk for a heart attack.


The most deadly forms of cancer in men are those that affect the lungs, prostate, and colon. A family history of cancer may increase your chances of getting these or any other type of cancer. However, there are steps you can take to lower your risk.

What you can do to prevent it:

  • Avoid air pollution where possible and exposure to chemicals at work and at home.
  • Be physically active.
  • Don't smoke, and avoid secondhand smoke from others who do.
  • Eat a healthy diet, including fruits, vegetables, fiber, and fish, while reducing fats and meat.
  • Keep up with screening tests for early detection of colorectal and prostate cancers.
  • Limit alcohol use to one to two drinks per day; high consumption has been linked to a higher incidence of colon and lung cancer.
  • Wear sunscreen and have any skin changes checked by your healthcare provider.

Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases

Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are the two main kinds of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. This is one of the most significant types of chronic lower respiratory disease.

Smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes, or marijuana will increase your chances of respiratory problems. In fact, smoking makes you 12 times more likely to die of COPD compared to a man who’s never smoked.

COPD is also linked to lung cancer. This may be due to genes or damage to the respiratory system caused by COPD. Clearly, though, taking steps to prevent COPD can have a positive affect on your lifespan in multiple ways.

Other kinds of airborne pollution, like radon, asbestos, and car exhaust, can also contribute to respiratory disease.

What you can do to prevent it:

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Avoid other airborne pollutants including dust and chemical fumes.


A stroke occurs when the blood supply to a part of the brain is disrupted. A blockage or the rupture of a blood vessel in the brain can cause a stroke.

High blood pressure greatly increases your chances of having a stroke. High cholesterol and diabetes can also put you at risk.

What you can do to prevent it:



If you have diabetes, your body has trouble using glucose (sugar) from your food as fuel. Type 1 diabetes, in which the body's immune system attacks the cells that make insulin, cannot be prevented. Insulin allows glucose to get into cells.

Much more common is type 2 diabetes, in which the body doesn't respond well to insulin. This causes glucose to build up in your blood instead of being used as energy. High glucose levels are damaging to the body.

Many men do not know they have diabetes until they experience symptoms, like vision loss and erectile dysfunction. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented, or at least delayed.

What you can do to prevent it:


Keeping your body strong and healthy will help protect you against diseases that often affect men as they age. Exercise and a proper diet are two of the best defenses you have against heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes. Quitting smoking and avoiding environmental toxins are vital to reduce your risk of cancer and respiratory diseases. 

It’s never too late to make these lifestyle changes. They’ll prove to be priceless for not just living longer, but enjoying a better quality of life in your golden years.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much will life expectancy increase in future years?

    The average American life expectancy is expected to increase by approximately six years by 2060. The increase for men is expected to be larger than for women, but women will still have an overall longer life expectancy than men.

  • Which demographic has the longest life expectancy?

    Native-born Hispanic women currently have the longest average projected life expectancy and are expected to continue to have the longest average life expectancy in 2060.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bahtouee M, Maleki N, Nekouee F. The prevalence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in hookah smokers. Chron Respir Dis. 2018;15(2):165‐172. doi:10.1177/1479972317709652

  2. Durham AL, Adcock IM. The relationship between COPD and lung cancer. Lung Cancer. 2015;90(2):121-7. doi:10.1016/j.lungcan.2015.08.017

  3. Bastianetto S, Ménard C, Quirion R. Neuroprotective action of resveratrol. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2015;1852(6):1195-1201. doi:10.1016/j.bbadis.2014.09.011

  4. U.S. Census Bureau. Living longer: Historical and projected life expectancy in the United States, 1960 to 2060.

Additional Reading

By Sharon Basaraba
Sharon Basaraba is an award-winning reporter and senior scientific communications advisor for Alberta Health Services in Alberta, Canada.