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 mortality gap, or difference in life expectancy, 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, you can take steps to prevent some of the major causes of death in older men.

1

Heart Disease

senior man stretching for exercise

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Blend Images / Getty Images

Coronary heart disease, in which arteries serving the heart become narrow and hardened, is the leading cause of heart attacks. A man's risk of heart disease rises significantly after the age of 45.

What you can do to prevent it:

  • Avoid smoking. Tobacco use is associated with a higher risk of heart disease
  • Eat heart-healthy foods, like the ones associated with a Mediterranean-style diet: 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 that boosts your heart rate, ideally 30 minutes, 5 times a week
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Monitor cholesterol levels and keep them within a healthy range
2

Cancer

Lung, prostate, and colorectal cancers are the most deadly forms of the disease in men. Though a family history of cancer may increase your chances of getting it, there are steps you can take to minimize 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 if you are over 50
  • Limit alcohol use to one to two drinks per day; high consumption has been linked to a higher incidence of colon and lung cancer, for example
  • Wear sunscreen and have any skin changes, like moles, checked by your doctor
3

Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases

These include chronic bronchitis and emphysema, which together make up chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.

Smoking, including cigarettes, cigars, and pipes, makes you 12 times as likely to die of COPD than a man who’s never smoked. Highly preventable, COPD is also linked to lung cancer.

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

What you can do to prevent it:

  • Don’t smoke, and if you already do, take steps to quit
  • Avoid secondhand smoke
  • Steer clear of other airborne pollutants, including dust and chemical fumes
4

Stroke

A stroke occurs when the brain doesn't get the blood it needs, either because of a blockage in a blood vessel supplying the brain, or the rupture of a blood vessel in the brain.

Your risk of stroke is higher if you've been diagnosed with high blood pressure, have high cholesterol, or diabetes.

What you can do to prevent it:

  • Have your blood pressure checked; treating high blood pressure lowers the risk for stroke and heart disease
  • Drink only in moderation; that is, no more than one to two drinks per day
  • If you smoke, take steps to quit since smoking increases your risk of stroke
  • Keep diabetes under control
  • Lower your sodium intake to help reduce high blood pressure
  • Regular exercise and a healthy diet that's low in saturated fats can lower your risk
5

Diabetes

If you have diabetes, your body has trouble using glucose from your food as fuel. Type 1 diabetes, which involves the body's immune system attacking the cells that make insulin, cannot be prevented.

Much more common is type 2 diabetes, in which glucose builds up in your blood instead of being used as energy.

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:

  • Eat a healthy plant-based diet that includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fish, while avoiding added sugars, fats and salt
  • If you have a family history of diabetes, talk to your doctor about screening
  • Maintain a healthy weight
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