If you ask most people when health problems start to escalate, they’d probably guess somewhere in the 70s. Plenty of doctors would say it happens in the 50s. Both would be wrong. New research finds that that the magic moment is actually 45.5. That’s the tipping point when people’s health starts to decline at an accelerated rate. Once someone develops a single condition, it can trigger what experts refer to as an avalanche, with worsening health issues creating a spike in morbidity and health care costs. Here are health changes you can make right now to lessen the odds that you’ll get swept along.
The research, published in the respected PLOS ONE medical journal, used a sophisticated analysis to look at 55,550 adults across three years. “In people who produce medical claims annually after age 45.5, their health deteriorates exponentially rather than linearly with age,” the researchers say.
For people in midlife trying make healthy changes, this is big news. It means chronic diseases may be closer than you think—and more importantly that preventing the first disease is key to delaying that unhappy tipping point.
Of course, you can’t outrun every health problem. But here’s what makes sense. Of the dozens of health changes we all know we should make, there are just four (and yes, you’ve heard them before) big ones. This quartet of changes drastically lower the odds of developing such chronic health problems as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and stroke, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control:
1. Move more. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of physical activity a day.
2. Eat better. Strive for between five and nine services of produce a day; eat whole grains; limit sugars and saturated fats.
3. Quit smoking. Smoking continues to be the leading cause of preventable death; on average, smokers die 10 years younger than non-smokers.
4. Drink sensibly. Most people think the health risks of drinking alcohol excessively are limited to problems like alcoholism or liver disease. But new research from the CDC finds that alcohol intake plays a role in at least 54 conditions linked to death, including a number of cancers, and it now estimates one in 10 deaths in the U.S. is linked to heavy boozing.