How to future-proof your body now from six common old-age health problems

Hospitals are being put under unprecedented pressure as record numbers of people live to 100 – 35,000 in England in the past 10 years.

But the number is expected to reach half a million by 2066.

Here’s how to make sure your body lasts the distance (without adding to everyone else’s woes).

Prostate cancer

The future: It’s the most common cancer in men over 75. As the gland swells, side effects include incontinence and erectile dysfunction.

Fight it now:

  • Go nuts A study published in the British Journal of Cancer found that eating approximately 100g of “tree” nuts – Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts – five or more times a week after diagnosis, had a massive 34% lower risk of overall mortality than those who consumed nuts less than once a month. It is thought that insulin resistance – cells that are resistant to the hormone insulin – is involved in prostate risk and progression, and the healthy fats in tree nuts have insulin-regulating capabilities.
  • Pick plums Research at Texas A&M University, US, found that phytochemicals in red-fleshed plums inhibit prostate tumour cell growth in a laboratory by 80%.

  • Pop a pill Research suggests that all men will get prostate cancer if they live long enough. But when Mayo Clinic researchers in the US studied 1,400 men for five years, they found that those who took nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, daily, were half as likely to develop prostate cancer as those who didn’t take them. The drugs appear to block production of and limit damage from COX-2 enzymes, which promote the growth of cancer cells.


The future: Arthritis Research UK says the gnarled finger of osteoarthritis will poke one in five of us by 65 – more than 10 million Brits are currently living with the debilitating condition.

Fight it now:

  • Make a splash Build swimming into your weekly routine – it strengthens joints. Many people put up with partially torn ligaments and don’t understand the need to regain full muscle strength. Festering injuries are the fastest ticket to old-age pain.

  • Go French Enjoying a diet rich in garlic, onions and leeks could reduce your risk of developing the most common form of arthritis.Researchers at King’s College London and the University of East Anglia investigated possible links between diet and the painful joint disease.They found that women who ate a lot of allium vegetables (in the garlic family) had lower levels of hip osteoarthritis. In particular, they found a compound in the veg limits the amount of cartilage-damaging enzymes.
  • Take a load off When you run, your knee joints carry seven to nine times your body weight – so add in excess pounds and your joints will suffer. According to the American College of Rheumatology, overweight people are at a 40% or higher increased risk of a knee replacement down the line compared to those at normal weights. For every pound lost, there is a 4lb reduction in the load exerted on the knee.


The future: Lower back pain affects 70% of over-55s. Build core strength now to ensure you’re in the lucky 30%.

Fight it now:

  • Take the point Try acupuncture to avoid future problems as well as minimise pain when it strikes. A study in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine found that of 30 people with sciatica, 17 got complete relief and 10 saw symptoms improve with warming acupuncture, in which the needles are heated.
  • Go flamingo Stand on one leg when you’re brushing your teeth to work the deep core muscles in your abdomen which protect your back. This is the perfect opportunity to give them a short but effective workout by creating a degree of instability – like sitting on an exercise ball at your desk. Try brushing with one hand and standing on the opposite leg for one minute, then reverse – the more variation, the better the results.
  • Love the mirror We all know we should sit up straight at our desks, but rather than occasionally remembering to stop slouching, put a large mirror next to your desk or on the wall. A longer 2-3ft mirror shows exactly how your spine curves as you sit, which can put pressure on your lower back and neck and often leads to stress headaches later in the working day. You’ll soon develop the habit of constantly checking yourself.


The future: Adult nappies are nobody’s idea of fun, but in the UK, 24% of people over 60 experience some degree of bladder weakness, according to

Fight it now:

  • Squeeze Pelvic floor or Kegel exercises are about more than prolonging sex. Greater muscular control now can halt leakage later. Squeeze your pelvic muscles as if you’re stopping the flow of urine in reps of 10, three times a day. And enjoy the sexual side-effects while you still can.
  • Stay hydrated You may be tempted to cut down on water and other drinks in the hope it will prevent accidents. But it’s a bad idea. If you drink less, your urine becomes more concentrated. The more concentrated the urine, the more irritating to the bladder, which can lead to more urinary incontinence.
  • See your GP Ask about any side effects from medication you might be taking. Some antidepressants, sedatives, diuretics, and even cold and allergy medication can trigger problems. Get your vital stats checked – particularly your BMI. Carrying excess weight increases pressure on the abdomen, which can strain your bladder and weaken overworked muscles.

Lung cancer

The future: Lung cancer kills more men than the four next biggest cancers combined, according to Cancer Research UK.

Fight it now:

  • Go herbal – Milk thistle could be effective at protecting your lungs, University of Colorado nutritionists in the US have found. Silibinin, a compound in the supplement, prevented and halted cancer growth in lungs by almost a third after 18 weeks of continuous use. It’s thought it might suppress two enzymes which promote tumours in the area.
  • Eat like a cowboy What beans don’t do for your social standing, they more than make up for in the health stakes, according to scientists at The University of Texas Anderson Cancer Center in the US. Comparing the diets of more than 3,000 men over 12 months, they found that those who ducked lung cancer ate far more cancer-protective phytoestrogens – found in abundance in soya beans and other pulses.Swap your regular white stuff for soya milk for the same benefits – it also has more bone-boosting calcium than dairy milk and is fortified with D and B vitamins for extra protection against any uninvited invaders.

  • Eat your greens Fill up on cabbage, kale and sprouts and you could enjoy almost a three-quarter lower risk of lung cancer, according to medical journal the Lancet.

Hearing loss

The future: Presbycusis (old-age deafness) happens when your sensitive inner ear hairs stop sending messages to your brain. More than 70% of us have this to look forward to in our 70s.

Fight it now:

  • Smile Of course, in an ideal world we’d all carry earplugs for those unexpected ear-bashings when we walk past loud drilling or find ourselves pressed against the speakers at a gig – but grinning and bearing it might not be such a bad option. Smiling tenses the muscles in your inner ear canal which softens damaging low-frequency noise by as much as 20 decibels.

  • Use the 60:60 rule Listen to your music at 60% of the maximum volume for no more than 60 minutes a day.
  • Don’t use cotton buds Resist putting anything in your ear to clean them. You will increase your chances of an ear infection if you use cotton buds or fingers to clean your ears. Remember the mantra: Don’t put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear.

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