The Top Five Most Common Killers for Older Men

Learn to Minimize Your Risk From the Most Common Killers

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 where he lives. For women, life expectancy hovers between about 80 and 83 years of age.

Though you can't control your gender, you can take steps to prevent some of the major causes of death of older men. Here they are, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in order of prevalence:

Heart Disease

senior man stretching for exercise
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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.
  • Monitor cholesterol levels and keep them within a healthy range.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • 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.


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:

  • Don't smoke, and avoid secondhand smoke from others who do.
  • Avoid air pollution where possible and exposure to chemicals at work and at home.
  • Eat a healthy diet, including fruits, vegetables, fiber, and fish, while reducing fats and meat.
  • Be physically active.
  • Limit alcohol use to 1 -2 drinks per day; high consumption has been linked to higher incidence of colon and lung cancer, for example.
  • Wear sunscreen and have any skin changes, like moles, checked by your doctor.
  • Be aware of screening tests for early detection of colorectal and prostate cancers if you are over 50.

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.


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.
  • Lower your sodium intake to help reduce high blood pressure.
  • Keep diabetes under control.
  • If you smoke, take steps to quit since smoking increases your risk of stroke.
  • Drink only in moderation; that is, no more than 1 - 2 drinks per day.
  • Regular exercise and a healthy diet that's low in saturated fats can lower your risk.

Read more:

Top 10 Ways to Reduce Risk of Stroke


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:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • If you have a family history of diabetes, talk to your doctor about screening.
  • 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.

Read more:

Top 10 Ways to Increase Diabetes Life Expectancy


Cancer Among Men. Public Information Sheet. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Gender, Health and Ageing. Public Information Sheet. World Health Organization. Department of Gender and Women's Health.

Leading Causes of Death by Age Group, All Males-United States, 2006. Public Information Sheet. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Life Expectancy at Birth, By Sex, By Province. Public Information Sheet. Statistics Canada. 

Prevention, Genetics, Causes. Public Information Page. National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.

Top Health Concerns for Men. Public Information Sheet. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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