Manage your health in your 70s and older
Now that you have reached your 70s, here are some recommendations to help you prevent health conditions that are more common at this age and beyond.
Health screenings tests
The screening tests you should have will depend on your health. Talk to your doctor about what you need. However, most healthy people who are in their 70s or older should have the following tests.
- have an osteoporosis risk assessment
- have a flu vaccination
- have a dental check-up
- have a hearing test
- have an eye test
Every 2 years
- have a heart disease risk assessment
- have a blood pressure check
- have a mammogram (women)
- have a check for bowel cancer
Every 3 years
- have a blood glucose test
Every 5 years
- have your cholesterol and lipids checked
- have a cervical screening test (women) — talk to your doctor, nurse or health worker about a free test if you are over 75
At regular intervals
- have skin cancer checks
- have a falls assessment
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Some risk factors can contribute to certain diseases when you are in your 70s or older, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease and cancer. To help you stay healthy:
You can get support to quit smoking from your doctor who may also give you medication, or you can try a service such as Quit Now or Quitline.
It is important to have a balanced diet, especially as you get older, to help maintain muscle strength and stay within a healthy weight range.
You should enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods every day, including fruit and vegetables, grains, lean meats, poultry and fish, as well as milk, yoghurt and cheese. Limit foods containing saturated fat, added salt and sugar, and alcohol.
Drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day.
When you are older you have an increased risk of harm from drinking alcohol. If you have a condition that can get worse with alcohol, your doctor may advise you not to drink it.
Be physically active
If you are generally fit and are reasonably mobile, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on most, preferably all, days of the week. Moderate-intensity physical activity is an activity that is energetic and raises your heart rate but doesn't make you too breathless, such as fast walking.
Once you are over 70, it is still better to do some physical activity than none at all. You can start exercising and gradually increase the amount you do and how often.
Choose strength, balance and flexibility exercises as well. These will help you to maintain stronger muscles, bones and reduce your risk of falls, which are all important as you get older.
ARE YOU AT RISK? — Are you at risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease? Use the Risk Checker to find out.
Preventing health problems
The following health problems may become more common as you get older, especially if you have other risk factors. However, there are also some things you can do if you are 70 or older to help prevent these conditions from developing:
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) includes heart disease, stroke and blood vessel disease of the limbs (periphery).
You should have an assessment of CVD risk every 2 years unless your doctor already knows you are high risk. Your doctor may ask you questions and test your blood pressure and cholesterol as well as checking for other health conditions.
You can help prevent CVD by following the healthy lifestyle recommendations above, as well as reducing high blood pressure and cholesterol.
High blood pressure
You should have a blood pressure check every 2 years, or 6 to 12 months if you have a moderate risk of CVD and every 6 to 12 weeks if your risk is high.
Apart from the above diet and exercise recommendations, other ways to prevent high blood pressure include:
- maintaining a waist measurement of less than 94cm for men and less than 80cm for women
- limiting salt to 5mg per day, or 4mg per day if you have high blood pressure — this tool will help you check the amount of salt in processed food
Cholesterol and lipids
It's recommended you have your cholesterol and lipids checked every 5 years with a blood test, or every 1 to 2 years if you have a higher risk of CVD.
You can help maintain a healthy cholesterol level with exercise and a healthy diet.
Type 2 diabetes
You should be tested every 3 years to see if you have type 2 diabetes, or every 12 months if you are at increased risk. Your doctor will organise a blood test to check your glucose level.
The above exercise, diet and weight recommendations can help prevent type 2 diabetes.
If you are at high risk of a stroke your doctor should assess you every 12 months.
The assessment may involve a series of questions and tests for CVD risk factors including atrial fibrillation. Medicines may be available for these conditions if you have them.
The following vaccinations are advised for people in their 70s:
- herpes zoster (shingles) — (available free on the vaccination schedule from ages 70 to 79 if you have not already had one)
- influenza — each year
- pneumococcal — once, from 70 years old (available free on the vaccination schedule). Individuals with certain high risk conditions receive a second dose after five years.
Talk to your doctor about whether you need a booster of dTpa (diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough) if your last vaccination was more than 10 years ago.
Kidney disease should be assessed every 1 to 2 years if you are at high risk. Risk factors can be similar to CVD or could involve an injury to your kidney.
Your doctor may ask you a series of questions as well as checking your blood pressure and doing a urine test. You may need to take medicine to lower your blood pressure if it is high.
A mammogram is recommended every 2 years for women at lower risk from breast cancer until they are 74. Women at higher risk may have an individual program developed by their doctor.
Every woman should be familiar with the look and feel of their breasts. See your doctor straight away if you see or feel any unusual changes.
If you are in your 70s or older, your doctor may check your skin">check your skin even if you have an appointment for another reason. If you are at high risk for skin cancer you should have a complete skin check every 6 to 12 months. Ensure that you 'slip, slop, slap, seek and slide' to protect your skin from future sun damage.
To test for cervical cancer, women under 74 years of age should have a cervical screening test 2 years after their last Pap test and then every 5 years. Women aged between 70 and 74 who have had regular screening are advised to have a cervical screening test before leaving the cervical screening program. If you’re 75 or over you can still talk to your doctor, nurse or health worker about having a subsidised Cervical Screening Test, or visit the National Cervical Screening Program for more information.
This screening test for HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) has replaced the previous Pap test and is more accurate. However, the procedure to collect the sample is the same as a Pap test.
If — at any age — you have any symptoms (including pain or vaginal bleeding), you should see your doctor.
Colorectal (bowel or colon) cancer
Every 2 years, it is recommended you have a test for bowel cancer using a Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT), even if you have no symptoms or family history of bowel cancer. You can stop testing when you are 74 if the tests have been clear. Your doctor will advise you if you should keep testing after that time.
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program will send you a free FOBT every 2 years until you are 74. You can take a sample of your faeces (poo) yourself.
Depending on your results, your doctor may recommend that you have a colonoscopy.
Osteoporosis and fracture
Osteoporosis occurs when bones lose minerals and become more brittle, putting them at risk of fractures.
Your doctor may ask you screening questions every 12 months to assess your risk. If you experience a fracture following a small bump or fall, this should be investigated further. This involves a simple scan with a machine, taking around 10 to 15 minutes. People over 70 who have a bone scan may be eligible for a Medicare rebate.
To help prevent osteoporosis, ensure you have 1,300mg of calcium per day. You should also follow the healthy diet and exercise recommendations above. Getting enough vitamin D, without risk of skin cancer is also advised.
Tooth decay and gum disease
You can help prevent tooth decay and gum disease by:
- brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste
- spitting out the toothpaste, not rinsing
- using dental floss
- limiting foods and drinks high in acid and sugar
- visiting a dentist every 12 months, or more if required
When you are 70 or over, your doctor may assess your risk for falls every year, or every 6 months if you've already had a fall.
You can help by following the nutrition and exercise advice above. If needed, your doctor may also give you special exercises to reduce your risk of falling, help you with aids at home, as well as reviewing any medicines that could make you unsteady.
Vision and hearing
You should have a hearing test each year and, if you and your doctor think you need it, an eye test.
Your doctor may also suggest that you are assessed if you have a higher risk, or show symptoms of dementia.
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Last reviewed: December 2020