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September is Healthy Aging Month, so it is a good time to reflect on what you can do to age as healthily as possible. Healthy aging is not only about living as long as possible, but about living as well as possible, such as maintaining independence and a sharp mind. Regardless of how old you are now, there are steps you can take to be your healthiest self as you approach or go through your golden years .
1. Eat well!
There is convincing evidence that a steady diet of kale and almonds can optimize health, but that does not mean that diet does not matter. An overall balanced diet can lower chronic disease risk, support brain health, and support a stronger body throughout the lifespan.
No single superfood is essential, but some general groups to focus on include vegetables, whole grains, fish, fruit, reduced-fat dairy products, and nuts. Each of these has been linked to certain health benefits, such as lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar, lower risk for heart disease, or other benefits. A good rule of thumb is to look for whole, nutrient-dense, foods that are unprocessed or minimally processed.
2. Exercise your body
Centenarians may not run 10 miles a day, but they do tend to be physically active. Science backs them up, as physical activity has benefits ranging from slowing down aging-related processes at the cellular level , to preventing or managing chronic conditions.
Adults can aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 days a week at a moderate to vigorous intensity, with appropriate activities including jogging, cycling, swimming, gardening, and playing tennis. Walking is one of the easiest ways to stay active, and maintaining the ability to walk briskly can help you maintain independence as you age.
3. Exercise your brain
If you are concerned about age-related cognitive decline and dementia, there is good news: lifestyle changes can significantly lower the risk for these and similar conditions. The same good choices that can keep you physically healthy can help protect your brain, so that is all the more reason to stay active and eat right.
In addition, your brain goes in the category of "use it or lose it." Anything you can do to stimulate your brain helps, whether you like books, puzzles, word games, online lectures, or trivia nights. Simple tricks, such as taking a different route to the grocery store and being sure to talk to a few people every day, can help you exercise your brain, well, mindlessly.
4. Sleep in every day
No, this does not mean you should party each night and sleep until noon every day. What we mean is getting enough sleep each night so that you wake up naturally, feeling refreshed and relaxed, just like you might when you sleep in.
Getting adequate sleep can lower your risk of unhealthy weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other chronic conditions. It can also improve mental acuity and reduce stress. The ideal way to get enough sleep is to get a consistent amount each night, or about 8 hours for most adults. Of course, if getting enough sleep on weeknights is not an option, sleeping until noon on weekends to make up for lost sleep is far better than not making up lost sleep!
5. Leave a little
Aging well does not mean being on a starvation diet your whole life, but it may mean watching your weight. Small changes can really add up, and you can be creative about which small changes can work for you. One idea to help prevent weight gain or to lose weight is to eat smaller portions of high-calorie foods. In practice, that might mean ordering medium instead of large fries, packing up half your restaurant meal to eat later, or serving vegetables first so there is less room on the plate for macaroni and cheese.
6. Practice your life skills
Life skills are more like soft skills when compared to education and business savvy, but they appear to be useful in healthy aging. Optimism, conscientiousness, self-confidence, and determination were among the life skills identified as related to a variety of health factors, including higher "good" HDL cholesterol, lower CRP (inflammatory marker linked to heart disease and other chronic conditions, vitamin D, less physical impairment . While you may not go to school to learn these life skills, you can be aware of them and try to increase your mastery of them as you get older and wiser.
Feeling valuable, or worthwhile, is linked to less loneliness and stronger relationships, not to mention better physical health, less chronic pain, and less disability . Volunteering is one way to give to society if you are retired (or if not!). Other ways to contribute to society include caring for children or for anyone who needs it, informally doing good deeds such as picking up trash when you see it at a local park or on the street, or simply being nice - smiling at someone can really make a difference in their day.
8. Go to the doctor
If you do not already do so, there is no time like the present to find out the recommended check-ups and health screenings for someone of your age, gender, and risk group (based on, say, family history or similar factors), and attend all recommended appointments. If you have any chronic conditions, it is important not only to go to the doctor as suggested, but to follow instructions such as taking medications or following any special diets or other recommendations for your condition. This can help you live longer and prevent possibly debilitating complications.
9. Reach out
Staying connected can take many forms, such as staying in touch with family and friends, watching or listening to the news, communicating with healthcare providers, keeping up with neighbors. In addition to keeping your mind busy and letting you socialize, reaching out to others gives you a chance to learn what resources are available should you need them, such as free meals or group activities.
10. Stop smoking
If you are going to make one major change, the single most impactful may be to quit using tobacco if you do. Quitting smoking lowers heart disease risk, strengthens the immune system, and supports muscle, bone, and brain health. You may even hear, see, taste, and smell better (in both senses of the word!). Lark can help as you prepare to quit smoking!
11. Don't stress
Things won't always go your way, and one thing is certain: the older you get, the more cumulative things will go wrong, and the more cumulative things there will be to worry about. Learning to manage your stress, and letting go of what you cannot change, can help reduce negative effects of stress on your health.
12. Brush your teeth
Eating crunchy foods such as apples, nuts, popcorn, and carrots is a privilege reserved for people who have teeth. It is possible to have natural teeth even if you live to be 100, but it requires a bit of luck and a lot of care. Brushing your teeth, flossing, and visiting the dentist regularly can help you eat the way you want for decades to come.
Even if a soft diet sounds good to you, healthy teeth and gums have other benefits. Poor oral health is linked to conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
13. Be happy
One study among adults aged 52 to 79 found a 35% lower risk of dying over a 5-year period among participants who were happier and more content . Though these feelings may be more natural in some people than in others, everyone can work on them by practicing changing their attitudes and how they react to things. By the way, even if being happier does not turn out to make you live longer, it is guaranteed to make you enjoy your time on earth more.
- Digital Communications Division (DCD), Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA). 2015. "Healthy Aging." US Department of Health and Human Services. June 25, 2015. https://www.hhs.gov/aging/healthy-aging/index.html.
- Rebelo-Marques, Alexandre, Adriana De Sousa Lages, Renato Andrade, Carlos Fontes Ribeiro, Anabela Mota-Pinto, Francisco Carrilho, and Jo√£o Espregueira-Mendes. 2018. "Aging Hallmarks: The Benefits of Physical Exercise." Frontiers in Endocrinology 9 (May): 258.
- Steptoe, Andrew, and Jane Wardle. 2017. "Life Skills, Wealth, Health, and Wellbeing in Later Life." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 114 (17): 4354–59.
- Steptoe, Andrew, and Daisy Fancourt. 2019. "Leading a Meaningful Life at Older Ages and Its Relationship with Social Engagement, Prosperity, Health, Biology, and Time Use." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 116 (4): 1207–12.
- MacMillan, Amanda, and Health.com. 2011. "Happiness Linked to Longer Life." CNN, October 31, 2011. https://www.cnn.com/2011/10/31/health/happiness-linked-longer-life/index.html.