Healthy aging is a hot topic. Whether you’re concerned about weight gain, sex drive or chronic diseases, the key to healthy aging is a healthy lifestyle. Eating a variety of nutritious foods, practicing portion control and including physical activity in your daily routine can go a long way toward promoting healthy aging.
If an interest in healthy aging leads you to consider anti-aging therapies — such as restrictive diets, supplements or expensive treatments claiming to postpone or even reverse the aging process — be cautious. There’s no quick fix when it comes to healthy aging. Know what you’re buying, and know how to spot suspicious schemes. Often, anti-aging therapies don’t live up to the claims.
Scientific Secrets to Healthy Aging
The second half of your life can bring some of your most rewarding decades. You may be more confident than your younger self. You gain wisdom and patience. Sure, your hair sprouts more grays and your face sports more lines. But you can grow older with your body and mind as healthy as they can possibly be.
Here are science-backed secrets to do just that.
Staying on top of your health is much more than getting care when you don’t feel good. See your doctor for regular checkups. (And don’t forget about your dentist and eye doctor.)
These visits can help find problems early or even before they start. The tests you need depend on things like your age, gender, family history, and whether you smoke or exercise.
Your doctor may want to check for these things, among others:
- Cholesterol levels
- High blood pressure
- Cervical cancer
- Colon cancer
- Breast cancer
- Prostate cancer
Eat Whole Foods
It’s more a way of eating than a formal diet. You load up on veggies, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and low-fat dairy. You eat less fatty meats, butter, sugar, salt, and packaged foods.
Many studies have found that this diet can help you live longer and protects against heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers believe one way it works is by physically changing parts of your chromosomes linked to age-related diseases.
Aim for 30 minutes every day. If that’s too much, break it up into shorter strolls. Regular exercise — especially if you do it briskly enough to feel a little breathless — delivers huge health benefits. It helps keep brain cells healthy by delivering more blood and oxygen. In fact, research suggests aerobic exercise may delay or improve symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
It also helps:
- Control your weight
- Boost your mood
- Keep bones and muscles strong
- Helps you sleep better
- Makes you less likely to get heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol
Loneliness is harmful to your health. If you feel lonely — whether you live alone or with someone, have lots of friends or none — you are more likely to get dementia or depression. Seniors who report feeling left out and isolated have more trouble with everyday tasks like bathing and climbing stairs. They also die earlier than less lonely folks do. Researchers found that lonely people have higher levels of stress hormones that cause inflammation, or swelling, linked to arthritis and diabetes. Another study found more antibodies to certain herpes viruses in lonely people, a sign of stress in their immune system. So stay connected or make new friends. Do volunteer work or simply help someone in need. Just connect.
It’s an easy way to eat your way to better health with every meal and snack. Swap out your white bread for whole grain. Add kidney beans to your soup or apple slices to your salad. Fiber fills you up and for longer. It cuts your cholesterol levels and lowers your chance of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer.
It also helps you avoid constipation, which is more common in older adults. After age 50, men should aim for 30 grams of fiber a day and women should get 21 grams a day.
Curb Bad Habits
Tobacco kills. It harms almost every organ in your body. Cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and other products with nicotine cause heart disease, cancer, lung and gum disease, and many other health problems. It’s never too late to quit. Your body begins to heal within 20 minutes of your last cigarette. Your chance of a heart attack goes down right away. In a year, your odds of heart disease drop by half. You’ll also live longer. Ask your doctor for help.
Too much alcohol can harm your liver and cause some kinds of cancer. Men shouldn’t have more than two drinks a day; women should have no more than one. If you drink more than that, talk to your doctor about cutting back.
Try Tai Chi
This gentle Chinese exercise combines slow movements and deep breathing. It’s like meditating while you move.
Tai chi may help older people avoid falls, a top cause of injury among seniors. It also can:
- Ease stress
- Improve balance
- Strengthen muscles
- Increase flexibility
- Lessen arthritis pain
It’s often better to get your nutrients from food, not a pill. And you usually don’t need special supplements aimed at seniors.
After age 50, your body does need more of some vitamins and minerals from foods or supplements than before. They include:
- Calcium (to keep bones strong)
- Vitamin D (Most people get it from sunlight, but some seniors may not get out enough.)
- Vitamin B12 (Older people have trouble absorbing it from foods, so you may need fortified cereals or a supplement.)
- Vitamin B6 (It keeps your red blood cells strong to carry oxygen throughout your body.)
Tell your doctor about any supplements you take so you can avoid bad interactions with any medications or treatments.
Life tests us in many ways. Loved ones die, layoffs happen, and health problems can mount. But positive thinking can be a powerful ally. When you choose to be optimistic and grateful, your mind and body respond in kind.
People with a rosier outlook live longer and have fewer heart attacks and depression than more negative people. One study found that thinking positively about getting older can extend lifespan by 7.5 years. And that’s after accounting for things such as gender, wealth, and overall health.
A rosy outlook may help you exercise more and eat better. And that in turn helps you stay hopeful and happy because you feel better. You may hear that called a “virtuous circle.”
If you see the glass half full, it could play an even bigger role in living better and longer than things such as low blood pressure and cholesterol, which have each been shown to increase life span by about 4 years.
You can learn to be optimistic. It just takes time and practice. Things you can do include:
- Smile, even fake smile. It can help lower stress.
- Reframe. Spin your thoughts to the good things instead of dwelling on the bad.
- Keep a gratitude journal.
- Do good things for others.
- Surround yourself with people who boost your spirits.
- Accept things you can’t change.
Stick to Sleep
Insomnia is common in older adults. It’s when you have a harder time falling and staying asleep. It helps to wake and sleep on schedule every day. That can help keep your body clock in sync so you get the sleep you need.
Also try and:
- Keep your bedroom dark. Turn off your TV, cell phone, and laptop.
- Avoid caffeine or alcohol in the evening.
- Don’t nap longer than 20 minutes during the day.
- Ask your doctor if any of your meds might be keeping you awake.
Challenge Your Mind
Things like crossword puzzles, Sudoku, chess, or reading are all good for your brain. Keep learning and trying new things to boost your brainpower. It may help lower your chances of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Mayo Clinic: “Aging: What to Expect,” “Mediterranean Diet: A Heart-Healthy Eating Plan,” “Exercise: 7 Benefits Of Regular Physical Activity,” “Tai Chi: A Gentle Way to Fight Stress,” “Positive Thinking: Stop Negative Self-Talk to Reduce Stress.”
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Health Tips For Older Adults,” “Walking: A Step in the Right Direction.”
- American Academy of Family Physicians: “Healthy Habits at Age 60 And Beyond,” “Mediterranean Diet,” “Fiber: How to Increase the Amount in Your Diet,” “Sleep Changes in Older Adults.”
- BMJ: “Mediterranean Diet and Telomere Length in Nurses’ Health Study: Population Based Cohort Study.”
- Annals of Internal Medicine: “The Association Between Dietary Patterns at Midlife and Health in Aging: An Observational Study.”
- Journal of American Geriatrics Society: “Adherence to Mediterranean Diet Reduces Incident Frailty Risk: Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis,” “Can Exercise Improve Cognitive Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease?” “Tai Chi for Risk of Falls. A Meta-Analysis.”
- Arthritis Foundation: “Osteoarthritis Prevention: What You Can Do,” “Tai Chi for Arthritis.”
- National Institute on Aging: “Osteoarthritis,” “Participating in Activities You Enjoy,” “Vitamins and Minerals,” “Dietary Supplements.”
- Alzheimer’s Association: “Prevention and Risk of Alzheimer’s and Dementia.”
- National Cancer Institute: “Harms of Cigarette Smoking and Health Benefits of Quitting.”
- Smokefree.gov: “Reasons to Quit,” “Benefits of Quitting.”
- National Council on Aging: “Falls Prevention.”
- British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology: “Critical Evaluation of Causality Assessment of Herb-Drug Interactions in Patients.”
- Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: “Longevity Increased By Positive Self-Perceptions of Aging.”
- National Sleep Foundation: “Healthy Sleep Tips.”
- Neuropsychiatry: “Feelings of loneliness, but not social isolation, predict dementia onset: results from the Amsterdam Study of the Elderly (AMSTEL).”
- JAMA Internal Medicine: “Loneliness in Older Persons: A Predictor of Functional Decline and Death.”
- Annual Reviews: “The Neuroendocrinology of Social Isolation.”
- Ohio State University: “Loneliness, Like Chronic Stress, Taxes the Immune System.”
- American Dental Association: “Oral Health Topics: Smoking and Tobacco Cessation.”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “The health benefits of tai chi.”
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: “The Power of Positive Thinking.”
- University of San Francisco: “Randomized Controlled Trial of a Positive Affect Intervention to Reduce Stress in People Newly Diagnosed with HIV; Protocol and Design for the IRISS Study.”