You may have heard that “The important thing to you is not how many years in your life, but how much life is in your years!” This saying appeared in a 1947 advertisement for Dr. Edward Stieglitz’s book on life after 40 and offers a positive approach to aging, but how do we put life in our years? How can we stay healthy enough to actively enjoy life for many years to come?
There are obvious signs of aging like gray hair and wrinkles, but other areas of the body experience changes too. Aging may impact the cardiovascular system, bones, joints, muscles, memory, eyesight, hearing, teeth, skin, weight, and more. As we grow older, it’s important to stay physically, mentally, and emotionally fit. Here are five tips that may help us stay active and healthy as we age.
1. Eat right.
The body needs nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to maintain health. Martha Hall, DAOM, ACN, helps her aging patients eat better by recommending that they remove sugar from their diets; reduce the intake of carbohydrates; and eat plenty of protein and healthy fats from organic, whole foods.
Fill your plate with nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains. Reduce saturated fats and trans fats, and increase your intake of healthy fats from sources such as nuts, seeds, avocados, and fatty fish like salmon and tuna. Be sure to eat more fiber (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes) and drink lots of water to aid digestion.
Consult with a health care professional about the right diet for you, especially if you have specific issues like high blood pressure, hypertension, diabetes, or weight concerns.
2. Exercise often.
Achy joints, less energy, and muscle loss may slow us down as we age. But this is exactly the time to get moving. Exercise and physical activity have multiple benefits at any age but particularly for aging adults. Staying active may prevent or delay disease and disabilities, such as heart disease, diabetes, depression, and arthritis. Exercise has also been shown to help improve mood, boost cognitive function, and manage stress.
Moderate activity may help improve endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. Try aerobic exercise, such as water aerobics, tennis, or energetic walking. Find ways to strengthen muscles, improve balance, and increase flexibility with activities like yoga and tai chi. Work closely with a health care professional to determine a safe exercise plan to complement your abilities.
3. Sleep well.
Older adults need just as much sleep as younger adults with seven to nine hours per night recommended. It’s important to rest and restore energy levels while sleeping. In fact, getting enough sleep may actually improve cognitive function and guard against age-related cognitive decline.
Insufficient sleep has been linked to the development of many chronic diseases and conditions, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and frequent mental distress.
There are many reasons why aging adults may have trouble getting enough sleep, including:
- Changes in the body’s internal clock
- Certain medicines
- Pain (such as arthritis or joint pain)
- Frequent urination
If you are having trouble sleeping or experience a change in your sleep pattern, consult a health care professional to see if there are underlying causes. For more advice on sleep health, read our post with tips for healthy sleep.
4. Be social.
Maintaining relationships with friends, family, and others in your community may have many positive effects on health. Studies have found links between social connections and improved mobility, cognitive function, independence, sense of purpose, knowledge of health care options, and overall well-being.
Changes in employment, marital status, living arrangements, social ties, and physical health may lead to feelings of loneliness or isolation for older adults. These feelings may negatively affect both physical and mental health and be accompanied by symptoms of depression and cognitive decline.
For aging adults, a healthy lifestyle may involve socializing with others on a regular basis. Make an effort to share meals with friends, visit with family members, or take a class - even if these activities are done online.
5. Stay sharp.
Just like exercising the body, it is beneficial to give the brain a workout as well. Aging adults should keep challenging the mind with new information and activities, which may reduce the risk of memory loss and promote brain health.
One of the best ways to keep the mind sharp may be to try a new skill that is unfamiliar, mentally challenging, and includes social involvement. For instance, take dance lessons, learn to play a musical instrument, or study a new language.
Need a few more tips for healthy aging? Don’t smoke, drink in moderation, maintain a healthy weight, and get regular checkups with your health care professional.
“I tell my older patients to stay positive,” said Dr. Hall. “Positive thoughts are important. You can’t compare yourself to what you were yesterday. Nobody is the same as they were 20 years ago.”