No matter what your age, it may not be too soon, or too late, to start thinking about healthy aging. And, since we each get a little older every day, it makes sense to think about healthy aging as a “life-course” process. That means almost anyone can get on the healthy-aging path. Parents can teach their children healthy living habits by starting them early, so that good health behaviors may last a lifetime. If you didn’t have the full benefit of learning healthy living and aging habits when you were young, now is the perfect moment to help you take charge and be on your way toward a healthier life.
Seven Healthy Aging Tips
It’s never too late to start making changes to improve your health. You may already know these very important things you can do to help support a healthy-aging lifestyle that are listed below. This list provides seven healthy aging recommendations that can help you get and stay on the right track:
1. Eat the right foods in the right balance. You probably know by now that eating well is important at any age. Eating the right amount of healthy foods can help reduce your risk of many diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancers.
TIP: Put down the salt-shaker and eat at least 5 nutrient-dense foods (foods that are high in nutrients and low in calories) per day. Check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommendations for healthy eating in older adults, called Choose My Plate.
2. Keep moving. Exercise routines and time at the gym may be difficult for some people. But, in most situations, there are easy things you can do that will get you moving. Ideas include going for a walk, using the stairs instead of an elevator, or standing up and sitting down—anything to keep your blood flowing, your muscles moving, and your joints healthy. Any kind of movement can help you manage stress and help manage and improve diseases. Also, the more you keep your balance and keep your muscles active, the more you may be able to avoid falling and getting injured.
Tip: Find ways to incorporate movement and exercise in your daily life. Try chair exercises, yoga, and stretching. Play with your grandchildren or learn to knit in order to keep your hands nimble. Find a friend to go for a walk with. What you do depends on your situation and your motivation. Start small, but start!
3. See your doctor and stay current on screenings. This is key to set you on the path to healthy aging. It is essential that you see your doctor as recommended and follow through on preventive testing and general checkups, such as for your blood pressure, cholesterol, bone health, weight management, and other screenings (e.g., prostate, breasts, cervix, colon). Be sure you are current with the recommended vaccines, which are not just for children. Also, follow your doctor’s suggestions for healthier living. For instance, if you still smoke, isn’t it time to let your doctor help you quit? You should also avoid excessive alcohol.
TIP: Open channels of communication with your doctor. Prepare for office visits by listing out questions for your doctor and providing a list of the medications you are taking. Take your medicines only as prescribed and be sure to keep your doctor up to date about the medications you take, including over-the-counter therapies, and vitamins.
4. Get enough sleep: Many of us seem to get less sleep than we need, but healthy sleep habits are key to our vitality, function, and independence. If you have difficulty sleeping, speak with your doctor. There are treatable sleep disorders and other medical considerations to explore with your healthcare team that can help get you back to those necessary hours of sleep at night.
TIP: Have a wind-down routine every night before going to bed (e.g., try turning off electronic devices like the computer and TV, read a book, take a warm bath, change into comfortable sleep clothes). Also, try calming exercises such as meditation to relax the mind. And make sure to avoid alcohol.
5. Get out and socialize: Some people may find themselves more isolated from others during their later years. At times it can seem difficult to go out and do the things you used to love to do, like lunching with a friend, or other daily activities. After a period of feeling blue, older people usually recover; however, if you’re feeling down for more than 2 weeks, tell your doctor or someone about it. You may think feeling blue is a normal part of aging, but it isn’t. Keeping up a lively connection with your community, family, and friends is a great way to help keep your mind healthy and your spirits up. Losing interest in doing the activities you used to enjoy can be a sign of depression. Speak with your doctor about it; some people may need treatment for depression and/or anxiety.
TIP: Reinvent yourself by volunteering somewhere where you can make a valuable contribution, learn computer skills, or try a new hobby. Pick a new place (near or far) to explore on your own or with friends.
6. Quit smoking. If you smoke, it’s never too late to quit. Smoking is associated with a number of diseases and conditions, including heart disease, lung disease, and even some cancers. Speak with your doctor for help and support. There are many resources to help you give up this addiction.
Tip: Involve your family or friends to help you quit. Socialize with people who do not smoke. Avoid activities that might trigger you to smoke; for example, go out for smoothies instead of a cup of coffee. Also, there are many online tools and resources that can help support a quit attempt—consider using them.
7. Stay mentally fit. Keeping the brain active is as important as keeping the body fit. Many people work on crossword puzzles and computer games designed to keep your brain in motion. Others work or volunteer and find ways to make a contribution with the skills they have learned during their lifetime. Still, others travel to new places, read books and magazines, or take classes and learn new skills to keep their mind active and fit.
Tip: If you are older, let your children and grandchildren teach you computer games you might enjoy. Join reading clubs or take a drawing class.
Think About Aging in a New Way
Your goal may not be living longer, but about increasing the number of healthy years you’ll have in the future. Live a healthy life now, so you can enjoy what you have enjoyed in life for longer. Practicing the above recommendations may help you age with confidence and help you stay independent longer, whether that’s living at home, in your community, or with your family.
Stephen Kagan, MD is Senior Director, Rare Disease, Global Medical Affairs and the Co-Lead for the Pfizer Global Center of Excellence on Active and Healthy Aging
Vera Rulon, MS, RHIT, was the Director of Strategic Communications within Pfizer Medical.