Take Small Steps Towards Healthier Aging

Published on Oct 11, 2012

Think you look younger than your age? You’re not alone. In a survey of American adults that Pfizer conducted, 51 percent of all respondents thought they looked younger than their age, with 60 percent of people 50 to 64 saying they feel like they look at least five years younger than their age.

As we discussed on the Rachael Ray Show, there can be subtle connections between how old you look (or think you look) and how old you feel. We met three women – all the same age (54). One said she felt older than her years; one said she felt exactly her age; and one said she felt younger. We talked about some of the steps these women could take – and that anyone can take, at any age – to “tap the brakes” on the aging process and set a healthier course for the future. These need not be dramatic changes. It’s human nature to want big change and want it fast, especially when it comes to our health and wellness.

Yet the secret to making change “stick” is not to think big. It’s to start small. That’s especially important as we get older and yearn to “make up ground” in preserving our health and vitality.

Studies have shown that taking small steps towards a goal often provides the best chance for success—and for keeping the momentum going. Given that most of us will live for many more years, the beneficial effects of small but positive changes can build up over time. If 10,000 steps a day sounds daunting, start by parking your car a few blocks from work or at the outer edge of the parking lot. The extra 750 steps each way gives you a solid “down payment” on your daily exercise goal. If you can’t run ten laps, walk one—and add a quarter-lap each time. If pumping iron is too hard, lift lighter weights, or try tai chi or simple flexibility exercises. If you’ve started and failed a dozen strict diets, take a kinder, gentler approach. Trim 100-150 calories a day and add little more physical activity. That alone could take off 20 pounds a year. Switch to skim milk. Skip sugared soft drinks and juices. Have a donut or bagel once a week instead of every morning. And make your time horizon months and years, not days and weeks. Don’t worry about losing weight for the upcoming holidays. Instead, start now to be the weight you want to be—next holiday season.

Whatever your goals, start with one small change and let it grow into a habit. Research says that for many of us, two months is all it takes to turn a new habit into a part of our daily routine. Set modest goals: Plan three 10-minute strength training sessions a week; schedule that checkup or mammogram you’ve been putting off. And don’t try and change everything at once. Think small, take the first modest steps, and get some victories under your belt. That way, you’ll have a good chance of not only living longer, but also of adding much more life to your years. And, as a fringe benefit, you may find you look and feel younger, too!

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