Aging well is something we all aspire to. We all want to live forever — or at least for a LONG time. But if we’re being honest, what we mean is that we want to age BETTER.
What Does Aging Well Mean?
Aging well means that we have the physical and mental health to enjoy our lives regardless of age. Contrary to popular belief, it is not true that disease, ill health, and disability always accompany old age. Instead, people are discovering that, while aging is inevitable, sickly old age is a choice.
Indeed, like a bottle of wine, you can get better with age, staying healthy and robust well into your 90th decade and beyond!
Tips for Healthy Aging
The key to getting better with age is to practice healthy habits when you’re young. But what if you didn’t have a healthy lifestyle in your youth? No worries. To quote famed novelist and poet Georg Eliot, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”
Eat a Healthy Diet
One of the best ways to age well is to improve the quality of your diet. Healthy eating will not only help you look and feel younger, but it can also help prevent numerous diseases.
Did you know that poor nutrition is a significant cause of illness and death? It’s true.
Let’s discuss just three major diseases that impose a significant health and economic burden on society — heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, aka cardiometabolic diseases. A research team led by Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian of Tufts University investigated the relationship between inadequate consumption or over-consumption of certain nutrients and death from these three conditions.
“They found that nearly half of all the deaths in the United States in 2012 that were caused by cardiometabolic diseases were associated with suboptimal eating habits. Of 702,308 adult deaths due to heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, 318,656 (45%) were associated with inadequate consumption of certain foods and nutrients widely considered vital for healthy living, and overconsumption of other foods that are not.” (1)
In this study, overconsumption of salt, processed meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, or unprocessed red meat was associated with an increased risk of developing these cardiometabolic diseases. Additionally, not eating enough nuts, seeds, omega-3 fats from seafood, fruits and vegetables, polyunsaturated fats, or whole grains increased the risk of death compared to those who ate appropriate amounts of these nutrients. (2)
For healthy aging, your diet should include:
Try to eat a variety of different colored vegetables each day, at least seven servings. They can be fresh, frozen, or even canned. Though research shows that canned vegetables are as nutritious as their fresh or frozen counterparts, they also contain high sodium. (3) Therefore, if you prefer canned veggies, purchase ones that contain no added salt. Or, you can drain and rinse them to remove most of the sodium.
The terms “fruits and vegetables” often go together, and indeed, they are both excellent for your health. However, fruit contains a natural sugar called fructose, which can raise blood glucose levels. Therefore, to avoid excess sugar, check to ensure there’s “no sugar added” in frozen and canned fruits. Also, eat sparingly and choose low-sugar varieties, generally citrus fruits, berries, cherries, and peaches.
Multiple research studies show that “Adequate intake of dietary fiber is associated with digestive health and reduced risk for heart disease, stroke, hypertension, certain gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.” (4)
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Women should try to eat at least 21 to 25 grams of fiber a day, while men should aim for 30 to 38 grams a day.” (5) Unfortunately, research shows that an estimated 95% of adults and children in the United States do not consume the recommended daily amount of fiber. (6) If you eat 7-10 servings of nonstarchy veggies per day, however, you should be able to get enough fiber.
What About Whole Grains for Fiber?
Dietary “experts” are continually promoting whole grains as good for you. They indeed contain more fiber than refined grains. However, they are typically ground into a fine flour that is digested quickly, thereby rapidly spiking blood sugar levels. Thus, overconsumption of whole grains can promote obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other diseases.
As for its nutrient value, nonstarchy vegetables contain fifty times more fiber than whole grains while providing more protein, vitamins, and minerals! (7)
Shoot for at least 3 ounces of lean protein at each meal. Healthy choices include:
- Free-range chicken
- Grass-fed beef
Though you may use oils for salad dressings and cooking, you’ll want to choose whole-food fats as much as possible because they contain water, fiber, and protein that helps older adults stay healthy.
Some great whole-food fats include:
- Coconut milk
- Dark chocolate
- Salmon (that’s right, salmon is both a lean protein and a whole-food fat!)
Foods to Eat Less of
For healthy aging, older adults should reduce their consumption of the following:
- Fast foods
- Foods with added sugar
- Heavily processed foods
- Processed carbs
- Red Meats
- Sugar-sweetened beverages
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight or obese is associated with numerous diseases, including: (8)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Fatty liver disease
- Gallbladder disease
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Metabolic syndrome
- Sleep apnea
- Some cancers
Maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent these conditions, slow the aging process, and help you live longer.
A combination of eating a healthy diet and getting regular physical activity supports a healthy weight.
Get Regular Exercise
Getting regular exercise has been shown to not only make you feel physically and mentally better, but it can also reduce the risk of disease.
According to the National Institute on Aging, older adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week. (That’s equivalent to just 2.5 hours.) Moderate-intensity exercise includes brisk walking, jazzercise, aerobics, and fast dancing. Ideally, you should exercise at least three times a week (more is better), but if you can’t work out that many days, do what you can. (9)
In addition, you should do muscle-strengthening exercises at least two days per week. These include lifting weights, doing squats, doing sit-ups, etc. (10)
If you’re getting older and have not been physically active for a while, be sure to start slowly with exercise. Maybe do 10-15 minutes of moderate-intensity activity at first. Then gradually increase the time of your workout. (Experts recommend that you increase the time/distance before increasing the speed.)
Protect and Nourish Your Skin
Did you know the skin is the body’s largest organ? (11) It’s true, and it makes sense when you think about it. After all, your skin protects your body’s internal organs and provides sensitivity to the environment, among other things.
As we grow older, though, our skin tends to develop wrinkles and become less firm. However, you can do a few things to protect your skin and slow the aging process.
Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water helps flush toxins from your body which helps improve the health of your skin. It also helps maintain your skin’s elasticity, reducing fine lines and wrinkles.
- Increase vitamin C intake. Vitamin C is essential for collagen production, a protein that gives skin its firmness and strength. You can get this nutrient in supplement form or by foods rich in vitamin C, like citrus fruits.
- Take extra collagen.
- Wear sunscreen when outside as well as protective clothing. (The UV rays of the sun speed the skin’s aging process.)
- Use gentle facial cleansers. Anti-aging cleansers are a must for maintaining a youthful look as long as they’re gentle. Harsh cleansers strip the skin’s surface, disrupting pH balance that can damage the skin and lead to wrinkles.
Exercise Your Mind
Aging well in your mind is just as important as your body. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than six million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease, a figure expected to rise to nearly 13 million by 2050. (12)
Though the exact cause of Alzheimer’s is unknown, studies suggest that keeping your mind active may slow the progression of this crippling disease. For example, in 2012, researchers reviewed 15 studies involving 718 men and women with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
“The researchers found that mental stimulation improved scores on memory and thinking tests for those with dementia, equivalent to about a six to nine-month delay in worsening of symptoms.” (13)
The type of activities considered cognitively stimulating include:
- Word games
- Discussing current events
In case you’re wondering, watching TV is NOT a cognitively stimulating activity.
So, if you want to age well mentally, try to perform at least one mentally challenging activity every day.
Get Enough Quality Sleep
An estimated 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep issues, which is not minor. For example, sleep deprivation negatively affects daily functioning. It’s is also linked to increased risk of depression, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart attack, and stroke. (14) These conditions can shorten your life and make healthy aging impossible.
Here are some tips for getting enough quality sleep:
- Follow a set bedtime schedule. If you go to bed at the same time every night and awake at the same time every morning, you’ll train your body to sleep during that specific period.
- Avoid caffeine later in the day. Caffeine is a stimulant that can prevent sleep if ingested too close to bedtime.
- Try not to watch TV or use your computer or tablet an hour before bedtime. The light from these screens disrupts your brain’s melatonin production.
- Practice mind and body relaxation techniques before bedtime.
- Avoid napping during the day.
Develop a Social Network
Research shows that a social support network improves physical and mental health. As social creatures, we need relationships with other humans. This is especially true for older people.
Here are some easy tips for developing and maintaining a positive social network:
- Regularly visit your friends and family.
- Meet new people. There are many ways to meet new people. Take your dog for a walk at a dog park. Join an online chat group. Become a member of an in-person group. (Meetup.com is a great way to find groups that share your interests.)
- Attend yoga classes.
- Plan activities for friends and family.
- Volunteer at a local organization.
Any of these activities can help you feel connected and younger.
Learn how these 4 “brain transforming” nutrients were used by an 80-year-old “Women’s World” cover model to escape a nursing home death sentence, and how you can age well and save your brain from a dementia death sentence!