In many cultures around the world, aging is viewed as a positive — a natural part of life that creates a diverse community with people of all ages. Older adults are respected and consulted for their knowledge and experience. They often serve in positions of honor in families, communities, and businesses.
In the United States, however, somewhere along the line, a stigma arose around the concept of aging, and it became something to be prevented at all costs. The truth is, aging is entirely normal and healthy. While you might feel a certain way about a milestone birthday or another wrinkle appearing on your forehead, try to keep it in perspective. If you embrace the process and take steps along the way to ensure you are taking care of yourself, your positive attitude can actually help you live longer.
Good Habits for Healthy Aging
Your 20s and 30s:
Now’s the time to establish healthy habits for life. What you do during these decades sets the foundation for your health in later years. If you create healthy habits now, they are more likely to stick throughout your life.
- Exercise regularly. If there were a silver bullet for aging, it would be exercise. Studies have shown that exercising regularly reduces your risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, cancer, and many other diseases. If you start exercising young, it will become second nature — a natural part of your routine that will become an ingrained habit.
- Eat healthy foods. Choose whole foods and limit processed foods as much as possible. Load up on fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains.
- Wear sunscreen. Protecting your skin from the sun now is the best thing you can do to prevent skin cancer and keep your skin looking youthful later in life. Wear SPF 30 daily and try to avoid the sun during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Quit smoking. If you smoke, quit now and you’ll save yourself further (and more serious) damage down the line.
- Get plenty of sleep. Good sleep hygiene is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Poor sleep habits have been linked to a number of diseases, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, and depression. If your sleep is suffering, learn how to establish good sleep habits
- Visit your doctor for an annual physical and screenings. The key to health is disease prevention, so make sure you’re up-to-date on all your screenings and check-ups.
Your 40s and 50s:
When midlife hits, you may start to feel more aches and pains and see those first wrinkles. These are all normal parts of aging, however, and you shouldn’t stress about it.
- Reduce stress. Midlife can often be a particularly stressful time due to competing priorities. Many people in their 40s and 50s are part of the so-called “sandwich generation,” meaning they are caring for children and parents simultaneously. Make sure you have a healthy way to relieve stress, whether it’s meditating, gardening, yoga, or listening to music.
- Watch your alcohol intake. A glass of wine here or there may be beneficial to your health, but make sure you limit your alcohol. Alcohol is inflammatory so too much of it can increase your risk for disease.
- Prioritize fitness. You might find yourself busier than ever during these decades, but make sure to fit in time for exercise. The good news is, exercise doesn’t have to be complicated. Walking, hiking, gardening, yoga, dancing, and swimming are all great ways to stay active.
- Stay up-to-date on screenings. These are the decades when the risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer, and other diseases can increase, so it’s important to get your recommended screenings, listen to your body, and make a change if there’s a red flag such as high blood pressure.
Your 60s and 70s (and beyond):
If you’ve laid the foundation for healthy living in your earlier decades, you’ve set yourself up to age well in your later decades. In addition to continuing earlier habits such as healthy eating, good sleep hygiene, and exercise, there are a few additional things to pay attention to in your later years.
- Keep your brain sharp. The best way to prevent cognitive decline and memory problems is by exercising your brain. Do a puzzle or a crossword. Play a board game. Read. Travel. Learn a new language or try a new instrument.
- Nurture relationships with friends and family. As you age, it can get harder and harder to maintain your social network. Staying connected with others as you age is crucial as it helps buffer against loneliness and depression. Make it a point to regularly meet up with friends and family, reach out to an old friend, talk to your neighbors, join a group or club, or volunteer.
- Incorporate strength training into your workout. In addition to aerobic exercise, make sure you are strength training as well. As you age, you lose muscle mass, which contributes to frailty and increases your risk of falls and fractures.
- Focus on heart health. Heart health is of particular importance during your later years, since heart disease is one of the biggest risks for seniors. Familiarize yourself with the risk factors, and protect yourself by eating a heart-healthy diet and exercising regularly.
Prioritize Preventive Health
One of the best ways to stay healthy as you age is to keep up with recommended screenings and vaccines for your age and gender. Review these preventive care guidelines with your doctor to determine which screenings/vaccines are recommended for your age and gender.