By Marygrace Taylor in Prevention Magazine
These simple habits can have a major payoff.
Once upon a time, staying healthy meant eating some veggies and, well, pretty much nothing else. But with each passing decade, the risk for injuries and chronic illnesses increase, and wellness starts to take a little more work.
The good news? There are plenty of things you can do to keep feeling like your best and doing the things you enjoy. Here, seven that are worth integrating into your regular routine.
1 Keep moving
Being active doesn’t just help prevent chronic diseases. As we age, it can also lower the chance for serious injury.
“Strength, balance, and flexibility exercises are key to preventing falls, which are one of the greatest threats to our healthy longevity,” says Scott Kaiser, MD, a family physician and geriatrician at Providence St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
Regular exercise could also boost your brainpower. When sedentary adults performed three 45-minute exercise sessions per week for six months, they had improved executive function (the ability to focus and make plans) equal to someone nine years younger, found one Neurology study. So go ahead and lace up those sneaks.
Grocery bags starting to feel a little heavier than they used to? Muscle loss is a normal part of aging, but research shows that eating enough protein can help you preserve what you’ve got—and even support your efforts to build more.
How much should you get in a day? Recent findings suggest that adults over 65 need 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of weight to support muscle health. (That’s at least 68 grams of protein per day for a 150-pound person.)
Make sure to add a lean protein source to each meal, like fish, poultry, or beans. And choose wholesome high-protein snacks too. Think: Greek yogurt with fruit, hummus with veggies, or a protein-packed nutritional drink like BOOST. (We’re fans of the strawberry and chocolate flavors. Yum!)
Don’t just go to the doctor when you’re sick. Regular well visits are a chance to screen for (and catch!) health issues that become more common with age, like high blood pressure and diabetes, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
You and your doctor can also decide whether you’d benefit from additional tests, like screening for osteoporosis or certain cancers.
Finally? Those checkups are a prime opportunity to check that you’re up to date on all of your vaccines—especially ones that offer extra protection for older adults, like the flu shot or shingles vaccine.
Meet a friend for coffee, check out that photography class, or FaceTime with your grandkids. “Investing in meaningful relationships is one of the most important things we can do to increase our health, quality of life, and wellbeing,” Dr. Kaiser says.
One big reason why? Social wellbeing is tied to lower levels of interleukin-6, an inflammatory factor involved in chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s, heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, and some cancers, according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA).
5 Get enough sleep
If you’re finding it harder with each passing year to snooze soundly, you’re far from alone. Nearly half of older adults say they regularly have trouble falling asleep, according to The University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging.
The problem? Sleep-deprived folks are more likely to feel depressed, have trouble remembering information and focusing, feel sleepy during the day, and fall more during the night, reports the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
You need the same amount of sleep today as you did when you were younger—between 7 and 8 hours per night, the NIH says. If you’re having trouble hitting that mark, talk with your doctor. She’ll help you figure out whether an underlying sleep problem is behind the tossing and turning and what you can do to get the rest you need.
6 Make time to de-stress
Unchecked tension doesn’t just put you in a lousy mood. It also boosts inflammation in the body, which can speed aging and make you more likely to get sick, according to a Frontiers in Human Neuroscience study.
In fact, findings suggest that the majority of diseases are related to chronic stress. Stress hormones like cortisol are also thought to negatively impact memory and contribute to brain shrinkage starting as early as our late 40s, according to a Neurology study.
Finding ways to unwind can make a difference—even if it’s only for a minute or two. “Even if you’re pressed for time, take a moment and take one restorative breath,” Dr. Kaiser says.
Have some more time to spare? Try working yoga into your day. In a study of middle-aged adults, performing yoga for 90 minutes, five days a week was found to lower levels of inflammation and stress hormones, as well as slow down the rate at which cells age.
7 Lean into today
There are countless reasons why getting older is great. (Senior discounts! Way more wisdom!) So instead of succumbing to tired stereotypes, think about what you love about your current age.
Yale University research shows that older adults who see aging as a good thing live almost eight years longer and have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease compared to those who view aging negatively. “Having a positive view of aging is associated with both living longer and living better,” Dr. Kaiser says.
It turns out, the fountain of youth was inside your head all along.