March 1, 2023

Aging Well Is More Than Good Luck and Good Genes

Time waits for no one—it’s a classic lament, a natural part of life, though there is no question we are aging differently now than we did generations ago.

Back in 1850, the average American life span was just 35 years. Very few people lived to be seniors. But over the centuries, that number has more than doubled. Today, the average American lifespan is 83 years. Still, it’s not just the length of one’s life that is important—it’s the quality of life, too.

Bob Dylan is still touring in his 80s.

Christy Brinkley is still rocking bikinis in her late 60s.

Richard Branson blasted into space (in his own spaceship!) when he was nearly 71.

You don’t have to be a music icon, supermodel or daring entrepreneur with billions of dollars to age well. Aging well means being vital and independent as long as possible. Staying physically, emotionally and mentally active are all important aspects of aging well.

By being proactive and making healthy lifestyle choices, we can all boost our chances for living well. Here are some things you can do every day to help add days to your life.

Smaller meals pack BIG benefits

Most of us grew up eating three meals a day. As we age, the standard breakfast, lunch and dinner may not be the way to go. Research shows its often better to eat smaller amounts of food more frequently as we grow older.

Eating five to six small meals throughout the day can be better for several reasons. Smaller meals help maintain consistent insulin levels—important for individuals with diabetes. They also help stabilize fatty acids in the blood, and reduce indigestion that can disrupt sleep. For seniors who might find it painful to eat large meals due to chest congestion or breathing problems, small meals reduce the strain.

Water your joints, brain and every cell in your body.

In other words, pay attention to your daily fluid intake. As we age, our thirst mechanism changes. It’s less sensitive, so we don’t feel really thirsty the way we did as kids. As a result, it’s easy to become dehydrated. In fact, most of us walk around on the dehydrated side. Without enough fluid in our body, it’s harder for the kidneys to filter toxins and waste from the body—which can lead to kidney failure.

Drink plenty of fluids. Stay away from soda, and don’t drink a lot of sugary juices. Water is best. Limit alcohol, too. It’s dehydrating and should only be consumed in moderation. It can also interfere with prescription medications you may take. In fact, people with some medical conditions shouldn’t drink any alcohol. If you have a chronic health condition or regularly take any medication, talk with your care provider before consuming alcoholic beverages.

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Be a mover and a shaker for as long as possible.

A sedentary lifestyle is one of the quickest paths to poor health. It will also threaten your ability to live independently. Nearly 67 percent of adults say they sit more than eight hours each day! It’s the reason health experts are warning that “sitting is the new smoking.” If you don’t exercise regularly, you could lose as much as 80 percent of your muscle strength by the time you’re 65. Without regular activity, it’s estimated that a growing number of seniors will be living at or just above “thresholds of physical ability.”

You can beat the stats by adding three kinds of exercise into your week—aerobic, resistance and stretching.

Aerobic exercise is good for blood flow, circulation, brain health and heart health.

Resistance exercise stimulates the muscles, prevents muscle and bone loss, and improves balance. Many people experience balance issues as they age. This can lead to falls. A bad fall can even be fatal.

Stretching exercises relax muscle fibers that become tighter and shorter as we age.

Just 150 minutes of moderate activity each week does your mind and body a world of good. Regular activity helps:

Brighten your mood. When you move more, you trigger the release of brain chemicals that help you feel happier and less anxious.

Boost your energy. When you move more, you push oxygen and vital nutrients to your muscles, heart and lungs that fuel energy.

Sleep a lot better. When you move more, you release tension so you can fall asleep faster, sleep deeper and wake up refreshed.

Slim down. When you move more, you burn calories and whittle away extra pounds that help you reach and maintain a healthy weight.

Fend off disease. When you move more, you lower your risk for heart attack, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, cancer and more.

Expand your circle of friends.

Hoping to unravel some of the mysteries about aging? Lots of studies have focused on centenarians—individuals who lived to be more than 100 years old. In all cases, they have found socialization is important throughout life—especially as we grow older.

Staying connected with others stimulates the brain, enhances mood, and nurtures a sense of purpose. All of this plays a big role in keeping depression at bay.

If you feel lonely, reach out to others rather than isolate yourself. Strengthen your emotional connections with family, friends, coworkers and neighbors. Or create a family of kindred spirits. Remember, you’re not the only one who feels alone. As peace activist Edna Buchman wrote: “Friends are the family we choose for ourselves.” The simple act of talking to someone about your feelings may change your mood and outlook.

Learn to be resilient in the face of loss.

As we grow older, we inevitably experience loss. The death of parents, a partner, pets and other loved ones. Children and friends move away. We may suffer a job loss or financial setbacks. And at some point, we all face changes in our bodies. They can all increase the risk for stress, mood disorders and depression. Socialization reduces those risks by helping us accept loss, adapt to it, and manage its aftermath in healthy ways.

See the glass half full.

The way you think can affect the way you feel, and the way you feel can affect the way you think. It turns out your body and mind are in perfect sync. Naturally, it makes sense to keep the two in harmony as much as possible. Here are ways you can nurture the link.

Let go of negative emotions. Remember the good times in your life and surround yourself with positive people who can help brighten your point of view.

Avoid living on autopilot. Be mindful of what’s going on around you. Live fully in the present by slowing down to appreciate the sights and sounds around you.

Nurture an optimistic outlook. When you do, your brain releases feel-good chemicals that help you cope with pain and stress.

Clear out information overload. Meditate, go for a walk, listen to music, do something to help restore a sense of peace and calm.

Find your purpose. Remember the things that are important to you. Volunteer for a cause you care about. Help others rather than dwell on things you can’t control.

Most important, don’t think there isn’t anything you can do. Your actions have a big effect on how you age. You can start by having an annual wellness check with your primary care doctor. Together, you can make a plan to help keep you healthy well into the future.

Ready to become your healthiest self?

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Posted in: Senior Health