How to Stay Healthy with Age
Medically reviewed by Leann Poston, M.D. on 9/24/20
These days, people are living longer than ever before. With advanced medical care, scientific breakthroughs, and the ever-advancing pace of technology, life expectancy has radically advanced in just a few generations. In 1950, the average global life expectancy was just 48 years. The most recent global data, from 2017, shows the average global life expectancy at over 72 years.
Naturally, with this kind of shift, and the prospect of living longer, there is a much greater interest among the general population for information about staying healthy with age. People are living for decades in retirement, and most want to do everything they can, as early as they can, to ensure they get the most out of their golden years. While no one can predict when and if certain medical problems may develop, a well-rounded approach to staying healthy with age can maximize the quantity and quality of senior living. Aging no longer means accepting a physical or mental decline as a foregone conclusion.
To that end, we’ve put together some valuable advice culled from various sources, which addresses the fundamentals of how to stay healthy with age. Individual needs and circumstances will vary, of course, but these recommendations will set the vast majority of adults over 50 on the path to better health and longevity.
To Stay Healthy with Age, Eat a Healthy Diet
We all know that eating healthily is important at any age. It becomes even more important as we age since our metabolisms naturally slow down and change somewhat. Getting sufficient nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, while minimizing unhealthy sugars and fats, will help control weight, provide consistent energy, and promote good overall health. A healthy diet in adults over 50 is important because it can:
- Help maintain the immune system
- Reduce the risk of developing various diseases and conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and multiple different types of cancer
- Provide sufficient, stable energy to enjoy life
- Promote and maintain a healthy weight
- Ensure bone density and muscle strength remain at optimal levels
- Decrease the exterior signs of aging, such as wrinkles
- Helps preserve brain and memory function
- Can help maintain a healthy libido
Most experts recommend some variation on the classic Mediterranean diet as the best way to eat healthily. This diet consists of low carbohydrate intake, with large amounts of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. Healthy fats like olive oil are substituted for heavier, saturated fats like butter and dairy. Reducing your intake of sugar, processed food, fats, and sodium are also integral to a healthy diet.
Exercise Regularly and Stay Active
It’s no secret that exercise and physical activity is essential for maintaining good health. Even 15 or 20 minutes of light exercise per day can make a big difference in energy levels, weight, physical fitness, and immunity. While there may be some restrictions on the intensity level that may be appropriate for exercise among older adults, regular stretching and light cardio workouts are usually suitable for all ages. It doesn’t hurt to check with your doctor or healthcare professional before beginning an exercise regimen, especially if you have existing health considerations or problems. However, generally speaking, walking or jogging, yoga, swimming, bicycling, and aerobics are all classic ways to stay active as a senior.
Staying active in general is important, too, even absent regular exercise routines. Spending a large chunk of the day in a chair or on the couch can lead to premature or exacerbated back problems, sore joints, aggravate arthritis, decrease muscle tone and bone density, and result in less flexibility and energy, too. Consider activities that involve some physical effort, even if it’s not formal exercise. Dancing or dancing lessons are a great option for seniors and also involve a valuable social component. Bowling, golf, and other light sporting activities are likewise a good way to stay active and physically fit, too. Often, exercising and staying active as an older adult can be as simple as going for a walk around the neighborhood a few times a week.
Don’t Neglect Your Mind
Too often, the focus of staying healthy rests on our bodies, and we forget about our minds. However, as an aging adult, you mustn’t neglect your mind, either. Aging results in several changes in the brain, both organic and as a result of changing life habits. The net result can be a decrease in processing power and speed, memory, recall, and more. These deficits can usually be corrected with a bit of brain training and activities that stimulate your mind. Sometimes, though, they can be early warning signs of a more serious cognitive decline, such as dementia, and so are worth discussing with your doctor if you have any concerns.
To give your mind a thorough workout, you should regularly take part in activities that require you to “put your thinking cap on.” Some great examples of ways to keep your brain sharp and in peak condition include:
- Reading books or listening to audio books
- Playing games, whether board or computer-based
- Doing brain teasers, puzzles, word finds, crosswords, and similar activities
- Taking up one or more hobbies that require attention, focus, and memory/recall
- Socializing and having conversations
- Participating in community events
- Learn new skills
- Engage all your senses in activities
- Maintain a positive self image and attitude – many studies show that negative beliefs about aging and memory result in decreased performance on standardized tests, so never doubt the power of positive thinking
Stay Healthy with Age by Staying Social
Aging can often bring about changes in our relationships and social interactions. Children growing up and going off to school, or starting families of their own, can change dynamics at home. The illness or death of a spouse, moving to another city or town, changing jobs, and retirement itself can all lead to a redefined “normal” as far as our socialization and relationships go. Too often, there’s a direct line between aging and decreased social interaction, which can have profound negative consequences for aging adults’ self-esteem, emotional health, and well-being.
To combat this problem, it’s important to go out of your way to maintain relationships and create new relationships as you age. Family and friends aren’t the only sources of social interactions, either. Co-workers, neighbors, and peers should all be part of your normal network of social support. Joining communities that fit with your interests is a good way to remain social as you age, such as sporting groups, activism, local outing clubs, and similar. Volunteering is another good way to meet new people and maintain an active social life.
Geography shouldn’t be a limiting factor, either. While in-person contact is important for emotional and mental health, we’re living in the age of technology, where it’s easier than ever to contact friends and family who are distant. Phone calls, emails, online chats, and even video conferencing can be just a few clicks away. They’re not a substitute for getting out there and doing something with other people but are an excellent way to maintain social relationships remotely, augmenting your local socialization and activities.
Get Good Quality Sleep
One of the easiest things to do to maintain good health as you age is to get at least 8 hours of sleep every night. Quantity alone is insufficient, however – you need good quality sleep, too. That can be a challenge for many due to the effects of aging. Sore muscles and physical discomfort can combine with depression, anxiety, and other mental health symptoms to make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Many people over the age of 50 find they have to get up more frequently to use the bathroom during the night, too, which can disrupt sleep and present additional rounds of difficulty falling back to sleep.
The best way to maximize good quality sleep as you age is to follow good sleep hygiene rules, including:
- Don’t use your bed for reading or resting – only for sleep.
- Keep the temperature slightly cool, and light levels low.
- Maintain a regular routine leading up to sleep to help train your body to make it easier to fall asleep.
- Try to stick to regular hours for sleep and waking – you don’t need to use an alarm, but getting your body into a regular rhythm can help.
- Don’t drink caffeine in the afternoon or evening hours.
- Don’t eat or drink within an hour or two of bedtime.
Manage Your Physical and Mental Health
Last but certainly not least, to stay healthy as you age, you need to manage your physical and mental health proactively. That means regular check-ups with your doctor and screening/monitoring for any developing health problems or diseases. You need to take whatever medications you are prescribed to manage any health conditions that do develop. Therapy and counseling are also important if you experience mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, marital issues, relationship issues, phobias or fears, emotional problems, or similar. Managing your health care is a fundamental step that serves as the foundation for all of the other efforts to stay healthy that we mentioned above.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the best exercises for older adults?
Barring any health concerns, older adults can participate in almost any exercise they wish to help stay healthy with age. Lower-impact and lower-intensity workouts tend to increase in desirability with age, so things like walking, jogging, bicycling, swimming, and aerobics sessions tend to be most common. Stretching and flexibility activities like Pilates, yoga, and resistance band training are also popular. More strenuous activities, like weight training or heavy gym use, might be viable, but it’s best to get a doctor’s input – especially if you are at risk of cardiovascular problems, bone fractures, or muscle problems.
At what age does health decline?
Health declines can occur at any age, and there is no defined “age line” after which an older adult’s health needs to start declining. Some people live to be 90 or older without experiencing serious health problems, whereas others may have health issues from a very young age. Generally speaking, however, health issues tend to accumulate in frequency and intensity the older we get. The risks for developing many diseases and conditions associated with aging tend to increase, often exponentially, with every year that goes by. However, those are just averages, and there’s no reason why most people can’t live extremely healthy and long lives by following the advice in our guide.
How can I look younger naturally?
There are various ways to look younger naturally – many of which dovetail with the principles in our guide above. Decreasing stress, getting sufficient, high-quality sleep, staying hydrated, exercising regularly, maintaining a good diet, and keeping up an active social life are all typical recommendations. Some people swear by a glass of red wine a day, ingesting copious amounts of green tea, or incorporating so-called superfoods into their diet, which may be worth a try, too. The jury is still out on their effectiveness, but so long as you are doing all the basics detailed above, some extra tea, fruits, veggies, or red wine can’t hurt!
Staying healthy as we age is one of the most important aspects of having a high quality of life. Diet, exercise, socialization, keeping your brain active and engaged, managing medical conditions, maintaining mental health, and getting good quality sleep are all keys to remaining healthy at 60, 70, 80, or beyond. The earlier in life you start with healthy habits, the easier it is to keep them, and the better position you will be in to remain healthy as you age. It’s also never too late to start making these minor life changes or reap the rewards they can bring. To your health!
ALSO READ – 7 Tips to Reduce Anxiety and Manage Stress
While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.