814,000—that’s the number of people in the United States celebrating a birthday on any given day1. As life expectancy rates continue to climb, people are celebrating more birthdays today than ever before. In fact, data shows that by 2050, there could be as many as one million individuals in the US turning age 100 or older2. Now that’s reason to celebrate!
So, what’s the secret to this longevity? It’s all about aging gracefully—keeping your physical, mental, and social well being top of mind. While genetics are certainly a factor in how you approach advanced age, lifestyle factors like exercise, diet, and even your overall attitude can be just as important. Even small lifestyle changes can have a big impact and go a long way in making the second half of your life some of the happiest, healthiest, and most rewarding decades.
Like a fine wine, you, too, can get better with age. Consider these 10 healthy habits to help you age with grace.
Stay Physically Active
Regular exercise has been shown to deliver huge health benefits and can even offset many effects of aging. In fact, research shows that regular exercise can improve your balance, help with mobility, improve your mood by reducing feelings of anxiety and depression, and contribute to improved cognitive functioning. Remaining physically fit is also a key part of managing some chronic diseases as you age, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, certain cancers, and osteoporosis.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, you do not have to do this all at once. Consider breaking this down into five 30-minute intervals throughout the week. Whether you go for a walk, swim, dance, or cycle, the key is to get your heart rate up on a regular basis. What’s more, research suggests that such aerobic exercise can play a role in delaying or improving the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
In addition to aerobic exercise, the CDC recommends twice-weekly muscle-strengthening activities. These are often performed by using weights or resistance bands, but you may be able to get started with some everyday household items. Check out the CDC’s full list of approved physical activities here. Regardless of your age or activity level, it is never too late to start working on your physical health. Simply put, get moving!
Keep Socially Connected
We all love to spend time with our family, friends, and loved ones, but did you know that doing so can actually help you live longer? A recent study found that as we age, those of us with stronger social ties were shown to have a 50% higher chance of living longer than those with poor or insufficient relationships3. They say that happiness and laughter are the best medicine at any age, so you’ll want to emphasize connecting regularly with family and friends. Whether it’s taking a walk through the park with a neighbor, catching up over lunch with an old friend or acquaintance, shopping with your children, or even hosting a playdate with your grandkids, it’s all about spending time with the people you enjoy and who make you feel happy and upbeat.
If you feel your social life is lacking, there are plenty of ways to jumpstart it. Look for opportunities to reconnect with old friends or make new ones. Get involved in church groups, volunteer activities and charities, exercise classes, alumni groups, or any other group in your community that aligns with an interest of yours. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people with similar interests in your area is a great way to keep connected and grow your social network as you age. And even during these times of quarantine and social distancing where face-to-face interactions seem limited, there are still plenty of ways to keep connected.
Be Mindful of Your Diet
They say, “you are what you eat.” And when it comes to aging gracefully, it’s no surprise that healthy foods are the way to go. As our bodies change with age, so too may our relationship to certain foods. When you factor in a decreased metabolism, changes in your taste and smell, and slower digestion, your appetite will almost certainly be prone to some changes, including the foods you can eat and how your body processes them. With this in mind, healthy eating is more important than ever to maintain your energy and health.
To fuel your body with the proper nutrition, opt for whole foods that are high in fiber and low in saturated fat. Fiber has several benefits including reduced constipation, weight loss, lower blood cholesterol levels, and a reduced risk for diabetes, pre-diabetes, heart disease, and colon cancer. Steer clear of processed foods, refined sugars, and unhealthy fats, and replace them with lean protein, fruit, and vegetables. Keep in mind that eating healthy is a lifestyle change, so you don’t have to alter your diet all at once. Try making one small change at a time and consider working with a dietician at your grocery store or community center to create a nutrient-rich diet that works best for you.
Schedule Regular Checkups
Taking charge of your health is more than just going to the doctor when you don’t feel well. The best care is preventative care, including health screenings for ailments like high cholesterol, certain cancers, heart problems, and more. Better yet, several of these are covered by Medicare.
Scheduling regular and ongoing checkup appointments with your primary doctor, dentist, eye doctor, and even specialist healthcare provides opportunities to catch any potential problems early and treat them before they become much larger ones. At your next visit, be sure to ask your doctor about how often you should be making visits for checkups and screenings as you age. Often, this depends on factors such as your age, lifestyle, family history, and existing medical conditions. You’ll also want to make sure you keep up to date on your vaccinations, including those that prevent influenza, pneumonia, and even lower the risk of significant illness from COVID-19.
Limit Alcohol Consumption
Whether you have a glass of wine at dinner or a beer as you grill in the yard, we all like to sip on a drink from time to time. However, as we age, it’s important that this is done in moderation. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture advise in their “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025” that men limit their alcohol intake to 2 drinks or less per day, and women limit their intake to 1 drink or less per day4. Adhering to these limits can help in avoiding health risks, as alcohol consumption has been shown to cause premature aging and increased risk of disease. Keep this in mind and think twice before you reach to refill your glass.
We’ve all got our share of bad habits—and if you’re looking for one to kick, look no further than smoking. If you haven’t already done so, speak to your doctor and take the recommended steps to quit. The health benefits of quitting smoking are numerous, including lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and heart rate; a reduced risk of cancer, diabetes, and lung damage; and stronger bones, muscles, and overall immune system. How’s that for an incentive?
In addition to the health risks associated with smoking, there are also cosmetic consequences, as smoking has been shown to damage skin and enhance the look of wrinkles and dark spots. While quitting smoking is not easy, there are plenty of resources available to help you quit. And if you’re not a smoker, you’ll also want to avoid second-hand smoke, which has also been linked to detrimental effects.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Looking for the fountain of youth? Look no further than your bedroom. From helping you look refreshed and your skin look more youthful, to improving your cognitive function and outlook, adequate sleep boasts an array of benefits. While many adults experience sleep problems such as insomnia, daytime sleepiness, and frequent waking during the night, prioritizing your sleep could be the key to better physical and mental health. In fact, getting enough sleep has proven helpful in lowering the risk of stroke and heart disease, reducing stress and depression, lowering inflammation, and improving focus and concentration skills. But how exactly can you get a good night’s sleep?
Adults over the age of 65 are recommended to get between seven and eight hours of sleep each night, according to The National Sleep Foundation5. Whether you’re an early riser or a night-owl, make sure you’re clocking in enough hours of rest. Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool, and catch some Z’s!
Revisit or Explore New Hobbies
One of the best parts of retirement is having more time for the things you really care about. Whether it’s gardening, golfing, painting, hiking, sampling local eateries, or even just spoiling the grandkids—whatever you like to do, do more of it! Evidence suggests that people who engage in hobbies and social activities are happier, experience less depression, and live longer lives.
Don’t be afraid to pick up an old hobby or even take on a new subject. Consider learning a new skill like a foreign language, computer skills, or a musical instrument. There are plenty of inexpensive classes offered both online and in person at your local community centers. And there is nothing quite as refreshing as finding—and spending more time on—the things that bring you the most joy.
Challenge Your Mind
In addition to keeping your body active, keeping your brain active is a great way to stay mentally sharp as you age. Activities like crossword puzzles, sudoku, chess, and reading are all great ways to keep your brain active and prevent cognitive decline. Keeping your memory sharp can be as easy as trying new variations or increasing your skill level at an activity you like. For example, if you like to cook, try your hand at a completely different cuisine or implement a new kitchen tool into your repertoire. Like to golf? Set yourself a goal to limit your handicap.
Whatever you do on a daily basis, try to switch it up from time to time. Even changing the simplest of habits like taking a different route to the pharmacy or grocery store can help to create new pathways in the brain.
Maintain a Positive Outlook on Aging
Regardless of your thoughts on aging, the process is inevitable, so why not embrace it? Your perspective and mindset can play a huge role in your physical and mental resiliency as you age. In fact, a study found that seniors who think of age as a means to wisdom and overall satisfaction are more than 40% more likely to recover from a disability than their counterparts who associate aging with helplessness6. Positivity is paramount to the aging process, and there is no better medicine than maintaining a good sense of humor and lightheartedness. After all, they call these the golden years for a reason!
While aging does require you to adapt to changes, healthy aging also means doing more of what you love, staying physically and socially active, and staying connected with friends, family, and loved ones. By following these tips, you’ll not only cope with the changes that come with growing older, but learn to embrace them and live your life to the fullest.
It is only natural to worry about some of the challenges aging may present in your advanced years – and if your financial situation is one of them, a reverse mortgage could help. Available to homeowners age 62 and older, a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) – also known as a reverse mortgage – lets you access a portion of the equity in your home to use as another source of funds for retirement. And with monthly mortgage payments optional7 on a reverse mortgage, you can keep more cash on hand to use as you see fit.
- Real estate taxes, homeowners insurance, and property maintenance required.