There is more of a focus on healthy aging than ever! Life expectancy has increased, and odds are you will live past 80.
The population living to 100 and older is predicted to grow to nearly 3.7 million by 2050. This is up from just 95,000 in 1990!
How can you improve the quality of those later years? There are many things you can do today to support healthy aging.
It’s never too late to change, and small changes can reap big benefits. Read on to learn more about how you can focus on healthy aging!
1. Healthy Eating
It’s likely no surprise that eating a healthy diet is part of healthy aging. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed promising results related to the Mediterranean Diet.
Their findings demonstrated a lowered risk of dementia with adherence to the Mediterranean Diet.
This is an exciting study! At this time the Mediterranean Diet is the most scientific, evidence based diet for healthy aging. What’s good for the heart, also appears to be good for the brain!
The Mediterranean diet is rich in nutrients that when eaten together may protect the brain. It is considered an anti-inflammatory diet, meaning it is high in antioxidants like Omega 3 Fatty Acids.
Decreased inflammation in the brain appears to preserve brain structure, along with function of nerves in the brain.
How to follow the Mediterranean Diet
A focus on healthy aging should include aspects of the Mediterranean Diet. Changing your diet can be challenging. My best advice is to start small, and build on this change.
Below are some tips to get you started:
- Make half your plate fruits and/or vegetables
- Aim to eat fish 2 times/week; salmon, tuna, trout, and mackerel are good sources of Omega 3 Fatty Acids
- Use olive oil for cooking
- Include healthy fats such as avocados, nuts and seeds
- Choose whole grain breads, cereal, and pastas.
2. Get moving to focus on healthy aging
Sitting is the new smoking! Research has linked sitting to a number of chronic health conditions. These include Cancer, Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, and Heart Disease.
Exercise used to be life! Now we have to make more of an effort to move more and sit less.
The current recommendation for adults is to get 150 minutes of Moderate activity per week; approximately 30 minutes of activity 5 days per week. Many studies support this guideline.
Types of Exercise
Endurance or Aerobic – walking, running, cycling, swimming, sports, etc.
Muscle Strengthening – weight or resistance training
Flexibility – stretching, yoga, barre, Pilates
How does exercise support healthy aging?
Research on endurance/aerobic exercise is clear. It benefits both brain health and immune function. The data on weight training is also quite compelling.
Muscle produces factors that communicate with the brain. This stimulates new neuron growth, and prevents neuron damage. These play a major role in memory and learning.
Staying motivated with exercise
Consistency is key when exercising to focus on healthy aging.
Below are some tips to stay on track with activity:
- Find an activity you enjoy
- Gain support from an exercise partner or group
- Vary type of exercise to keep it interesting and exciting
- Focus on both the physical and mental benefits of regular exercise
3. Improve your sleep to focus on healthy aging
Everything degrades as we age, including our quality of sleep. Sleep is important in every aspect of life. In addition, a lot of our body’s repair processes happen when we sleep. Focus on Sleep Hygiene to improve the quality of your sleep.
Sleep Hygiene Tips
- Go to bed and get up at a consistent time
- Establish a nightly sleep routine
- Create a healthy sleep environment
- Limit caffeine
- Exercise regularly
4. Reduce Stress
Individuals who experience chronic stress age rapidly. The stress response requires the body to use all of its’ resources to fight a temporary threat.
When stress is ongoing the aging process is accelerated. A body dealing with ongoing stressors is also more susceptible to illnesses associated with advanced age.
Stress Management Techniques
Below is a list of potential avenues to manage stress. It’s important to try different strategies and find something that works for you.
- Engage in regular exercise.
- Practice meditation and deep breathing exercises.
- Find a support system. This can include a mental health therapist or support group.
- Get a pet.
- Set boundaries and reduce stressors in your life.
5. Limit alcohol and other stimulants
Consuming alcohol and other stimulants can age you faster. They have more of an impact on your physical and mental health than when you were younger.
You dehydrate easier, your organs weaken quicker, your brain cells shrink, and you get sick more easily. In addition, alcohol and other stimulants make common medical conditions worse.
These substances can also interact with medications, and can increase your risk of falls. Check out our previous blog post on Alcohol Alternatives to reduce alcohol use.
Minimizing alcohol and stimulants is an great way to focus on healthy aging!
6. Stay mentally active to focus on healthy aging
Cognitive health is the ability to clearly think, learn, and remember. Engaging in intellectually stimulating activities may benefit the aging brain. Learning a new skill and hobbies may also improve memory and thinking ability.
Activities that may improve brain health
- Crossword puzzles
- Online games
- Play cards
- Build a model or start a knitting project
- Learn some new dance moves
7. Keep a positive mindset to focus on health aging
As a society, we tend to have a fatalistic attitude towards aging. However, things are changing through the positive aging movement.
In a nutshell, positive aging is viewing aging as a normal, healthy part of life. Keeping a positive mindset around aging may make it easier to do the things necessary to age well.
What can you do to foster a positive mindset?
- Surround yourself with optimistic people who lift you up.
- Be mindful of your negativity and re-frame these thoughts.
- Practice gratitude.
- Focus on the present
- Accept what you cannot change and ask for help when needed
Kathryn is a Registered Dietitian and a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach. She is also Certified through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in Weight Management.