Boost longevity with these doctor-recommended lifestyle choices.
To understand how you may fare in old age, it's natural to look at your parents or grandparents and assume your golden years will follow a similar trajectory. But genetics tell just a portion of the story.
"There are many factors that play into aging well," says Nina Blachman, MD, geriatrician at NYU Langone Health. One in particular that can have an outsize impact? Lifestyle choices. In fact, adopting certain habits can decrease your risk of conditions like dementia, cancer, and heart disease by as much as 30 percent to 60 percent, according to Audrey Chun, MD, a geriatrician at Mount Sinai.
Also encouraging: "It's never too late to start focusing on some of these lifestyle adjustments to optimize your health," says Dr. Chun. Even if you're well into old age, you can still make an impact by integrating small shifts where you can.
We tapped three experts to learn the habits that help people age well, and how you can incorporate them into your routine. From how to eat, sleep, move, socialize, and more, these are the behaviors worth building your day-to-day around.
Meet Our Expert
Nina Blachman, MD, is a geriatrician at NYU Langone Health, and associate professor at the Department of Medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine.
Audrey Chun, MD, is vice chair for clinical services at the Brookdale Department of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine and director of Coffey Geriatrics at the Martha Stewart Center for Living at the Mount Sinai Medical Center.
Crystal Scott, MS, RD, LD, has a master's degree in Dietetics, Nutrition, and Exercise Physiology and a bachelor's in Exercise Physiology. She is a registered dietitian with Top Nutrition Coaching.
They make exercise a regular habit
We've all heard it before: Exercise is good for your health. This is especially true as you grow older. In fact, "being physically active is one of the best things that you can do in order to age healthfully," says Dr. Chun. Regular exercise can benefit both your physical and cognitive health, says Dr. Blachman.
Indeed, aerobic exercise, in particular, is good for heart health, says Dr. Chun, and research shows that it’s also associated with a reduced risk of cognitive impairment and dementia. Strength exercises promote bone health and decrease the effects of osteoporosis, while flexibility training can aid your balance and reduce fall risk in old age, according to Dr. Chun. Moreover, exercise in general can play a role in managing chronic conditions like diabetes, while also helping you manage pain, too, says Dr. Blachman.
A mix of aerobic, strength, and flexibility work is ideal, but most important is to find something you enjoy and that you can do consistently, says Dr. Chun. Low-impact activities like yoga or swimming may be better choices for those with osteoarthritis and chronic musculoskeletal pain, notes Dr. Blachman.
Aim for 150 minutes of exercise a week, which equates to 30 minutes five times a week, says Dr. Chun. If that feels overwhelming, start smaller. Even short increases in activity (think: 10 minutes a day) have marked health benefits, she says.
They are socially engaged
When you think longevity-boosting habits, exercise, diet, and sleep are probably top of mind. But having social relationships is critical, too. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly a quarter of adults 65 or older are socially isolated, which increases their risk of health-harming conditions, like dementia, heart disease, and stroke.
The antidote? Social activities, which "are important for cognitive and psychological well-being in older age," says Dr. Blachman. Folks with a robust social network "are better protected from loneliness and isolation," she adds.
You don’t need to win a popularity contest to score these benefits. "It’s not the number of relationships that you have, but the strength of those relationships and how meaningful they are," says Dr. Chun.
To bolster your network, enroll in a course at a local school or participate in a program at a house of worship or senior center, suggests Dr. Blachman. You can also join interest groups, like a photography club or bird-watching meet-up, to find people with similar passions, says Dr. Chun.
They don't smoke
We probably don’t need to tell you that smoking is bad for longevity. According to the American Lung Association, smoking is the top global cause of preventable disease and death, killing nearly half a million Americans every year. People who smoke are more likely to get heart disease or have a heart attack than folks who don’t. And among people aged 60 or older, smokers die an average of six years sooner than non-smokers. Smoking can cause cancer, blindness, diabetes, and a host of other issues, reports the American Lung Association.
The good news: Quitting smoking will benefit your health, even if you have smoked for years or are a heavy smoker, per the CDC. If you don’t currently smoke, don’t start. And if you do, take steps to curb your habit (consider these tips for combating cravings from the Mayo Clinic).
They eat a balanced, nutrition-rich diet
What you eat—and don’t eat—can have a huge impact on how well you age. Dr. Chun typically recommends the MIND diet (essentially, a low-sodium Mediterranean diet) which, according to research, has been linked with lower rates of Alzheimer’s disease. "It’s basically lots of fruits and vegetables, mostly plant-based, lots of nuts, berries, and green leafy vegetables," she explains.
Crystal Scott, MS, RD, LD, a registered dietitian with Top Nutrition Coaching, recommends fueling with balanced, nutrient-dense meals that provide vitamins, minerals, proteins, healthy fats, and carbohydrates. Additionally, incorporating nutrients like antioxidants, she says, can "help combat oxidative stress, which contributes to cell damage and aging."
When planning meals, include colorful fruits and veggies, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats, like nuts, seeds, and avocados, says Scott. Curb your intake of processed foods and sugary snacks, as they can contribute to inflammation and other health issues, she says.
They strive for good sleep
Sleep is essential to your overall health and functioning, and regularly getting enough slumber is a key part of aging well. As you age, the amount you sleep naturally decreases overall, as does the amount of time you spend in the deepest sleep stages, says Dr. Chun.
Older folks should aim to go to bed at the same time each night and avoid napping during the daytime, says Dr. Blachman. They should strive for at least seven hours of sleep a night, she says, and exercise during the day to promote good sleep at night. That said, individual sleep needs can vary, says Dr. Chun, who advises against obsessing over a specific number, as that can cause anxiety around sleep that makes it harder to actually drift off.
They minimize alcohol consumption
Many folks lean on alcohol to relieve stress, but sipping too much can harm your long-term health. According to the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, misusing alcohol or consuming beyond the recommended amount elevates your risk of liver disease, cardiovascular disease, injuries, and alcohol use disorders. The guidelines recommend not imbibing at all, or limiting intake to two drinks or less in a day for men, and one drink or less in a day for women.
Keep in mind, though: "More and more data suggests even moderate drinking may not be associated with successful aging, and in fact, might be detrimental," says Dr. Chun. Indeed, the CDC reports that "emerging evidence suggests that even drinking within the recommended limits may increase the overall risk of death from various causes, such as from several types of cancer and some forms of cardiovascular disease." As a 2016 study published in The Lancet puts it: "the safest level of drinking is none."
If booze is a regular part of your routine, consider scaling back with these tips from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
They cultivate intergenerational friendships
Social connections of any kind can aid in healthy aging, but intentionally making friends with people older and younger than you can deliver added benefits. Maintaining "intergenerational relationships can be especially meaningful and powerful," says Dr. Chun. "No one knows exactly why, but it's probably because they introduce you to a different way of thinking." And that can be a boon for your cognitive health by keeping your brain active and challenged.
So when you’re in social situations, don’t just mingle with your peers, make an effort to connect with folks of different ages. Or volunteer with causes or join groups that will connect you with people across generations.
They don't skimp on protein
Protein (one of three macronutrients, along with carbs and fats) is essential for maintaining muscle mass, bone density, and immune function, says Scott. "As we age, muscle loss (sarcopenia) becomes more common, so adequate protein intake is crucial to preserve muscle mass and function," she says.
Make sure you’re getting enough in your diet by incorporating protein at each meal. Options include lean meats, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and plant-based protein sources like tofu and quinoa, says Scott. Individual protein needs vary, but as a rule of thumb, aim for between 1.6 to 2.4 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. For someone weighing 150 pounds, that would equate to 109 to 163 grams of protein per day.
They continue to challenge themselves
Another common habit of successful agers is that they "challenge themselves in different ways," says Dr. Chun. This could be by learning a new skill, socializing with people who are different than they are, or picking up a novel hobby. By keeping the brain active and challenged, you support cognitive health and preserve brain function, explain Dr. Chun.
If you find yourself locked into the same old routine, find ways to inject novelty. Dr. Blachman suggests activities like learning a new language, playing an instrument, or regularly doing crossword puzzles.
They consume omega-3 fatty acids
Eating regular sources of omega-3 fatty acids—think fatty fishes (like salmon and mackerel) and certain seeds and nuts—can help tamp down inflammation and support brain health, according to Scott. She points to the American Heart Association’s recommendation of consuming at least two servings of fatty fish per week. Not a fan of fish? Reach for flaxseeds, chia seeds, or walnuts.
Read the original article on Martha Stewart.