Getting older involves changes in all realms of life, from the physical to the mental to the social, emotional, sexual, and more. Some of these changes you may regard as positive and some negative. The challenge is to maximize the good parts of getting older while taking proactive steps to maintain your health and minimize the negative aspects.
Ideally, you’ll have already been practicing healthy habits throughout your life. But even if you haven’t, it’s never too late to start taking proactive steps to maintain and even improve your health. Small lifestyle changes can have a big impact, and adopting even a few of the habits listed here will start you on the right track:
1. Stay Physically Active for a Healthy Body and Mind
Keeping physically active can help offset many of the effects of aging. According to Medline Plus, exercising regularly can improve your balance, help keep you mobile, improve your mood by reducing feelings of anxiety and depression, and contribute to better cognitive functioning. It’s also an important part of managing some chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, breast and colon cancer, and osteoporosis.
Any exercise at all is better than none, says the CDC, which recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (like swimming or taking a brisk walk) each week; you can further break this down into 30 active minutes a day for five days a week. It also recommends twice-weekly muscle-strengthening activities. You can find a list of CDC-approved physical activities here.
2. Stay Socially Active With Friends and Family and Within Your Community
Making the effort to interact with family and friends can have numerous benefits for your health. One article, published in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences in January 2019, found that participants (all over 65) who reported higher levels of social activity were more likely to experience more positive moods, fewer negative feelings, and higher levels of physical activity.
If you don’t currently have an active social life, look for opportunities to reconnect with old friends or make new ones. Seek out like-minded others in church groups, volunteer activities, gyms, alumni groups, or any other group that corresponds to an interest of yours.
3. Follow a Healthy, Well-Balanced Diet
To get the nutrition your body needs and lower your risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease, make whole foods that are high in fiber and low in saturated fat the foundation of your diet. Following an eating plan like the Mediterranean diet can help you to achieve that goal. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes olive oil, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fish. It’s low in red meat, full-fat dairy products, and processed foods.
4. Don’t Neglect Yourself: Schedule Checkups and Stick to Them
Regular checkups with your doctor, dentist, eye doctor, and specialist healthcare providers are opportunities to catch problems early and treat them before they become bigger problems.
If you have one or more chronic medical conditions, take multiple medications, are experiencing memory or mobility issues, or have been recently hospitalized, you may want to schedule an appointment with a geriatrician, notes the American Association of Retired Persons. Geriatricians specialize in the care and treatment of older people. Following an initial consultation, they can refer you to other specialists, coordinate care and treatments for health issues, and help you create a care plan tailored to your needs.
5. Take All Medication as Directed by Your Doctor
It may seem like a no-brainer, but it bears repeating that you should always take any medication prescribed to you exactly as directed by your doctor (or doctors). However, it’s also worth doing a periodic medication review with your primary care doctor to discuss whether all of your prescriptions are still necessary. The more drugs you take, the harder it can be to remember when and how to take them all, and the higher your risk for adverse (negative) drug reactions as well as drug-drug interactions.
While you should almost never stop taking a drug without consulting your doctor first, it can pay to be proactive about reviewing the necessity of all the drugs you’ve been prescribed. And keep in mind that your pharmacist is another resource for information on drugs, drug side effects, and drug interactions.
6. Limit Your Alcohol Consumption
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines advise that alcohol consumption be limited to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. However, a more recent report, published by the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, advises that men limit their alcohol consumption to one drink per day, too.
The more recent advice is based on studies that show that the mortality risk associated with drinking alcohol is increased at levels above one drink per day on average for both men and women.
7. Quit Smoking to Lower Your Risk of Cancer and Heart Disease
If you’re a current smoker, you’ll want to quit as a matter of urgency: According to SmokeFree.gov, the health benefits of quitting smoking include lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and heart rate; a lower risk of cancer, diabetes, and lung damage; and stronger bones, muscles, and immune system.
8. Get the Sleep That Your Body Needs
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults over 65 get between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. As you age, you may notice that your sleep schedule shifts so that you are sleepier in the early evening and ready to wake earlier in the morning; this is not unusual, nor does it pose an issue so long as you continue to meet the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night. If you are experiencing chronic or acute insomnia, speak with your doctor, who can help you determine what’s keeping you awake and advise you on possible solutions.
9. Practice Good Dental Hygiene Every Day
To protect your teeth and gums, the ADA advises brushing your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush, flossing daily, and regularly cleaning any dentures you may wear. Not only will your teeth and gums be healthier with this routine, but preventing inflammation in your mouth through good dental hygiene can help you manage other chronic inflammatory conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, according to the American Academy of Periodontology.
If you are experiencing changes in your libido or sexual function that are having a negative impact on your sex life, talk to your doctor about it. The National Institute on Aging notes that help is available in the form of physical aids or medication, as well as in communication with your partner and exploring new avenues to physical and emotional intimacy. Your doctor may be able to refer you to a sex therapist, who can help you define what a satisfying sex life would look like for you and how to get there.