How to promote healthy aging is an “all of the above” approach to optimizing every aspect of a healthy lifestyle as we age. There is no single “magic bullet.”
We will cover tips for the promotion of healthy aging, what to expect as we age, and warning signs to be alert for.
Healthy aging comes from an overall healthy lifestyle
Promoting healthy aging means promoting physical health, brain and mental health, social health, and spiritual health. These are all the things that a healthy lifestyle comprises. And they are all interrelated.
Of course, we are all very different individuals and all of us have different strengths and weaknesses in all these areas. So we need to maximize where we are strong and minimize where we are weak.
We need to remember that most of the issues associated with aging, things like failing memory and problems with heart health, mobility, and immune functions can be traced back to underlying health problems.
As one in his 70s, I have taken the time to dig into all of this. And I have summarized below my own “all of the above” approach to healthy aging below. It falls into 13 main areas.
13 tips on how to promote healthy aging
Even if you feel that you have been neglectful when it comes to taking care of your health, it’s never too late to take charge of it and make a change. And, when you take an “all of the above” approach, you will find that the cumulative effect of small changes in every area of your life can make a big difference
1: Get and stay physically active
Maintaining regular physical activity can help counteract the effects of aging. Regular exercise can help improve cognition and improve mood by reducing feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Exercise also helps manage chronic conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoporosis, and cancer
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends medium-intensity aerobics (like swimming and walking) for 150 minutes per week. You can break it down into, say, 30 minutes per day, 5-days per week.
Exercise can take the simplest of forms, like simply going for a walk. And gardening is a great way to exercise. It keeps you moving around and exercises the entire body, what with all the bending and stooping.
The National Institute on Aging also has some recommendations.
And you might like to check out our companion post on Yoga and Healthy Aging.
2: Take steps to prevent falls
The prevention of falls is related to physical exercise but it is a subject all its own when it comes to promoting healthy aging. Older people are at a much higher risk of falling than the rest of the population. And for an older person, any fall can have serious consequences.
Fall prevention includes exercises to develop balance, such as Tai Chi. And it also involves the physical environment and making sure that your home is fit for aging in place.
This means taking steps to prevent falls by such measures as the installation of grab bars. Here is an aging in place checklist.
3: Get and stay socially engaged
Feelings of isolation and loneliness are bad for one’s health. So, remain socially active with family and friends and also within your community. It’s vital for maintaining a positive attitude to life. And this is just as vital for your health.
Stay in touch with your neighbors. Help them out, if they need it, especially if they are shut-ins.If they can’t drive, offer to drive them where they need to go.
Entertain and dine out. Invite people to your home and cook for them. Go out for meals with friends. Go to the movies with them..
The Gerontological Society of America found that older people with high levels of social interaction generally enjoyed more positive moods and experienced fewer negative feelings than people who were not socially active.
If you currently lack much of a social life, make a conscious effort to develop one. This is especially important if you have lost a life partner. Engage with church groups, or groups that have interests similar to yours.
Go to a gym regularly. Gyms are great places to combine exercise and fellowship.
And, especially, volunteer in areas where you can bring your life-developed skills to bear. In this way you can benefit from the social interactions and do good at the same time. Volunteering can give one a sense of purpose
You can make new friends in all these areas. And friendship has its own benefits. Check out this great piece: The Healing Power of Friendship Grows with Age.
4: Stick to a well-balanced, healthy diet
It may be that you need to lose some weight. In this case you might want to try the weight loss programs we recommend on this site. These are the keto diet, paleo diet, the Leptitox supplement, or the Cinderella weight-loss program for women.
However, for a long-term, sustainable diet we highly recommend the Mediterranean diet. This diet is associated with people who live long lives. So it is no surprise that it features in our search of how to promote healthy aging.
The Mediterranean diet places emphasis on nuts, seeds, fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and fish. It is low in full-fat dairy products and red meat. And, needless to say, you should avoid processed foods.
Beneficial natural dietary supplements include:
- Drinking green tea: this has health benefits that include prevention of heart disease and cancer; and resistance to viruses and stress.
- Taking ginger for joint health.
- Using spices like cinnamon, oregano, and turmeric to keep blood sugar at healthy levels
- Eating dried fruit to help with blood pressure
5: Make sure you stay properly hydrated
Hydration is an important subset of nutrition. And it deserves special mention here. We discuss its importance at this post on hydration.
Good hydration means drinking at least 8 glasses of water per day. And I personally like to use one of these 64 oz motivational water jugs bottles to stay on track with hydration. Keep it nearby.
6: Limit the consumption of alcohol
The US Office of Disease Prevention dietary guidelines for 2015-2020 recommend that men limit their alcohol consumption to two glasses per day and for women, one glass per day.
But a more recent government report shows that mortality risks for both men and women increase if alcohol consumption is more than one glass per day.
7: Quit smoking
This advice has been so drummed into us over the years, that it really goes without saying. Nonetheless, for completeness, and quite aside from lowering the obvious risk of lung cancer, the benefits of quitting smoking include:
- lower cholesterol
- lower risk of diabetes
- lower blood pressure
- lower heart rate
- stronger bones, and muscles
- stronger immune system
8: Get regular physical check ups
It may well be that you feel in great shape and have hardly ever had a day’s sickness in your life. Nonetheless, as we age, we are more and more prone to suffer from age-related ailments. And the whole point of routine doctor visits and regular check ups is to head problems off before they start and then get serious.
So schedule check ups with your primary physician, eye doctor, dentist and other specialist healthcare provider. It might even be a good idea to consult a specialist in geriatrics.
9: Take medications as prescribed
At the lowest level, it could be that we suffer from absent mindedness, forget to take our meds, and need a simple medication reminder. You can find some recommendations here.
But it’s more than this. In my humble opinion, medications may well be necessary but things can change. It’s a good idea to have a conversation with your doctor and ask if they really are necessary. Things can change. And it’s always good not to take meds if you don’t need to.
And don’t forget that your pharmacist may well be a better source of information on the drugs you are taking, their possible adverse effects, and their negative interactions with other drugs.
10: Get proper sleep
According to the National Sleep Foundation, people over the age of 65 should get between seven and eight hours of sleep every night. And this will include those inevitable trips to the bathroom.
Going to bed and waking up at the same time everyday is also beneficial. And keep your bedroom cool, quiet, and dark to induce restful sleep.
If your sleep is constantly disturbed or if you are not getting adequate sleep, talk to your doctor. But by all means avoid having to take medications, if you can.
And certainly take afternoon naps, if you feel you need to. It seems that people over 60 find that an afternoon nap clears the mind and helps the thinking process. I personally find this to be the case.
11: Brush and floss your teeth
We have been hearing the admonition “brush and floss” all our lives. But dental health is not just about our teeth and gums. Good oral hygiene goes hand in hand with our overall health.
According to the American Academy of Periodontology, oral health is associated with the management of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic inflammatory conditions.
12: Don’t ignore changes in sexual function
Changes in sexual function and libido can be upsetting for both you and your partner. And they can affect your positive attitude on life. So talk to your doctor about this. He or she will have recommendations.
The National Institute on Aging has great information on sexuality in later life.
13: Promoting brain, mental, and spiritual health
Everything is connected, and some of the repetition you will find below is for emphasis. This is because so much of what we do physically affects the mind.
Make your mental and spiritual health top priority
Your mental health has an impact on every area of your life. And there are many ways to consciously improve your mental health. This can include prayer and gratitude, practicing meditation and other relaxation techniques
All of this is key to avoiding stress, which is associated with decreases in cognitive function. Above all avoid taking medications for stress if you possibly can.
Avoiding medications that can slow or fog the brain
Beware of the medications you might be taking, as some commonly prescribed drugs can affect the brain. You will need to discuss all this with your doctor. But these drugs include:
- Benzodiazepines with brand names like Valium and Ativan.
- Non-Benzodiazepines with brand names like Ambien and Lunesta
- Anticholinergics, including brand names like Benadryl
- Antipsychotics, including brand names like Seroquel
Aside from slowing or fogging the brain, many of these drugs can adversely affect balance, and this can lead to catastrophic falls. Go here for more on this. Ask your doctor about alternative medications.
Get plenty of sound sleep
Proper sleep is essential for good brain function. So, If you suffer from insomnia, find ways to get sleep that do not involve medication, as just discussed.
Socialization is good for the brain
Social interactions stimulate brain function. And it is known that boredom and loneliness are bad for brain health and emotional health.
Physical activity and exercise
Regular physical activity and exercise are good for brain health and mood. We have already mentioned that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has excellent guidance on the amount and type of exercise that is appropriate for older people. So does the National Institute on Aging.
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet, aside from improving cardiovascular health in older people, is also associated with improved cognition in the elderly.
Brain training computer games
Consider using BrainHQ and Lumosity. These have been found to cause some improvements in cognitive function, although somewhat limited to the tasks actually performed in the game.
Stay mentally active and intellectually curious
Number games, Sudoku, and crossword puzzles are great ways to keep the mind and memory sharp. And then there are board games, card games, and just staying abreast of current events.
And one tip I learned is to go through old family photographs with young family members. It gives the youngsters more of a family connection and context and at the same time exercises your memory.
Try blogging for a rewarding and intellectually challenging activity
Now I personally stay mentally active by maintaining my blogs here and here. I enjoy and get satisfaction out of passing along the fruits of my own life experiences for the benefit of others.
I am a retired real estate broker and general contractor. I also have a law degree and was admitted to practice law in New York. And it may well be that you too have gained knowledge and wisdom from your own life experience that you can now use to help other people.
Get peace of mind with forward planning
We all know we are not going to be around forever. So we need to accept that with grace and at the same time prepare for it. We owe it to ourselves for peace of mind and to our family and heirs, to make their lives easier when it comes to dealing with our eventual departure from the world.
Here is a really helpful tool you can use to prepare for this: Before I Go.
What to expect as we age
With age comes inevitable bodily change. And they affect each of us differently. So we need to be aware of these potential changes and use the resources available to us to head them off or at least manage them.
Changes to the heart
Arteriosclerosis: As we age the large arteries become stiffer. This is known as arteriosclerosis and contributes to high blood pressure.
Atherosclerosis: The walls of the arteries gather fatty deposits called plaque. This is known as atherosclerosis and reduces blood flow to the heart. In turn, this can lead to heart attacks
Changes to the bones: As we age our bones lose mass and become brittle and thinner. This can lead to osteoporosis. Symptoms of this include a stooped posture and broken bones.
Changes to the brain
It is perfectly natural for us to experience “senior moments” or occasional forgetfulness as we age. And our mental processes tend to slow down. But if memory land confusion goes beyond this we need to get ourselves checked out for the onset of dementia.
Changes to the digestive system
As we age the function of the digestive tract slows. And this can lead to constipation. The Mayo Clinic has recommendations for this. But you will find that much of what they recommend is already covered in our section on diet above.
Change to sexual function
For women, this comes in the shape of menopause leading to a reduced sex drive. And for men, this can come in the form of erectile dysfunction. These are issues that can be treated or accommodated. Talk to your healthcare provider if they affect you.
Changes to the skin
As we age our skin loses elasticity and may start to sag and wrinkle. To combat this, use moisturizer and sunscreen as recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology. And wear wide-brimmed hats.
Changes to teeth and gums
With age the enamel that protects our teeth from decay wears down, leaving our teeth more susceptible to cavities. We also tend to have gum disease. So we need to have regular dentist visits and get treatment and follow-up recommendations.
The older among us can remember that dentist visits were a real ordeal and that has led to a natural resistance to go to the dentist. So we need to remind ourselves that these days, dentistry is virtually pain-free.
Warning signs to be alert for
Here are some health warning signs to be alert for. These are not normal and, if you experience any of them, get medical attention promptly.
- Constant feelings of depression and exhaustion
- Sudden dizziness or weakness
- Pressure in the area of your chest
- Shortness of breath
- Sudden blurred or double vision
- Sudden vision loss
- Loss of coordination
- Loss of balance
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty speaking
- Wounds that won’t heal
- Rapid weight loss
- Excessive sweating
- Periods of prolonged confusion
These are all signs of potentially debilitating or life-threatening conditions. Don’t ignore them. Get prompt medical attention. You don’t want to let all your efforts at promoting healthy aging go to waste.
Conclusion on how to promote healthy aging
I hope all this has been helpful. And I just want to repeat that the right approach to it all is incremental and cumulative.
Treat this content as an outline for an aging gracefully game plan. You can execute on your plan bit by bit. There is no need to get overwhelmed by it all. And if you let that happen, you will never get started.
- Related post: Healthy Aging Tips for Seniors