Written by Bethany Stoutamire (Former SDSU Extension Aging in Place Coordinator AmeriCorps VISTA Member) under the direction and review of Leacey E. Brown.
Now that we have the facts on aging, it’s time to discuss strategies shown to enhance how we age. We must note that the relationship between aging and disease is complex. We will likely develop a chronic disease or disability, even if we follow all the tips below. At the end of the day, our time on this earth is limited. What these tips do for us is reduce our risk of spending an extended period of time with chronic disease or disability.
While we tend to think that loss of strength and stamina are a normal part of aging, most weakness we associate with aging is the result of inactivity. Physical activities such as walking or gardening can help prevent heart disease and high blood pressure. Strength building exercises can help reduce the risk of falling and better enable us to live independently. The good news is that it’s never too late to start being physically active. One study showed that even individuals who began exercising in their sixties and seventies see improved heart function. Want a little inspiration? Check out this video.
While exercise is important, so is the fuel we put in our body. For instance, increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables or lowering the amount of saturated fat consumed lowers the risk of death from coronary heart disease (the leading cause of death over the age of 65). It’s also important to get the proper amount of vitamins from your diet. For instance, for older adults, particularly women, low levels of vitamin E are often correlated with a decline in physical capacity.
Exercise Your Brain.
Activities such as reading, playing board games, and musical instruments are not only enjoyable, they also come with health benefits. One study found that engaging in these activities lowered the risk for dementia. The exact reasons for these benefits are unknown, but fMRI studies show that reading can temporarily heighten neural activity in the left temporal cortex (the region of the brain associated with language). Thus, research implies that regular reading and a variety of other activities may assist in reducing our risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Sleep is far more than just “beauty rest,” it is a critical component of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and remains important regardless of our age. Lack of sleep, on a regular basis, can have harmful health consequences. Sleep deprivation triggers the release of the hormone cortisol, which is related to stress and increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Research has found that sleeping 5 hours or less a night increases the risk of mortality from all causes by about 15%. To get better sleep, try not to drink caffeine after lunch. In addition, sleep in a dark, cool place, and be sure to turn off any electronic devices before bed. It’s important not to view sleep as a waste of time, but as an investment in our long-term health. Watch this Ted Talk for more information about the importance of sleep.
Nurture Connections to Others.
One study found that older adults who enjoyed participating in activities such as attending local events or belonged to social groups lived longer than those who didn’t. Multiple studies have also found that volunteers live longer than people who don’t volunteer. Volunteering is associated with higher levels of well-being and lower levels of depression and disability. iGrow has more information about the benefits of volunteering.
Aging is a normal part of living. Evidence suggested that we are not taught about aging in primary or secondary school. As a result, most of us learned about aging from skewed media portrayals that are often negative and out-of-date. We need a more complete understanding of aging so we know what steps we can take to enhance how we age. Most importantly, it is never too late to adopt healthy and happy lifestyle changes. The next article in the series will look at how we can move forward together and what we can do to age gracefully.
Cultivating a Healthy Life Series:
- Cultivating a Healthy Life
- 5 Myths About Aging
- We Are What We Think
- The Science of Aging
- Why Aging Myths Matter
- Moving Forward Together
References & Additional Readings:
- Why Do We Sleep?
- Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging
- Older Adults: Surgeon General Report
- A Novel Look at How Stories May Change the Brain
- Playing for Time: Can Music Stave Off Dementia?
- The Health Benefits of Volunteering for Older Americans
- Sleep and Disease Risk