An active healthy brain keeps your body young, and vice versa. It’s that simple. And what you do earlier in life matters later in life; the focus on healthier living should come long before signs of physical or cognitive decline. Researchers tracked the health of younger adults in their 20s and 30s, and those who were physically active, when compared with those who weren’t physically active, had stronger cardiovascular health and better cognitive functioning in mid-life, 25 years later. On the flip side, keeping mentally active and engaged will likewise stave off cognitive decline, and even guard against severe diseases like Alzheimer’s.
You’ll live a longer and healthier life if you apply self-care and maintain it. It’s a no-brainer, stay active mentally and physically, eat a healthy diet, sleep well, don't smoke, and limit alcohol intake. Taking care of the mind and body might not be a quick trip to the spa, but it doesn't have to be back-breaking either.
Strong, meaningful relationships and solid social support protect your health and well-being. It translates into better health, less stress, general happiness, higher life satisfaction, as well as a longer life. Good relationships—with family, friends, work colleagues, neighbors, and more—even help you to recover more quickly from illness and trauma. In addition, the quality and commitment of your intimate relationship have an even greater impact on overall wellness and longevity. A healthy positive marriage tends to lower mortality risk by nearly 50 percent.
George Vaillant, best known for his work on the Study of Adult Development at Harvard Medical School, followed men over decades and found that men with loving relationships in their fifties were healthier 30 years later, more proof that a high-quality relationship means living longer. In fact, according to research from Brigham Young University, a superior relationship will protect you just as much as quitting smoking.
For more on the impact of relationships, visit How Relationships Support Healthy Aging.
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Maintaining an active lifestyle is not only important for a healthy body but it also boosts brain function. Blood supply is one of the most important elements for healthy cognition. The brain requires oxygen to function properly, and while the brain weighs less than the rest of the body, it requires some one-fifth of the oxygen circulating throughout the body.
The CDC recommends that older adults should engage in 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week, along with two or more sessions of strength training a week. The aerobic or cardio workout, one where you must breathe hard and get your heart rate up, can include brisk walking, dance lessons, gardening, bicycling, swimming. Strength training can include lifting weights, using resistance bands, exercises that use bodyweight such as push-ups and sit-ups, heavy gardening such as digging and shoveling. Exercising for 150 minutes a week sounds like a lot, but over a five-day period, it amounts to 30 minutes a day.
In a few words, it is never too late. Research has found that, even in older adults, after engaging in short periods of exercise over several months, cognitive function shows marked enhancement, with better executive function and memory. Regardless, starting an exercise routine now will help you later. The key is instituting a regimen and sticking to it.
For many people, across all age brackets, breaking a sweat equals suffering pain. But there is no question that a vigorous workout can keep you young. Older people who engage in strenuous physical fitness feel double the health benefits; sedentary older adults, by comparison, are twice more like to suffer disease, including serious ill health such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and other problems.
Physical fitness also helps the body regenerate cells, even in the brain. Moving the body helps preserve brain cells. It also encourages neurogenesis, the birth of new cells. In addition, physical and mental activity promotes biochemical changes that stimulate neuroplasticity, the production of neurons as well as new connections between neurons. Exercise helps older adults engage parts of the brain in new ways, all of which enhance the performance of all types. In fact, normal age-related declines in brain volume may be slowed with exercise.
Sleep is important at every stage of life. You cannot manage without it. Period. Sleep helps you store information and memories, and it helps you discard uneventful memories as well. Instead of remembering what you wore or what you ate the other day, sleep will help you remember important items like a doctor’s appointment or deadlines. Memory and cognitive function does decline with age, but getting the sleep your body needs will help combat that diminishment.
While older men could be more diligent about sleep hygiene, and older women may rely more on sleeping pills, it’s evident that advanced age does bring its age-related sleep difficulties. Dementia, declining physical health, depression, and many other conditions, impact the way older people sleep. These problems disrupt the sleep-wake cycle, with more frequent napping or impeded REM periods, for example.
Sleep apnea is indeed common for aging adults. Our throat muscles and tongue relax, which can block the airways. You will see an increase in snoring as well as obstructed breathing. The person who suffers from sleep apnea may be startled into wakefulness because they cannot breathe. Left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to problems like stroke and cardiovascular disease. Apnea, however, is highly treatable.
When we’re dealing with our day-to-day problems and difficulties, we might go to sleep feeling stressed or anxious or upset. But a night of rest can shift the way we look at things; a particularly pesky problem doesn’t seem so bad in the morning. Some older folks are regularly irritable and grumpy, but quality sleep can help ameliorate and regulate some of their negative thinking.
It’s no surprise that we’re more creative when we get the sleep we require. In one study from Cardiff University, researchers examined rapid eye movement REM sleep and non-REM sleep. The stages of sleep work to help us link information that we already have with the problems we are trying to solve. It’s a fact that we are less creative as we age, but getting the sleep we need can combat this slide into unimaginative thinking.
Maintaining a healthy diet as well as a healthy weight are key for the aging body. Many people think that thin women with brittle bones should be most mindful of hip fractures. Yet obese women suffer hip fractures long before others. One study, following more than 12,000 women from East Finland over a 25-year period, examined body mass index and found that obese postmenopausal women had more hip fractures before age 70 than non-obese women.
Older adults often joke about morning regularity, and stewed prunes are what we associate with advanced age. But dietary fiber is not a joke. That bowl of prunes may help your grandpa avoid heart disease and colon cancer. The normal North American diet amounts to 12 to 18 grams daily, much lower than the recommended daily intake of 20 to 35 grams of fiber.
Different colored fruits and vegetables will give you the varied nutrients your body needs. Dark greens like broccoli and Brussel sprouts contain vitamin K, folic acid, and potassium. Red fruits and veggies like tomatoes have lycopene and cranberries contain anthocyanins. Orange and yellow carrots and squash have carotene and or folate and magnesium. The aging body needs these nutrients to combat age-related decline, both physically and mentally.
• Whole grains or other complex carbohydrates.
• Vegetables, especially leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale,
• Fruits, especially dark berries
• Legumes and nuts
• Limit red meat
• Instead, stick to seafood and poultry, fatty fish like sardines, herring, salmon are high in omega-3 fatty acids
• Use healthy fats, like extra-virgin olive or nut or avocado oils
• Drink water
• Avoid salt
• Limit alcohol, one glass of wine a day can provide antioxidants for a healthy brain
By many measures, not being sexually active is bad for your overall well-being. Some of us may cry: But Grandma is a widow. This is quickly addressed with the full definition of what exactly falls under being sexually active, and self-pleasuring is deemed fundamental in healthy sexuality. It promotes wellness in numerous areas including stress relief, boosting mood, better sleep quality, bladder control, reducing blood pressure, among other benefits.
According to research from the University of Michigan, 40 percent of people between ages 65 and 80 are sexually active, while nearly 75 percent of people agreed that sex is important in healthy romantic relationships. However, sexual activity declines with age; between ages 65 and 70, 46 percent were active, between ages 71 and 75, 39 percent were active, and between ages 76 to 80, 25 percent were active. Older men are generally more sexually active than older women.
In a UK study on men and health, men who were sexually active twice a week had half the death rate of men who had sex once a month. The researchers also found that among men who had high cholesterol, those who were sexually active had a lower death rate from heart disease, when compared with less sexually active men. So, yes, being sexually active can help prevent death.
Age-related illnesses—such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, among many others—demand the use of medication, and with this comes some side effects that can impact sexual activity. Statins and fibrates, for example, are prescribed for high cholesterol, but they block important hormones like testosterone and estrogen. Another example is blood pressure medication, which lowers the pressure within blood vessels and can affect erections in men, and dryness in women. You may need to consult with your physician and choose the right medication for you.
Good physical health and having supportive relationships promote positive moods, all of which impact how often older people engage in sex. These various areas of health are intertwined and interact. Research from Brigham Young University showed that older partners are more intimate when they get support from each other. However, it isn't clear if older couples have more sex when they're in good mood, or whether the good mood is a result of being intimate. The researchers did find that older couples are more likely to be intimate when the husband is feeling well-rested.
It’s important to stay engaged mentally throughout a lifespan. In fact, cognitive skills begin to decline at younger ages than we once thought. Most people show declines in spatial visualization and spatial reasoning by their mid-20s, a decline in memory and reasoning happening by their early 30s, and a decline in the speed of information processing by their mid-30s.
Watching too much TV in your younger years may impair cognitive functioning in your later years. Younger adults in their 20s and 30s who watched television for more than three hours a day had lower information processing speed and mental flexibility 25 years later than those who watched less TV. And those who watched more were twice as likely to have lower cognitive functioning 25 years later compared with those who watched less. Plus, of course, those who watched less also engaged in more physical activity.
A Norwegian study found that shortly after people hit age 50, they tended to show a decline in passion, perseverance, and a positive mindset. After 50, we are not so sure about how worthwhile it is to pursue new challenges. And in another study that appeared in the journal Cell, researchers show that mice show less reward-seeking behaviors as they age.
An agile brain is one key to a healthy mind and body; mental activity and staying engaged can also help slow the aging process. And if you plug into your creativity, then that's even better. This can entail playing an instrument, slipping on dancing shoes, picking up a paintbrush, or maybe a writing pen. It doesn't matter if you don't feel you have any natural talent. You will benefit, regardless. You will even benefit from enjoying other people's talent in the form of listening to music, studying a painting, or reading a book. All of these endeavors fire up your neurons and helps keep you young.
A person having beliefs of a higher power, God, life after death, or intelligent design often feels that life has meaning beyond death. There is also a sense of community and goodwill in having these shared beliefs. Much research has been conducted on religious belief. People who have a benevolent view of their higher power tend to be less depressed and anxious, and are able to cope better with day-to-day stress. However, if a person has negative beliefs—that they will be punished and perhaps rot in hell—they may suffer more depression and anxiety.
• Don’t smoke. This is at the top of any self-care list. Not only does smoking increase the risk of disease, but it also scars appearance through aging skin, psoriasis, and yellowed teeth.
• Eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight. Eating sugary or processed foods, for example, promotes degenerative diseases such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and Alzheimer’s disease, among others.
• Limit alcohol. A modest amount of alcohol can deliver some benefits such as keeping blood pressure in check, but it’s best to limit one's intake. Among other concerns, too much alcohol can lead to oxidative stress, which contributes to aging.
• Sleep well. Even one night of sleep deprivation can age a person, causing cells to age faster in older adults.
• Keep active. An active body keeps the brain sharp, and an active mind keeps the body young. Older adults who stay active often function like younger people.
• Fight stress. The body releases stress chemicals that impact healthy cells. People under high stress have shorter telomeres—structures at the end of chromosomes—that make cells die off sooner, accelerating aging.
• Make friends and keep family. A network of family and friends will keep you thriving for many years into old age. At this age, people in your network will move away or pass away. That is why one needs to cultivate and nurture connections.
• Healthcare. Be prepared for your increased medical needs as you age. This includes understanding your insurance and financial requirements.