No matter how old you are, it’s never too late to start thinking about how you can maintain good health throughout your golden years. The arrival of old age is different for everyone; while chronological age is how long you’ve been alive, biological age refers to how old you seem – a combination of your physiological age (how healthy you are) and your psychological age (how young you act.) So, while the calendar tells you one thing, the health of your organs and tissues, and the way you look, feel, and act can suggest a different age.
Age is really how old you feel, how mobile you are, and how active your lifestyle is
Your body naturally ages with every passing year. Instead of worrying about avoiding gray hair or wrinkles, consider instead how your daily lifestyle can support natural aging progression and promote general health in the coming years.
Your heart beats about 80 times a minute – more than 115,000 times a day. Multiply that number by 365 days in a year and multiply that result by 80 years or more and you see how crucial it is to keep your heart functioning and healthy. Due to aging it's not uncommon for the walls of your blood vessels to begin to stiffen. This will cause your heart to work harder to pump the same amount of blood through your body, which increases blood pressure and adds to the risk of other cardiovascular-related health issues like metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
Without proper attention, as you age your bones can become weaker, less dense, and smaller in size, and take longer to recover or rebuild after an injury.1 Combined with these changes in bone, age-related changes in cartilage, joints, and muscles can result in poorer coordination, balance, and stability, which can lead to falls and fracture risk. How do muscles change as we age? Muscles lose protein quality and mitochondrial function, in part due to hormonal dysfunction. Testosterone, in particular, is important for maintaining healthy muscle mass. With age and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, muscles will weaken and shrink in size, metabolism will slow, and body composition shifts toward an unfavorable ratio of fat-to-lean muscle mass.
It's no secret that as you age, you might not tolerate the same foods you did when you were younger. Aging adults generally begin to see changes in stomach acid levels, digestive enzyme production, and increases in lactose intolerance.2 And nutrient absorption tends to be compromised with age because of issues with intestinal lining, gut motility, or problems in the GI tract associated with disease or taking medications.
Memory and brain health
How your brain ages will depend on genetics, previous brain health history, and lifestyle choices like smoking, alcohol, medications, and diet. It's not uncommon to experience difficulty finding the right word choice or to have issues with short-term memory or multi-tasking. Multiple theories suggest one or more of these phenomena occur as we age because the brain experiences shrinkage in the lobes associated with higher cognitive function and new memories, or the outer brain layer thins, or there are fewer brain chemical reactions and messengers (serotonin, dopamine, acetylcholine, norepinephrine).3
Urinary tract health
Issues with urination and bladder control begin due to the weakening of the bladder and pelvic floor muscles. This is especially common in women as they age, particularly when sneezing, coughing, laughing, exercising, or lifting heavy objects. Urination issues in men are most often related to an enlarged prostate. One-half of men 50 or older and 90 percent of men older than 80 experience issues with an enlarged prostate, such as too-frequent urination. These issues can be exacerbated by being overweight, having nerve damage, consuming alcohol, or as a side effect of certain prescription medications. It’s important to hydrate and flush your system to maintain healthy circulation and blood volume levels despite wanting to avoid frequent trips to the restroom. Pelvic muscle exercises (Kegels) can also help strengthen the bladder and help prevent urine leakage.
The following is a list of daily habits to keep yourself feeling, acting, and looking young:
Maintain physical activity.
Regular aerobic exercise builds your heart muscle, balances hormones and mood, improves flexibility, balance and strength, and keeps your mind sharp. You don’t need to run in order to get aerobic exercise; try hiking, stand-up paddle boarding, tennis, swimming, or biking. In addition to aerobic exercise, be sure to include weight lifting at least twice a week to keep muscles and bones strong and stretching exercises like yoga to maintain flexibility. To keep your skin looking young, if you are exercising outside for very long, then cover exposed skin, including your face, and wear sunscreen and sunglasses for added protection.
Eat heart-healthy fats and antioxidants.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids, like omega-3s from fish and nuts, support hydration of your skin, elasticity of your blood vessel walls, and healthy blood pressure and triglyceride levels. A diet that includes antioxidants helps reduce free radical damage and supports cellular and tissue health. Eat foods in the Mediterranean Diet and use nutritional supplements as necessary.
Use your brain.
It's not enough to read the news on the internet during the day. Take a class to learn a new language, do mental activity puzzles for critical thinking and memory, continue reading books. Exercise increases blood flow to your brain, and a healthy diet provides the optimal nutrients for the brain to function.
Stop stressing out.
Mental, physical, and emotional stressors can come from anywhere, and they can easily wreak havoc on your body, causing weight gain, interfering with sleep, and weakening your muscles, immune function, bones, and brain function. So take time each day for yourself, such as learning to minimize stress through meditation exercises, breathing techniques, or seeing a therapist.
Get enough sleep.
As we age, sleep patterns tend to change, but the need for eight hours of high-quality sleep stays the same. Get physically and mentally exhausted during the day so you can recover at night, maintain consistent sleep and wake times, and avoid TV and other electronic distractions before you sleep. Sleep maintains brain health, energy levels, and regular functioning of your GI tract, immune system, and cardiovascular system.
Finding and keeping friends for both companionship and a support system is important for maintaining good mental health. Socialization helps reduce anxiety and depression and improves mood, memory, and general well-being. Join a club, take lessons for a new sport or hobby, or volunteer your time to work with others for a worthwhile cause.
Check your health.
Visit your medical and dental professionals for regular checkups, and in-between visits monitor your health at home. You can also track your health with phone apps that compare how you feel with how much activity you are getting and how well you are sleeping.
- Demontiero O, Vidal C, Duque G. Aging and bone loss: new insights for the clinician. Ther Adv Musculoskelet Dis 2012;4(2):61-76.
- Di Stefano M, Veneto G, Malservisi S, et al. Lactose malabsorption and intolerance in the elderly. Scand J Gastroenterol 2001;36(12):1274-1278.
- Peters R. Aging and the brain. Postgrad Med J 2006;82(964):84-88.