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What do we know about healthy aging?

Subscribe to Healthy Aging Highlights for weekly emails on healthy eating, exercise and cognitive health. Healthy aging is influenced by many factors. Genetics is one of them. Exercise, eating a healthy, balanced diet, visiting the doctor regularly and caring for our mental health are all within our control. Research funded by NIA, among others, has identified steps you can take to manage your health and live as independently as you can, while maintaining your quality of living as you age. Continue reading to learn about the research, and how you can promote healthy aging.

This page:

Take care of your health

How to take care of your mental wellbeing

How to maintain your cognitive health

Next Steps

Take care of your health

Scientists are actively researching ways to prevent or slow down age-related declines of physical health. They’ve also discovered many ways to maintain optimal health in later life. Staying active, eating healthy, getting enough rest, limiting alcohol consumption, and managing your health are all ways to take care of your physical well-being. Even small changes can make a big difference in promoting healthy aging.

Exercise and physical activity

Physical activity is essential for healthy aging, whether you like it or not. Scientists have found that regular exercise can help people live longer and better.

In a study of 40-year-old adults, taking more than 8,000 steps per day was linked to a 51% reduced risk for death due to all causes. Increase your daily step count by engaging in activities that get you moving. For example, gardening, walking the dogs, or taking the stairs rather than the elevator.

Exercise is essential for maintaining a healthy body weight, despite its many benefits. Adults who are obese have a higher risk of dying, being disabled, and developing many diseases, such as type 2 diabetics and high blood pressure. But being thinner does not mean you are healthier. As an older adult, being or becoming too thin can affect your immune system and increase the risk of fractures. It may also be a sign of disease. Obesity and underweight can both lead to muscle loss, making a person feel tired and weak.

As people age, muscle function often declines. Some older adults lose their independence because they lack the energy to perform daily activities. Exercise can help older adults maintain their muscle mass. Researchers found that physical activity of moderate to vigorous intensity is strongly related to muscle function regardless of age in a investigation based on data from NIA’s Baltimore Longitudinal study of Aging. Exercise may prevent the age-related decline of muscle function.

Maintaining muscle mass helps older adults to live longer. Researchers found in another study that muscle mass is a better predictor for longevity among adults over 55 than weight or BMI.

Exercise can help you live a longer, healthier life. There are several ways to start. Exercise in small bursts during the day, or set aside specific times to exercise each week. Exercises like brisk walking and yoga are low-cost or free, and don’t require any special equipment. You will feel energized, not exhausted, as you increase your activity. The key to getting motivated is to start moving.

Make healthy food choices

Smart food choices may help you to age better and even improve your brain function. Eating well isn’t just about weight. It can be difficult to choose what to eat when there are so many diets available. Dietary Guidelines provide recommendations on healthy eating for every stage of life. Dietary Guidelines recommend an diet pattern that includes lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats.

Many studies show that a Mediterranean-style diet, which includes whole grains, fresh produce and healthy fats but less dairy products and more fish, can have a positive effect on your health. In a 2021 report that analyzed the eating habits of over 21,000 participants, it was found that those who closely followed the Mediterranean-style diet had a lower rate of sudden cardiac deaths.

A low-salt, Dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH), diet has been shown to have significant health benefits. In studies testing the DASH Diet, it was found to lower blood pressure and help people lose weight. It also reduced the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

MIND is another eating pattern which may promote healthy aging. It combines Mediterranean-style eating with DASH. Researchers found people who follow the MIND eating style have better cognition – the ability to think clearly, learn and remember – than those who do not.

What can you do to help?

Start with small changes. Adopt one or two elements of the MIND or Mediterranean-style diet. Many studies show that even small changes to your eating habits, like adding more fish or leafy greens to your diet, can have a positive impact on health. A study on 182 older adults who suffer from migraine headaches found that a higher intake of fatty fish and less vegetable oil could help reduce migraine headaches. A study which followed over 1,000 older adults for five years, found that green leafy vegetable consumption was associated with a slower cognitive decline.

If you’ve never given much thought to healthy eating, changing your diet can improve your health as an adult. Speak to your doctor if you’re concerned about the food you consume.

Learn more about Smart food choices for healthy ageing and Healthy eating.

Sleeping well

Sleeping enough helps you to stay alert and healthy. Even though older adults require the same amount of sleep (7 to 9 hours) as adults in general, they don’t always get it. Some medicines and being sick can make it difficult to sleep. A lack of sleep can lead to irritability, depression, forgetfulness, and an increased risk of accidents.

Memory and mood are affected by sleep quality. Researchers found that adults over 65 who had a poor quality of sleep had difficulty concentrating and solving problems. A study that looked at nearly 8,000 participants showed that people in their 50s or 60s who slept less than six hours a night had a greater risk of developing dementia in later life. It may be due to the fact that inadequate sleep is linked with beta-amyloid buildup, a protein implicated in Alzheimer’s. In older adults, poor sleep can worsen depression symptoms. New evidence indicates that older adults diagnosed with depression before, who do not get enough sleep, are more likely to suffer from depression symptoms again.

A 2021 study showed that older adults who napped frequently and did not sleep well were at a greater risk of death within the next five-year period. In contrast, getting enough sleep can lead to lower levels of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Sleep can improve your decision-making and creativity skills. It can even help your blood glucose levels.

What can you do to help?health

You can improve your sleep by following a sleep schedule. You should try to sleep and wake up at the same times each day. Avoid napping in the afternoon, as it can keep you awake. If you exercise before bedtime, it can also help you sleep. Researchers have found that behavioral interventions such as meditation can improve sleep quality.

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