Successful aging starts with healthy habits. Often these are lifelong habits, but there’s always time to change your ways to start aging wisely.
If you’re coming up on a “big birthday” whether that be 40, 50, 60+ the best gift you can give yourself is adopting a few of these habits. Commit to make some simple changes. Buy yourself (or ask for) services/products that support healthy, happy aging. For example, if you have trouble staying physically active, buy yourself dance classes, access to an indoor pool, or sessions with a trainer. Invest in cooking classes or a meal delivery service. We hope you’ll get lots of ideas from this list.
11 Habits of Successful Aging
Here are the proven things done by long-living elders in the “blue zones” and seniors who maintain an independent, happy life at home. They:
1. Fuel their bodies with a mostly plant-based, nutrient-rich diet (and don’t overeat)
Feel like there’s new diet advice every day? Well, scientists have pretty strong evidence of the simple factors common among people who live longest. They eat a mostly plant-based diet, typically rich in legumes. And, most long-living people don’t eat until they’re full. They follow an 80% rule, stopping before they feel “stuffed”. These groups tend to eat whole, natural foods that add up to less calories and more nutrition.
Nutrient-rich food becomes even more important as you get older. And, it’s absolutely vital that you eat right when dealing with chronic illness. We know it’s not always easy to eat right, however. Check out our Tips for Eating Well on Any Budget and Three Delicious Ways to Help with Better Nutrition. You don’t have to feel deprived. And, you’ll actually start to feel so much better.
2. Drink the right stuff too
In addition to what you eat, don’t ignore what (and how much) you drink. We’ve constantly heard the message about getting plenty of water for a reason. Studies show many people are dehydrated, which also causes them to feel hungry and sometimes overeat. Dehydration becomes an even bigger problem as we age, especially with certain conditions or medications. If you’re not a big fan of water, you can mix it up with different beverages. Just try not to get too much sugar. And, remember caffeine is a diuretic. Eating foods with a high water content can help too.
People in most of the Blue Zones drink alcohol moderately and regularly. This typically means 1-2 glasses of wine, enjoyed with food and socializing. One of the groups, the Adventists, does not drink at all. The important lesson here is moderation. It’s important what you’re fueling your body with, including healthy drink choices (versus sugery cocktails, sodas, etc.).
3. Don’t smoke
Of course, you’ve probably heard plenty about how deadly smoking is. But, it also affects lifestyle and enjoyment of your later years. Smokers experience shortness of breath, asthma, and increased risk for many diseases. If you do smoke, quitting should be your #1 priority for successful aging.
4. Get daily physical activity
Look around and see which seniors have lives you’d want to emulate. It’s probably the ones who can get down on the floor and play with their grandkids, take beach walks, enjoy active vacations and take advantage of life’s little pleasures. If you watch what these people do every day, it’s highly likely movement is part of their routine. Long-living seniors move and stretch as part of their daily routine. They’re naturally active, doing a lot of walking, farming/gardening, or doing daily chores and caring for kids.
Muscle mass deteriorates with age, but you can counteract this with weight-bearing exercise. Stretching and maintaining core strength helps prevent falls. And, even better, exercise reduces pain. The type of movement you engage in may need to change through the years. The key to staying mobile and minimizing pain is to pay attention to exercises that keep us limber and stable. Daily stretching and balancing exercises keep muscles flexible and our joints stable enough to overcome (and recover from) falls or injuries.
Here are some fun tips on staying fit. Our senior fitness expert also offers specific balance exercises. And, you might also want to check out these simple exercises for balance and strength to use at home.
5. Get a good night’s sleep
It’s a myth that the older we get the less sleep we need. However, as we age it is harder to get the sleep we need. From hormonal shifts to increases in stress, most people over 40 aren’t getting the uninterrupted sleep they need.
Sleep is highly health-protecting. Moreover, chronic sleeplessness can lead to mental and physical health problems. If you have sleep troubles start with some simple lifestyle and environmental changes:
Exercise helps here too! Daily movement does wonders for sleep. However, some people find intense exercise shouldn’t be done too close to bedtime as the endorphins may hinder falling asleep.
Limit use of screens at night. Turn off screens at least one hour before bed. You can also use blue-light reducing apps, screen covers or glasses.
Create a good environment for sleep. Don’t do work or stressful activities in the bedroom. Set the right temperature (may vary for you, but generally 60-67 F). Reduce noise and light.
Lower caffeine intake and stop all caffeine several hours before bed. Limit alcohol. Some people think a couple drinks help them fall asleep. But, studies show alcohol disturbs sleep patterns. Try not to eat heavy or spicy meals late in the day.
Create a relaxing bedtime ritual. This is a good way to wind down and separate the busy thoughts of your day from the restful night. And, stick to a schedule, keeping bedtime and wake up time as similar as possible throughout the week.
Try some self-acupressure before going to sleep.
Consult a sleep expert if needed. You may need help with stress reduction techniques. And, there may be some physical issues or medication contributing to your problems. Hopefully, you can avoid taking chemical sleep aids, which tend to create more long-term problems.
6. Exercise the brain: continue growing and learning
When you’re working and juggling responsibilities, you put your brain through various complex tasks every day. While stress isn’t good for health, the brain also doesn’t do well with too little use. Want a quick decline? Retire, then sit at home in front of the TV for most of the day.
But if you want to stay independent, your brain needs to stay active after retirement. Keep growing and learning, whether through travel, taking a course, or just trying new things. Here’s a great list we pulled together of lifelong learning opportunities for all kinds of interests. And, don’t wait until you retire. Learning something helps keep us all sharp.
7. Practice mindfulness
This can mean different things to different people. But, in our years working with seniors, attitude seems to be the #1 factor in successful aging. Mindfulness helps reduce stress and create gratitude. Successful seniors might journal on a regular basis, meditate, go for quiet walks, do yoga, say a daily prayer, keep a gratitude list.
Many long living elders belong to a faith-based community. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years to life expectancy. The important aspects of that are community and spirituality/mindfulness.
Our unscientific research says “successful seniors” laugh more too! Well, maybe there is scientific evidence. Research shows optimists are healthier and live longer than pessimists. They have better coping skills, more friends and handle stress better.
Now’s the time to focus on identifying and changing negative self talk. One study found that people who wrote in a gratitude journal every week exercised more regularly and reported feeling better about their lives in addition to experiencing fewer physical symptoms. It can be as simple as listing as many things we are grateful for while driving to work, waiting in line somewhere, or first thing in the morning/last thing at night. Practice daily gratitude for one month. You might just like the results.
8. Focus on relationships
Social interaction is another cornerstone of successful aging. There’s extensive research to back up the protective factor of socialization. Blue zone elders typically remain central to their families, taking an active role in family life.
Relationships are both vital and a potential area of vulnerability for seniors living at home. Many become isolated and suffer loneliness. Stay connected with family, friends and neighbors. Find “your tribe”, a social circle you do things with and talk to regularly. Many of us experience loss as we age, so this may require effort of going out and meeting new people. Find more tips here.
And, your relationships don’t all have to be the human type. Having an animal companion can lower blood pressure and reduce stress. Seniors living alone who have a pet feel less loneliness.
9. Have purpose
Many people who strongly identified with their career suffer when that role “disappears”. It’s important to think about your desires after retirement and set goals. Carry over your career strategies to successful aging. You might be ready to simply relax after the stress of an intense career, so you might want to think of retirement in different stages. Perhaps the first couple years you want to reconnect with friends and family, travel, play more golf, and get back into exercise. But, especially as time passes, you may also want to consider volunteering and other purpose-driven activities.
Older adult volunteers report significant improvements in mental health, increased social activity and benefits like a greater feeling of productivity and satisfaction. Other elders enjoy taking an active role in helping care for grandkids, leading committees, teaching a class at the senior center, starting a club, or getting more involved with their faith community.
10. Follow the old adage “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure”
Make sure to get regular checkups, immunizations and screenings. Medicare covers wide-ranging preventative care fully.
Don’t have a good relationship with a primary care physician? It’s time to find one. Our advocates can help you find the right practitioners, organize your medical records and keep your health on track. As you age, it’s easy to find life becoming a series of medical appointments. It’s not unusual to have a pillbox full of medications. And, too often, no one has reviewed those medications regularly to check for interactions, efficacy and necessity. We can also assist with the sometimes overwhelming task of navigating insurance and benefits.
Get a “home checkup” too. If you want to live independently at home, you need to make sure your physical environment supports you. Click Here to download our free room-by-room checklist to get an idea of potential problem areas.
11. Take a proactive role in planning
For successful aging, you need to plan for the best and prepare for the worst. Advanced care planning is called that for a reason. While you’re healthy, you need to ensure you have your legal “ducks in a row”. Here’s a good overview about discussing and planning for care needs. Meet with your attorney to execute (or update) necessary healthcare planning and estate planning documents. Talk to your family members about your wishes. Make sure documents are accessible in case they’re needed. Schedule a care management consultation to review future options and possible needs.
You also give your family a valuable gift when you set up funeral plans ahead of time. I remember how much it meant to our family that my grandmother wrote down her very specific wishes (with her usual humor). When you’re in the midst of grief, the last thing you want to worry about is making the wrong practical decisions. Or, even worse, arguing over those decisions because your loved one didn’t say what they wanted.
Click Here for a comprehensive planning list.
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