Nowadays Americans are living longer than ever. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tell us the average life expectancy is increasing every year, and as of today people born in 2010 can expect to live 78.7 years. i And not only are Americans living longer lives, but they are living healthier lives—in part due to advancements in medical technologies, but also because of an increasing awareness about the importance of diet and lifestyle changes essential to optimal well-being. In honor of National Senior Health and Fitness Day, here are six important tips for healthy aging:
- Eat More Fiber
A diet high in fiber supports digestive health (which may decline with aging) and may help relieve occasional gas, bloating and digestive discomfort as well as occasional constipation.‡ In addition, dietary fiber provides many other benefits for your body that are important as you age.‡ It helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels, helps control appetite by helping you feel full, and assists with removing digestive toxins by promoting regular, healthy bowel movements.‡ Make it your goal to consume at least 35 grams of fiber daily from low-sugar fruits and non-starchy vegetables. A natural fiber supplement may also help you reach your goal.‡
- Stay Active
Results of a recent study show the more active we are after age 65, the better our chances of maintaining a healthy heart and avoiding a sudden heart attack. The 5-year study, a joint effort between the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Porto in Portugal, analyzed heart monitor recordings of more than 900 seniors and found that those who walked more and were more active displayed better heart rate variability—a sign of a healthy heart and nervous system. “Any physical activity is better than none, but maintaining or increasing your activity has added heart benefits as you age,” said Luisa Soares-Miranda, Ph.D., the study’s lead author.
- Get Plenty of Sleep
It’s not necessarily that we need more sleep as we get older—but because our sleep patterns and frequency have a tendency to change with age, it is important to get enough sleep. Experts recommend getting between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night to support physical and emotional well-being. In particular, sleep deprivation can take a serious toll on the heart and has been linked to an increase in heart disease risk factors including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and impaired glucose tolerance. A good night’s sleep also promotes better brain function and has been linked to enhanced learning, decision-making and problem-solving skills.
- Manage Your Weight
More than 35% of U.S. adults are obese, and according to the CDC obesity-related conditions including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer are among the leading causes of preventable death in this country. Losing weight and maintaining a healthy body weight begins with healthier food choices, specifically a diet that consists mainly of low-sugar fruits, non-starchy vegetables, and lean protein sources such as chicken, seafood, low-fat cheese and yogurt, eggs, tofu, tempeh and nuts. Regular exercise is also important for weight loss and healthy weight maintenance, and even small increases in physical activity can be beneficial.
- Cultivate Your Social Life
A number of studies connect socialization to a better quality of life for seniors. Because many older adults are retired from the workplace and no longer have children living at home, opportunities for socializing begin to diminish and isolation can set in. Staying social with friends, family members and those in their community has been shown to improve both mental and physical health for older adults, as well as improve overall mood. Book clubs and gaming groups are a great way to be social, but it can also be as simple as planning a daily walk or a weekly trip to the market with a friend. Local volunteer opportunities are also a great way to stay connected.
- Last but not Least: Prevention is Key!
Being proactive about your health is an essential part of healthy aging. Be sure to schedule routine visits with your healthcare practitioner for regular screenings, and stay on top of key health indicators such as blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Prevention also includes following a healthy diet to overall well-being and a healthy body weight, as well as staying physically active to support bone and joint health and help prevent injury.