Although many of us don’t welcome it, we all are in a continual state of getting older. While aging may seem relatively imperceptible or minimal in your 20s and 30s, as you get beyond age 45 or so, physical and mental changes typically become tougher to ignore.
People may experience common changes associated with aging at different ages, and at varying rates, but these typically include:
- Heart must work harder as blood vessels and arteries can stiffen
- Bones shrink in size and density
- Muscles lose strength and flexibility
- Balance and coordination may decrease
- Urinary incontinence may occur
- Metabolism slows, muscle mass decreases and body fat increases
- Sleep quality and quantity are reduced
- Memory may decline
Of course, we get it – nobody wants to go through this – as it ultimately can negatively affect quality of life. The reality is that although we cannot prevent aging entirely, we can proactively take steps to minimize its impact. Just because you’re getting older doesn’t automatically mean that you must drastically change your life or abandon what you like to do. A big part of how you age is in your mind – so it’s important to maintain a positive, “can-do” attitude, rather than a defeatist resignation.
Staying physically active and mentally engaged are important ways to help limit many aspects of getting older. Given that 60 is the new 40, and you’re only as old as you feel, here are some top tips for active aging.
Tips for Active Aging
- See Your Doctor: This might seem like an unusual suggestion to start with, especially if you are already active and healthy, but it’s smart to see your doctor for a physical once per year. If you’re just starting to exercise, this is essential. He/she can identify any potential issues and refer you to a specialist if necessary.
Discuss your diet, lifestyle and medications, and have your vision and hearing checked. Schedule standard screenings as recommended, for conditions such as osteoporosis and colon cancer, and get appropriate immunizations. It’s much better to address anything that might cause a problem before you jump into workouts.
- Follow a Consistent Exercise Program: You don’t, and shouldn’t, do the same workout every day, but you should exercise regularly, for 30-90 minutes per session, 3-5 times per week. Incorporate cardio, strength training and flexibility work for best results, as all are important to your overall fitness. Try to do what you love, but be flexible at the same time.
As you age, if you don’t feel like you can perform some of the intense activities that you used to – like triathlons, for instance – you can still swim and bike at your pace. If running becomes too uncomfortable, try brisk walking, stairclimbing or the elliptical. If HIIT boot camp becomes too strenuous, try an easier class or create a new, steady-state regimen on various pieces of cardio equipment.
Vary your routine to combat boredom. Instead of the stationary bike, use a total-body air bike, such as the AirdyneX, or a recumbent elliptical, like Octane’s xRide. If high-impact movements are too uncomfortable, then try a lateral trainer or rowing machine. Take on different group exercise classes, such as yoga to work on flexibility and balance, or Pilates to build core strength.
For guidance and motivation, consider hiring a trainer, who can devise a personal routine for you, or join a health club, which offers lots of valuable variety to keep you going. Having some equipment at home maximizes convenience and is a great investment in your health.
- Pursue Active Recreation: Formal exercise sessions are mandatory, but that doesn’t mean that you should be sitting and watching old reruns on TV in your free time. Play golf, learn pickleball, go hiking, join a walking or cycling club, take ballroom dancing, garden, try a cooking class and babysit the grandkids. Participate in active travel, such as walking tours and guided excursions. Pursue various active volunteer pursuits, like walking dogs, stocking shelves at the food pantry or delivering flowers at the hospital.
In addition, fight a slowing metabolism by sitting less and moving more each day. Park farther away from the grocery store, walk or bike to do errands, pace while you are on the phone, perform calisthenics during commercials, and stretch when you get up and before bed.
- Eat Smart: While it’s true that metabolism slows as we age, skipping meals is a bad idea to try to reduce calories, as this can actually decrease metabolism even more. Food is fuel to the body, and it’s important to make healthy choices and eat at regular intervals to maintain blood sugar and energy levels throughout the day. Fire up your metabolism by starting your day with more than coffee. Have some protein and carbohydrates to get your system going.
For all meals, try healthy recipes that emphasize fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fiber-rich foods, lean proteins and low-fat dairy products over high-fat, high sodium, sugary or processed items. That doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy some treats – like pizza or ice cream – but make these the occasional picks, versus daily staples.
Control calories, limit portion sizes, eat slowly and stop when you are full. Consider working with a dietitian to evaluate your diet and provide recommendations on healthy choices, teach you how to read labels and menus and share recipes based on your preferences.
- Stay Hydrated: Dehydration is common and can cause headaches, irritability and fatigue. We often don’t realize that we are dehydrated, and thirst isn’t always the most reliable indicator of hydration. So make conscious efforts to drink water throughout the day, keeping a bottle in your car, in your gym bag and at home.
Plain water is the best rehydator, but you can add lemon or try flavored sparkling water to encourage you to drink more. Limit caffeinated beverages like coffee and tea, along with alcohol, which function as diuretics that stimulate fluid loss.
- Maintain Mental Health: Keep your brain active by taking classes to learn a new skill or new language, enroll in lessons to play a musical instrument, challenge yourself with brain teasers or puzzles, attend lectures or workshops or join a book club. Not only can these activities help with memory and staying sharp, but also can help foster important social connections.
Be sure to manage stress, treat anxiety and depression and practice positivity and gratitude to feel your best.
- Get Adequate Sleep: Even older adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night, although some struggle to regularly get that many. It’s best to establish consistent times to go to bed and get up, and having a relaxing ritual at night, such as reading, a warm bath or meditation, can help.
If you can’t sleep as much during the night as you age, short naps during the day are a good supplement. Getting adequate rest not only gives you more energy but also helps maintain your health.
- Don’t Smoke, and Avoid Secondhand Smoke: No amount of smoking is safe, as it causes multiple health issues and increases risk of respiratory diseases and cancer. It’s never too late to quit, and physical benefits are evident soon after breaking this unhealthy habit.