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Late-night binge-watching sessions, jumbo pastries for breakfast every day, counting your steps to the bathroom as exercise: You might have gotten away with those less-than-healthy choices in your twenties, or even your thirties, but they weren’t great ideas then – and they’re definitely not going to fly as you get older. Fortunately, making simple adjustments to your routine can help make all the difference when it comes to aging happily and healthily.
“It used to be that older adults were less active, but that’s not necessarily the case anymore,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., author of Read It Before You Eat It – Taking You from Label to Table. “Often, you have time for more physical activity than you did when you were younger.” You also don’t necessarily have to switch up your routine as you get older. It’s OK to stick with your beloved long runs or bike rides as you age, so long as you don’t experience pain while doing them. There’s no need to swap out higher-impact physical activity for lower impact options like walking, unless you have a physical limitation like a bad back or knees.
In fact, it’s a good idea to keep up the cardio as long as you can. Regular aerobic exercise can help older adults sleep better and improve their overall physical well-being, according to a report by The American College of Sports Medicine. Cardiovascular exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of all sorts of health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, osteoporosis, colon cancer, breast cancer, anxiety, and depression, according to an article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Don’t limit your workouts to cardio, though. Make time in your routine to add in resistance training, which can help you maintain muscle mass and bone density, and yoga, which is excellent for flexibility and balance. Remember, before you start an ambitious new exercise routine, it’s best to consult with your doctor.
If you find yourself with more free time than you used to have in your schedule, prioritize staying social. Unfortunately, as people age, they tend to spend less time with others, according to a United States Federal Government report. To stave off loneliness, schedule regular nights out – or in – with friends, start a walking (or running) group, or play doubles tennis matches. Having built-in sessions for laughing, venting, and emotional support can go a long way toward a reducing the risk of emotional distress and mental illness according to the CDC. If you are feeling constantly sad, mention that to your physician.
Engaging in activities that stimulate your brain — like reading, playing games, or doing crossword puzzles — may help prevent cognitive decline, and even Alzheimer’s and dementia according to this study, published in JAMA. Need some external motivation to turn off the TV or iPad? Recruit some friends and organize a book club or regular game night to keep you accountable.
It’s a myth that people need less sleep as they age. You should be snoozing for at least seven to eight hours. However, older adults tend to take longer to fall asleep, spend less time in the REM phase, and experience more frequent wakings, so you may need to take extra steps to protect your nighttime rest.
Get out of the house during the day — spending time in the sun can help regulate your circadian rhythm. If you’re going to nap, make it early and short (think a maximum of 30 minutes), so that it doesn’t interfere with your nighttime sleep. Don’t eat large meals, or spicy or fatty foods before bed. They can upset your stomach and make sleeping difficult. The same is true for stimulants like caffeine and alcohol. When it’s time for bed, make sure your room is dark, the temperature is cool, and your mattress is comfortable.
Eating nutritiously can help prevent a wide range of health issues, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, and some cancers. Unfortunately, many Americans over age 65 are not eating enough whole grains, vegetables and legumes, and low-fat or fat-free milk products, according to the 2016 report from the Federal Interagency Forum for Aging-Related Statistics.
You should aim for three cups of dairy, five to six servings of protein, two to 3.5 cups of vegetables, 1.5 to two cups of fruits, and six servings of grains daily. More than half of those (about 48 grams), should be whole grain. To make that easier and less stressful, choose foods that pack a nutritional punch, and can tick off several of those guidelines at once. For example, just one serving of Quaker Oats contains 40 grams of whole grains and 0.14 grams of your daily value of fiber.
Snack on low-fat or fat-free yogurt with granola for another dairy and whole-grain add. Another good option is a smoothie made with bananas, nut butters, greens, and milk or non-dairy milk, which can up your calcium and vitamin D intake. Vitamin D helps you absorb the calcium in the milk, strengthening your bones, and help regulate your immune system, according to research. Adding some oats into the mix will raise the fiber content and help you feel full for longer. Smoothies are an easy option to make at home, and they may be a healthier alternative than the versions available at restaurants, Taub-Dix notes. “A restaurant version could contain hidden syrups and sugar instead of 100 percent fruit juice.” Making your favorite healthy snacks at home gives you more control over what goes into them – and makes it much easier for you to be sure you’re getting the nutrition your body needs.