Aging happens to us all, whether we like it or not. You may not think you have anything to worry about until you cross the half-century mark; however, the actively aging process begins fairly early on, and the sooner you address it, the sooner you can slow it down. As we wait for science to make a breakthrough, here are eight things we can do today to get us on the path to healthy aging.
1. Take care of your ticker
Once you hit the 25-30 year mark, your resting heart rate increases, your maximum attainable heart rate begins to drop by about one beat per minute each year, and your heart’s peak capacity to pump blood drops about 5-10% every decade. This means your aerobic capacity is declining, and simple everyday tasks will eventually leave you breathless—unless you do something about it. Regular aerobic exercise is the most effective way to improve cardiovascular function and slow cardiovascular decline, so start early and continue as you age.
2. Get a head start on strong bones
Osteoporosis is responsible for nearly nine million bone fractures a year! Regularly adding weight-bearing exercises such as jogging, brisk walking, or strength training to your routine will help keep you from becoming a statistic. The mechanical stress applied to the bone during exercise causes it to strengthen and reinforce itself, not only reducing osteoporosis risk but also minimizing signs and symptoms of existing osteoporosis. Whether you’re 19 or 90, it’s never too early or too late to start giving that skeleton of yours the love it deserves.
3. Maintain a healthy weight
The older we get, the easier it becomes for our bodies to gain weight—fat in particular. This is largely due to poor diet, lower levels of activity, and decreased ability to mobilize fat. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight earlier in life makes it much easier to stay at a healthy weight during our golden years.
4. Don’t be afraid to start making deposits in the muscle bank
Between the ages of 30 and 40, we begin to lose muscle—a process known as sarcopenia. Once again, this is primarily due to lower activity levels but is also attributed to reduced muscle protein production. Start adding to your existing muscle now to have a head-start when father time begins to take it away. Need one more reason to build more muscle? A study performed by researchers at UCLA found that older adults with more muscle mass were less likely to die prematurely than those with less muscle. This study proved that it’s not the weight on the scale that’s important—the number of muscle matters too.
5. Get flexible and balanced
Our bodies tighten up as we age, restricting movement and mobility. It’s never too early to start balance and flexibility training, whether you favor yoga, tai chi, or standard exercises like touching your toes. Falls are common among older individuals, and a major reason for both hospitalizations and assisted living. The benefits of regular exercise go beyond our bones and muscles, extending to our tendons and ligaments. Keeping all components of the musculoskeletal system strong and conditioned reduces the risk of injury and improves balance and coordination.
6. Minimize the effects of chronic conditions
Everyone knows at least one older individual who carries around a pill case full of daily doses of meds for controlling pain. Well, regular exercise can also help manage chronic conditions and can take some of the discomforts out of getting older. The improvements in muscular strength and endurance help with back pain, arthritis, and fibromyalgia. By keeping the muscles that support your joints strong and in good condition, you remove any unnecessary stress they would otherwise have to endure. This can lead to reduced pain and improved quality of life.
7. Eat Well
While enjoying a cream puff or some French fries here and there won’t hurt, a lifetime of poor nutritional choices will. As you’re feeding your 20, 30, or 40-something body, consider how it will impact the older, wiser you. Not only are fresh, nutrient-dense foods good for your waistline, they also assist in fighting chronic diseases you may face later in life. Don’t forget to keep your water intake high as well—it keeps you going now, and can keep your skin looking better later (especially if you’re diligent with the sunscreen).
8. Keep moving
If you do only one thing to ease the transition of actively aging, choose this: move. The majority of the negative changes that occur with aging are a result of a decrease in daily activity. Don’t let the fact that you simply didn’t move enough be the reason you’re not enjoying the second half of your life. You may not be able to turn back the clock, but you can definitely slow it down if you make it a point to physically engage your body every single day. Would you rather be the 70-year-old who has a hard time making it to the mailbox every day, or the 92-year-old crossing the finish line of yet another marathon?