1. Reach Out
Whether your social connections are with a spouse, offspring, siblings, bridge partners, and/or fellow churchgoers, they’re crucial to good health while growing older. “Loneliness and social isolation have powerful effects on health,” says Elissa Epel, a professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco and director of the UCSF Aging, Metabolism, and Emotions Center. Being disconnected from friends and family is linked with a higher risk of disease and earlier mortality. In fact, “it’s as big of a risk factor as smoking,” Epel says.
Other studies have confirmed the health-promoting power of social connections. At the UCLA School of Medicine’s geriatrics division, Teresa Seeman, PhD, evaluated adults in their 70s over a seven-year period. She found that those with satisfying social relationships remained more mentally alert over the course of the study, with less age-related mental decline than people who were more isolated.
You can pace your social activities and spread them out throughout your week, as quality is more important than quantity. Consider signing up for a local class featuring an activity you enjoy, like painting or dance, to meet like-minded friends. Volunteering and religious activities are other opportunities for new friendships to develop organically.
2. Prioritize Rest
Science now suggests what earlier generations have always known, that rest is vital to your health. Rest can be defined as long breaks, naps, technology fasts and day-long retreats. Rest and meditation may increase the length of your telomeres. Telomeres are the caps that reside at the end of your chromosomes, and as we age and endure stress in life, these telomeres deteriorate and shorten, which leads to aging.
There have been many clinical trials proving that meditation reduces stress and lengthens telomeres, while the research also shows that stress will reduce the length. If you find consistent meditation challenging, there are other ways to decompress. Leave your smartphone at home and walk in nature, take a bath, listen to music or curl up on the couch with a good book. Whatever your choice, allow yourself the downtime your body needs.
As we age, there is a tendency to slow down and become more sedentary, but our bodies were meant to move. Healthy centenarians understand the saying “use it or lose it” more than anyone. Movement should be incorporated daily and can include gym workouts, gardening, cooking, yoga, hiking and cooking. You do not need to be a runner to stay healthy; the point is to keep moving.
Exercise also keeps the brain healthy. With movement, you can boost the strength of your cardiovascular system which gets energy to the brain. Keith Fargo, Ph.D., director of Scientific Programs and Outreach for the Alzheimer’s Association says “With every heartbeat, your arteries carry about 20 to 25 percent of your blood to your brain, where billions of cells utilize the oxygen and nutrients. Anything you do for heart health is generally good for brain health.”
Exercise also combats age-related muscle loss, which after age 30 happens at a rate of about 3 to 5 percent per decade. Less muscle leads to less mobility and strength. No matter your age or current fitness level, it’s never too late to incorporate movement and strength training into your daily life.
4. Keep Learning
An important area for vital health is the ongoing expansion of your know-how and personal potential through the development of a growth mindset. It transforms challenges into opportunities. It plays to your strengths and keeps your attitude vibrant.
As we age, the brain loses elasticity and ability to make cognitive connections; unfamiliar experiences that stimulate formation of such connections can boost intellectual agility and even brain size. New habits and skills enhance your adaptability to make positive changes to your body as it gets older.
So maybe it’s time to try your hand at mah-jongg or finally learn Italian. Travel is an excellent way to boost brain health. Learning a new skill or game can also help, as will that Sunday crossword puzzle habit.
5. Accept Change
Accepting the small (and sometimes large) transformations that occur as you get older is the key to aging well. It gives you the opportunity to listen to the needs and offer support for a body that may have been taken granted in earlier years. Ignoring the changes will only worsen the symptoms that crop up as we age.
Feeling tight and sore after exercising? Add more stretching into your routine. More tired at night? Set up your social calendar for earlier times to get more sleep at night. Feeling bloated after eating fries with your hamburger? Switch to a lighter food option such as a side-salad. Unable to recover from the stress of rushing through the morning before work? Get up earlier so you have time for a stress-less morning and even get in a meditation.
When you accept changes with care and gentleness, the transition will be smoother, and the aging process can be slowed.