‘Every little bit helps’: Tips on aging well
It’s safe to say that the realization that we are aging is often a difficult one. Fortunately, it’s never too late to create—or level up—good health habits, no matter what age you are.
Osteopathic sports medicine physician Patrick F. Leary, DO, of Erie, Pennsylvania, says that for optimal health, it’s essential to pay attention to what he terms the “wellness five:” exercise, nutrition, sleep, substance use, and mental/emotional health.
Here’s a closer look at Dr. Leary’s advice for aging well in each of those areas.
It’s ideal to exercise at least 30 minutes per day with the goal of getting your heart rate up enough so that talking is more difficult than usual, but not impossible. The specifics of your workout, however, are up to you.
“If you don’t have an exercise routine established, I recommend starting with brisk walking—even that much activity can have huge benefits,” says Dr. Leary. “Whatever you choose to do, it’s important that it be something you find enjoyable and sustainable—if it’s not fun, it won’t get done.”
If it’s not fun, it won’t get done.
As part of the natural aging process, Dr. Leary explains, people typically lose muscle mass between the ages of 40 and 65, which can make us more prone to injuries such as muscle strain and tennis elbow. To ward off these sorts of issues, he recommends incorporating strength training into your exercise routine, whether it’s doing push-ups or trying this 7-minute, no-equipment-needed workout.
Weight work should ideally be done every other day for around 20 minutes. Stretching is another important component of maintaining flexibility, good posture, and good balance, all of which can also help prevent injuries.
Nutrition and diet
Dr. Leary’s tips for improving nutrition are likely familiar: eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, watch portion size, and avoid fast food.
Vivid-colored fruits and vegetables such as oranges, blueberries, bell peppers, spinach, carrots, and so on often pack a stronger nutritional punch. Snacks should be healthy treats such as almonds, carrot sticks or sliced apples; high-sodium snacks should be avoided.
Consider your beverage intake.
It’s important to consider your beverage intake as well; rather than a cup of sugary, high-calorie hot chocolate, for example, try a cup of green tea. Most people should aim to drink around 64 oz. of water each day. If you drink alcohol, be sure to drink no more than a moderate amount (up to one drink per day for women, up to two drinks per day for men).
Everyone should strive for eight hours of restful sleep per night, Dr. Leary says. It’s ok to take naps as long as they don’t interfere with your ability to sleep at night. Meditation is another tool that can help quiet your mind and send it into a restful state.
Creating positive routines around exercise, nutrition, and sleep can be very helpful to one’s mental/emotional health as well, Dr. Leary notes. Social connection and cultivating a feeling of purpose or connection to something greater than oneself are also key.
Volunteering, calling a friend, journaling, taking up a new hobby, meditating, or planning a date with your significant other are all examples of activities that can boost mental health. On the flip side, Dr. Leary says, it’s essential to avoid misusing substances such as alcohol and tobacco.
Whenever you’re getting ready to make major lifestyle changes, it’s a good idea to check in with your primary care physician for advice. If you’re in the market for a physician, you may want to consider finding an osteopathic physician or DO. DOs are trained to take a holistic approach and help promote the body’s natural tendency toward health and healing.
Whatever your age, it’s essential to continue to check in with yourself and make improvements to your habits where you can.
“It’s never too late to make your lifestyle more healthy, and even small changes can have a huge impact,” says Dr. Leary. “It’s better to wear out than rust out, so I would urge everyone to think about what healthy routines they can add to their day-to-day life. Every little bit helps.”