Considering making a healthy lifestyle change but worried it’s too late to learn a new habit? Experts say don’t let your age hold you back. Here’s why: There’s really not that much difference between an 18-year-old brain and a 100-year-old brain.
In short, the secret to aging well is knowing you’re never too old to learn healthy habits. And the benefits are plentiful. In one study, the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, which tracked more than 6,000 people ages 44 to 84 for more than seven years, those who made healthy changes like adopting a Mediterranean-style diet, getting regular exercise maintaining a healthy weight and quitting smoking decreased their risk of death in the time period by 80 percent.
These five steps can help keep you healthy and aging well.
- Stay active. Exercise reduces your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and some cancers, and that leads to what experts call “compression of morbidity.” That means you stay healthy longer in your late years, compared to someone who spends the final five or 10 years of life fighting chronic illness. Exercise is one of the best things you can do to help prevent dementia, too. After you’ve seen your primary care physician and been cleared, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.
- Build a better diet. Losing weight isn’t not only about dropping pounds. A Mediterranean-style diet—high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil and fish and low in meat, sugar and processed foods—helps minimize health risks, including dementia.
- Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep messes with your memory, emotions, weight and even your appearance. The older you get, the harder it can be to fall and stay asleep, but you still need the same amount of hours. According to the National Sleep Foundation, most sleep problems can be attributed to snoring, side effects of medication and underlying medical issues, such as acid reflux, depression and prostate problems. Addressing these issues with your doctor. And then create a calming space where you can also enjoy more restful sleep.
- Quit smoking. Within 20 minutes of smoking your last cigarette, your blood pressure returns to norma. Twenty-four hours after you stop smoking, you have a lower risk of suffering a heart attack. Longer-term benefits show quitting decreased middle-aged smokers’ risk of dying early by almost 50 percent. Exercise can help fight withdrawal symptoms. Schedule a workout for the time of day you’re most likely to want a cigarette and soon you may be craving a walk or bike ride instead of a smoke. If you’re struggling on your own, talk to your physician about smoking-cessation programs.
- Challenge your brain. Learn a language, solve crossword puzzles or put together a 5,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. Your brain loves tackling new tasks. Keep learning as you age.