By Sabrina Felson, MD, WebMD
Eat Healthy Fats
You already know that saturated fats are bad for your arteries and heart health. But they may also harm your concentration and memory. So cut down on the red meat, butter, and other such foods. Instead, add more fatty fish and fats from plants, like flaxseed and nuts. These healthy fats may have extra benefits for your heart and your brain.
Fill Your Empty Nest
If your kids have moved out and your home feels empty, think about adopting a pet. People with cats and dogs seem to have lower cholesterol and less risk of heart disease. They also need fewer doctors’ visits. We don’t know why exactly pets seem to help. But at the very least, having a dog that needs walks is a great way to build in daily exercise.
Protect Your Joints
Getting older doesn’t mean giving up your morning run. People used to think running would wreck their knees. But new research suggests it might strengthen them by strengthening the muscles that protect them. And it doesn’t seem to raise your risk of arthritis.
That said, if you have arthritis or damaged joints, running could be too much. But you can still benefit from exercise. Low-impact activities like walking or biking can help strengthen muscles, support joints, and lessen pain.
As you get older, your sex life changes — and there can be real benefits. You’re more confident. You’ve been having sex for a while. You’re so much better at it than you were when you were 22. Getting older can free you from hang-ups and constraints, especially if your kids have moved out and you have the house to yourself again.
Surprise yourself. Instead of sticking with what’s familiar and comfortable, tackle something new. Go to out-of-the-ordinary places. Make new friends. Learn a musical instrument or a language. New experiences will build new pathways in your brain, keeping your mind healthy as you age. They’ll also expand your options for finding excitement and happiness.
Is your blood pressure higher than it used to be? That’s not unusual. It tends to rise as we get older. Since sodium can drive your readings up, cut down on salt in your diet. The worst sources are premade and packaged foods. Bread and rolls can also have a lot of salt.
Want a natural remedy? Try eating more fruits and vegetables, fish, beans and nuts — and flavor foods with herbs, spices, vinegar, and other low-sodium flavorings rather than table salt.
Slash Your Alzheimer’s Risk
Want to keep your mind sharp as you get older? Get moving. Regular exercise in middle age can lower your odds of having memory and thinking problems when you’re older by almost half. Exercise boosts blood flow to your brain and helps new cells grow there. Just 30 minutes of walking, biking, or even gardening 5 days a week can make a difference.
Get a fuller picture of your health by trying a wearable fitness tracker, logging the food you eat onto a smartphone app, or using gadgets like a home blood pressure monitor. You’ll learn new ways to improve your health and chart your progress.
Make a New Start
So you didn’t have the healthiest habits in your 30s and 40s. Maybe you ate too much and exercised too little. That’s OK. The key is to do better now. Changing your lifestyle in your 50s and beyond — exercising more and eating healthier — can still make a big difference. You can lower your risk of heart problems, cancer, and bone fractures. It’s not too late. You really can be healthier and more fit now than when you were 30.
Make Smarter Food Choices
As you get older, your metabolism slows down and you need fewer calories. So make the ones you get count. Choose foods packed with the nutrients you need. Eat dark leafy greens and colorful fruits and vegetables. Increase low-fat dairy to get calcium for bones. Fortified foods — like cereals with vitamin B12 and milk with vitamin D — can help, too. Cut down on empty calories from sugary drinks and sweets.
Stay on Balance
Having good balance is one of the best ways to prevent a fall — and potentially serious injuries. Make these exercises part of your day. Stand on one foot or walk heel-to-toe — as if you were walking on a beam. The gentle, dance-like movements of tai chi are another helpful option. Older people who stick with tai chi for 6 months can cut their risk of a fall in half.
Aerobic exercise is important, but don’t forget to build your muscles, too. One study on regular strength training in seniors found that it caused genetic changes in cells. The result: Older folks’ muscles became more like those of people in their 20s.
Spend more time with friends or family. It can help keep your mind keen. Social people have sharper thinking and they’re much less likely to have memory problems as they age. Or try volunteering. It’s linked with a lower risk of heart disease and a longer life. Don’t wait until you retire to start. Studies show that the earlier you begin, the less likely you are to have health problems later.
Fend Off Wrinkles
Want your skin to defy the years? Use sunscreen every day: It really does prevent wrinkles. And it’s not too late — even people who didn’t start using it until middle age still get a benefit. Choose a product with an SPF of 30 or higher.
You might need a little less sleep these days than you used to. That’s normal. But if you’re getting less than 7 hours a night, or feel worn out during the day, something’s wrong. Insomnia isn’t a normal part of getting older. Exercise more, drink less alcohol, and discuss your medications with your doctor. Seek treatment if you have an underlying problem like depression or anxiety; it can help you sleep soundly again.
Enjoy the Rewards of Age
Here’s some good news: The older people get, the more content and satisfied they are. People in their 80s report being more satisfied than people in their 70s. So look forward to the future. It could be a time of great happiness.