By Mia Barnes
Guest Writer for Wake Up World
Everyone gets older. However, the decisions you make regarding your health largely determine how gracefully you’ll age and how well you’ll feel.
What can you do to improve your chances of remaining active and independent? Please embrace these nine natural ways to stay healthier as you age.
1. Eat More Whole, Plant-Based Foods
Sufficient antioxidant intake can reduce your risk of various diseases by combating harmful free radicals that cause cellular damage. Where do you get these magical substances? From plants.
You don’t have to live on salads, but you should seek ways to get more vegetables and fruits in your diet. Add a few jicama slices or a kale leaf to your lunchtime wrap. Add slivered radishes to fish tacos and include some blueberries and bananas in your morning cereal.
2. Reduce or Eliminate Ultra-Processed Foods
Much of what you eat is processed — the term means to alter a substance from its original state by mixing it with other ingredients or cooking. However, ultra-processed foods often contain unrecognizable ingredients and high levels of salt, sugar and white flour, all of which can increase inflammation.
Chronic inflammation leads to pain and taxes your immune system. It’s akin to calling out the fire department for a nonemergency — there are fewer resources available when a nasty bug does invade your body. Reducing your consumption of inflammatory foods could translate to a longer and more comfortable life.
3. Reframe Negative Thoughts
Your body and mind share an intricate connection. Allowing yourself to ruminate on life’s negative aspects can lead to anxiety and depression, which in turn create adverse physical health effects.
Become mindful about your thought processes, perhaps by starting a regular meditation practice. When you catch yourself slipping into a negative spiral, try reframing your self-defeating thoughts toward the positive. Maybe your boss wasn’t ignoring your question — they were simply too busy to give it the attention it deserved at the moment.
4. Protect Yourself From the Sun
A little sun on your face feels glorious, but 15,000 people die of skin cancer each year. While you shouldn’t confine yourself indoors — going outside has numerous health benefits — you should protect yourself with sunscreen.
Likewise, UV radiation contributes to eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts. Wearing sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection and a wide-brimmed hat can preserve your vision well into your sunset years.
5. Maintain a Healthy Social Circle
Maintaining a healthy friendship circle is critical to longevity. Adults who scored higher on a loneliness index had higher all-cause mortality than those who felt connected.
You can meet people by getting involved in your community. Seek activities that interest you, such as signing up for a recreational sports league or taking an arts and crafts class at the local community center.
Did you know that performing kind deeds for others benefits your health? Volunteering releases a flood of feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and oxytocin that improve your mental state.
Volunteering also offers you the opportunity to connect with others who share your values. Of course, if you prefer 4-legged friends after a long day of working with the bipedal version, local shelters can always use dog-walkers.
7. Move Your Body Every Day
Exercise is vital to maintaining your independence as you age. If you don’t move your body in all the planes of motion nature intended, you eventually lose the ability.
Find something that you adore — it doesn’t have to cost any money. Walking is free, as is putting on your favorite tunes and dancing in your living room.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), you need 150 to 300 minutes of moderate exercise each week to maintain optimal health. The best routines encompass all three facets of fitness: cardiovascular training, strength and flexibility. If achy joints make movement on land painful, try aquatic workouts where the buoyancy takes most of the pressure off your knees and hips.
8. Quit Smoking and Reduce Alcohol Intake
Even though the public now knows the dangers of smoking cigarettes, nearly half a million Americans still die from tobacco-related causes each year. Tragically, this figure includes more than 41,000 deaths from secondhand exposure. If you won’t quit to protect your health, please consider doing so to safeguard your loved ones.
Please don’t give up if you have tried and failed before. It takes many people multiple attempts before they quit for good. Fortunately, you can find free resources online and in your community to help you kick the habit.
Likewise, please consider reducing your alcohol intake if you regularly consume more than the recommended one to two drinks per day. Alcohol causes a temporary spike in blood pressure. This condition reverses itself if you have the occasional beer but can become an ongoing problem if you drink to excess. Heart disease remains the number one killer of men and women worldwide — please protect your precious pump.
9. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Finally, how much sleep you get impacts everything from your mental health to your immune system. Ongoing insomnia can also lead to premature death by making you more accident-prone. Drowsy driving is every bit as dangerous as getting behind the wheel after a few drinks.
Please reserve your bedroom as an oasis for sleep and sex. Use white noise machines and blackout curtains if you are a shift worker or have noisy roommates who keep you awake. Keep electronic equipment in another room — the lights from these devices can disrupt your melatonin production and keep you awake.
Stay Healthier as You Age
You have the power to decide how comfortably and gracefully you grow older. Stay healthier as you age using these few simple tips.
About the author:
Mia Barnes is an online journalist and Editor in Chief at Body + Mind.