The Five New Year’s Resolutions That Will Make the Biggest Impact on Aging Well
The start of a new year is a natural time to take stock and make plans to create a better future. For both seniors and those who care for them, improving or maintaining their health is often at the top of their to-do list. According to many experts, there are five things that are critical to a person’s overall well-being. If staying well is on your resolutions list, plan on doing more of these five things in the New Year.
Get physically active
We’ve all heard that exercise is important for maintaining optimal health. But it can’t be overstated – physical activity is one of the most important ways to keep both body and mind in shape. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), exercise can help maintain health in a number of ways:
- Losing weight
- Reducing your risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some cancers
- Strengthening bones and muscles
- Keeping the brain healthy and the mind sharp
- Extending the length and quality of your life
The good news is that you don’t need to become married to the gym or spend lots of time or money to get fit. The U.S. Government’s Physical Activity Guidelines recommend just 30 minutes of physical activity a day, which can include walking, jogging, biking, or playing sports. The American Heart Association says 30 minutes a day just five times a week will help. And you don’t even need to do all 30 minutes at once. A study conducted by the University of Utah School of Medicine found that getting up and moving (which could include something as simple as walking) at least two minutes for every hour of sitting results in a 33 percent lower risk of dying.
Make healthful food choices
The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that unhealthy eating and inactivity cause between 310,000-580,000 deaths every year, more than any other single cause. We just talked about the importance of exercise. Healthy eating is just as important for staying healthy and aging well. According to the CDC, good nutrition can help lower the risk for many chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers. Here are some tips on how to eat a more healthful diet:
- Load up on fruits and vegetables.
- Reduce your intake of processed meats.
- Trade in “bad” fats for “good” ones – switch from trans fats and fatty red meats to olive oil, avocados, fish and walnuts.
- Eat foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids such as wild salmon, sardines, herring and flax seeds.
- Reduce the amount of processed sugar you consume.
Stimulate your mind
The mind thrives on learning new skills. According to Arnold Scheibel, head of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute, “anything that’s intellectually challenging can probably serve as a kind of stimulus for dendritic growth, which means it adds to the computational reserves in the brain.” In other words, stimulating the mind with new challenges encourages brain cells to grow, which may stave off the effects of Alzheimer’s. Brain autopsies have shown that many people who have high levels of beta-amyloid plaques – an indicator of Alzheimer’s – never show any signs of the disease. Many scientists believe this may be because of regular exposure to new activities.
Spend time with family and friends
Human connection is essential for a healthy life. People who are socially active tend to be healthier in both mind and body. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who were socially active in their 50s and 60s had slower rates of memory decline compared to those who were more isolated. Another study conducted at Brigham Young University found that social isolation and loneliness are as dangerous to health as obesity. So, give your friends a call and head out to a movie or dinner. Take a morning stroll with your neighbor. If you find it hard to meet people, volunteer. You’ll not only make some great connections, you’ll find a new purpose in life, which can also enhance your well-being.
Get more sleep
Finally, make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Numerous studies have demonstrated the importance of sleep for forming memories, reducing depression, and maintaining both emotional and physical health. Another benefit of sleep is that it may allow the brain to flush out toxins. A study conducted by the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York discovered that “sleep changes the cellular structure of the brain.” The study found that the space between brain cells increased during sleep, allowing toxins to be flushed out. In a separate study, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley discovered that poor sleep can cause the buildup of beta-amyloid deposits. The bottom line: A good night’s sleep is essential for maintaining health.