Most of us don’t think all that much about getting old or our inevitable rendezvous with the dirt. Yet how your old age will unfold depends in part on what you do starting when you’re younger, says Michelle Rappaport, M.D., a general internist who practices at the UW Neighborhood Belltown Clinic.
“Putting healthy practices into place when you’re young helps to establish and maintain the kind of wellness that will propel you into a robust old age,” she says.
Just what kind of healthy practices will help you reach old age in good form? Don’t worry. You won’t have to transform your life into a series of intermittent mini-fasts to stay healthy for the long haul.
Just a few lifestyle tweaks practiced over time can make all the difference in how well you age.
Do your best to minimize your consumption of foods high in added sugars. That’s because a diet high in sugar is bad news for your heart and sets you up for diseases like fatty liver and diabetes. Sugar that gets added to foods is a problem as is the high sugar content of juices.
“Sugar tends to make you put on weight, but it also causes an insulin surge, which is fat-maintaining and fat-promoting in and of itself, without even counting the calories consumed,” says Rappaport.
Exercise for 20 to 30 minutes four or more days per week. The very best practice is to combine aerobic exercise, which has cardiovascular effects; weight-bearing exercise, which is good for your bones; and resistance or strength training, which builds and maintains muscle.
“But what kind of exercise you do is less important than that you DO exercise. If you take up weightlifting or strength training, be sure to get trained on proper form to avoid injury,” says Rappaport.
Get six to eight hours of sleep every night, and plan around it. It’s that significant.
Adequate sleep is important in reducing your risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity; preserving cognition and immune function; and improving your mood and sociability. “Adequate sleep makes everything else that you’re working on for your health just that much better,” says Rappaport.
When you get enough sleep, your productivity also improves. “This nugget of hard truth sometimes helps people to prioritize sleep,” says Rappaport.
If you really can’t swing at least six hours of shut-eye every night, supplement your sleep with a nap or by sleeping in on weekends.
A few minutes of a stress-reducing practice every day eases anxiety and makes you more resilient. Stress is bad for you in many ways, not the least of which is the fact that it increases inflammation, which accelerates many diseases.
“People really underestimate the amount of feeling unwell that is a direct result of stress,” says Rappaport.
“If you’ve tried something like meditation or yoga and given up, you should keep trying,” says Rappaport. You don’t have to do it well; you just have to do it.
See your friends. And rely on more than DM to establish a strong relationship.
Studies have shown that people with at least a couple of strong social ties tend to be happier and healthier. For example, the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the world’s longest-running studies of adult life, found that the people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at 50 were the healthiest at 80.
“You don’t need a lot of friends; a couple of close friends is enough,” says Rappaport.
Eat your fruits and veggies
“By eating fruits and vegetables, you get a lot of low-carb, high-fiber nutrition that has the added benefit of being completely unprocessed,” Rappaport says.
Aim to eat an assortment of colors because the pigments that give your fruits and vegetables color represent a variety of phytonutrients like beta-carotene, folate and resveratrol that are good for you.
Just do it…when you can
Even if you don’t practice these recommendations on a daily basis, semi-consistency works, too, says Rappaport.
“The real point is to have these things somewhere on your radar and practice them when you can.”