Almost 4 million Americans pass the age of 89—and the number is growing each day. What are they doing right?
Scores of recent medical studies, when taken together, argue convincingly for a certain type of lifestyle to promote long life. It’s not only the length of your life that’s important; it’s also the quality of that life as well. After all, we don’t want to live to a healthy age but be incapacitated in some way, be it physically, cognitively, or psychologically.
Studies show that if we take action in each of the following four key areas, we can increase our odds of enjoying a sound mind in a sound body for many years to come. Because these factors work synergistically, it’s important to adopt at least some behaviors in all four areas.
Action #1—Get regular aerobic exercise.
Focus on exercises that involve constant motion of the legs, such as walking, jogging, bicycling, swimming, roller blading, and tennis. Plan for five moderate workouts per week of 30 minutes each (for example, walking one to two miles) or three or more intense workouts per week of 20 minutes each (for example, swimming 15-20 laps at a good pace).
Pay attention to your resting pulse rate to determine exercise effectiveness. Your resting pulse will drop as fitness increases. A resting pulse rate under 70 is good; under 60 is excellent. Go slow and easy with exercise if you’ve been sedentary or are an occasional exerciser. Too much too soon leads to pain and increases the odds of quitting. Gradually build up your stamina.
Action #2—Make your brain work harder.
Read magazines and books to gain new and different knowledge that’s separate from your current occupation. After reading each article or book chapter, try to recall what you just read. Don’t be a passive TV watcher; choose programs that are educational or challenging. Visit museums, zoos, and historical sites, read the signage, and try to remember key facts after each exhibit.
Keep your brain nimble by taking a community college course or a local workshop to learn a new skill. Take up a new hobby that requires research, reading, or consulting experts. Do a daily crossword or brain-teaser puzzle, and switch to different types as they get easier. Playing board games and card games also taxes the brain, which keeps it healthier.
Action #3—Cultivate a positive attitude about life.
Be positive as often as possible; for example, see problems as opportunities in disguise. Set career and personal goals for the future, and continue doing this throughout your life. Instead of fearing the future, embrace it and all it has to teach you. Actively fight against stereotypes about aging. You are truly only as old as you feel, so don’t “act your age” when you’re older.
Stress, anxiety, and depression speed up aging and ill-health. Eliminate stress and anxiety by exercising, practicing meditation and/or deep breathing, engaging in relaxing hobbies, or reading. Continue doing in retirement what you did before retirement—in other words, work at least part-time, exercise, volunteer, and keep as active as possible.
Action #4—Practice healthy dietary habits.
Minimize saturated fat in your diet, and try to substitute fish, chicken, and turkey for beef and pork. Avoid deep-fried food and eliminate trans fats. Substitute fat-free versions of all dairy products. Follow the Mediterranean diet: lots of fruits and vegetables (9 servings daily); daily whole-grain bread, pasta, and cereal; olive oil for cooking; fat-free cheese; fish twice a week; poultry one to two times a week; red wine a few times a week; sweets one to two times a week; and meat only three or four times per month. Fish should be your most frequent entrée; DHA found in fish is important for maintaining cognitive function as you age. Fruits and vegetables should be the food category you eat most often.
Avoid a deficiency in the healthy nutrients lycopene, beta-carotene, selenium, and resveratrol. Eat tomatoes, tomato sauce and paste to benefit from lycopene. Eat carrots, mangoes, papayas, spinach, kale, apricots and cantaloupe to benefit from beta-carotene. Eat tuna, cod, salmon, shrimp, spaghetti, pasta, rice, turkey, and chicken to benefit from selenium. Drink red wine or grape juice or eat red grapes to increase resveratrol levels. Lower your cholesterol level using plant stanols, or use statins if your doctor thinks that’s best.
- By Dennis Kravetz
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Dennis Kravetz is a psychologist, physical fitness buff, business consultant, and writer whose lifelong passion has been to study and research how to extend the human lifespan and improve the quality of one’s life with a healthy lifestyle. He’s the author of eight books, most recently A Sound Mind in a Sound Body: Live Long, Live Healthy (KAP Books, 2013). Learn more at www.longlife4me.com.