15 Ways to embrace getting older

Reader's Digest Editors

Modern research is discovering all the ways that you can boost your chances of a longer, healthier, happier life. Here are 15 of the best:

1. Follow your path 

Setting goals has proven benefits for your health. A US study of older adults found that those with a sense of purpose tended to live longer than those who had none. So plan ahead and enjoy new experiences. Have aims and ambitions. As the singer Leonard Cohen once said on stage: "I began this tour three years ago; I was 73, just a kid with a crazy dream."

 

2. Move your body

Countless studies show that staying active helps you live a happier, healthier, longer life. If you don’t currently exercise, start now: the benefits accrue whatever your age or level of fitness—Texan researchers found that a year of exercise training improved heart function in previously sedentary people over 65.

 

3. Don't worry, be happy!

If you were to plot the average person’s happiness on a graph, the resulting curve would be smile-shaped. We are happy in our youth, less so in our middle years, then happy again in the latter third of life. A UK survey of 80,000 people found that the 65-to-80 age group enjoyed life most. Older people know how to devote energy to what matters and move on quickly from mistakes.

 

4. Watch your waistline

Maintaining a healthy weight is important—but keeping your waist size down is crucial. Fat around the waist is a visible sign of ‘visceral fat’—fatty deposits around the internal organs. This fat is dangerous, because it releases inflammatory chemicals linked to a host of diseases from arthritis to diabetes. How do you get rid of it? Slow and steady weight loss is healthier than crash dieting, and there are many delicious foods to enjoy in a balanced diet. Be sure to exercise too—to keep yourself strong.

 

5. Keep old friends, make new ones

Good relationships are the key to contentment in later life. So said a British survey of 10,000 men and women over the age of 50. Research also shows that the stronger your relationships, the longer you’re likely to live. An Australian study of people in their 70s found their chances of living well into the next decade were directly linked to the size of their social network.

 

6. Adore the outdoors

We’ve long known that a daily dose of vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, is important for bone health. Scientists are now discovering that vitamin D deficiency could be a factor in some cancers and in multiple sclerosis. It also helps the immune system function more efficiently. Yet more than half of us don’t get enough, even in the summer. Make a point of getting outdoors for a few minutes around midday during the warmer months. During the shorter days of winter, consider taking a supplement.

 

7. Eat more plants

There are more centenarians on the Japanese island of Okinawa than anywhere else on the planet. And they’re less likely to be blighted by the diseases that come with age. What’s their secret? It’s a lot to do with diet. They actually eat more, pound for pound, than Westerners, but their food is low in calories—plenty of fresh produce and whole grains, with smaller amounts of high-fat, high-calorie foods.

 

8. Carry on loving

There’s no reason why your sex life should peter out. A Swedish study found that older couples today have more sex, and better sex, than their predecessors. That’s important because an active love life has health benefits—researchers in Bristol concluded that sexual activity had a protective effect. And a Scottish study found that older people who regularly had sex looked up to ten years younger than those who did not.

 

9. Learn something new

Swedish researchers found that older people tend to have the same hobbies in later life as in middle age. That’s fine, but it’s important to challenge your mind with novel activities. The very act of planning them stimulates the release of neurotransmitters, which can decrease with age. New interests can mean meeting new people—also good for you.

 

10. Drink when you're not thirsty

Your body is 60 to 75 per cent water. But in later years, fluid balance becomes harder to maintain—a result of changes in body composition as well as less efficient kidney function. It’s vital to drink enough to avoid dehydration. You can’t always rely on thirst or a parched throat to tell you that you need to top up, as the sensation of thirst declines as you get older. So it’s a good idea to keep a glass of water beside you to sip regularly.

 

11. Focus on your garden

People who garden are more likely to remain fit into old age. If you have a garden to tend, you’re probably active for the recommended 150 minutes a week, according to research by the Kansas State University. And a bit of weeding and dead-heading—digging too, but watch your back—is exactly the kind of gentle physical activity that does you good. Australian researchers found that daily gardening reduced the risk of dementia by 36 per cent in a sample group of over-60s. Gardening is a perfect antidote to stress, and you get a wonderful sense of achievement from growing beautiful roses or tasty vegetables.

 

12. Brush up

It’s surprising how much dental hygiene matters as you get older. Daily flossing and cleaning twice daily is linked to a healthier old age. Why? Because the bacteria that cause periodontal disease can also cause inflammation elsewhere in the body—and that can contribute to serious problems such as stroke, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.

 

13. Keep a pet

There’s been plenty of research to show that animals can reduce stress in their owners. One study from Miami University in Ohio found that pet owners have greater self-esteem and are more conscientious and less fearful, which all boost mental health. Now it seems pets can help physical health too—a study by the US National Institutes of Health showed that dog owners have a better chance of being alive one year after a heart attack, regardless of the severity of the attack.

 

14. Dress as you please, do as you will

Once you’re older you’re more likely to do as you like and look the way you want to, without worrying about what other people think. Plenty of older role models—from Helen Mirren to Sean Connery—confirm that you never need to stop being attractive and graceful. You’ve earned the right to be a bit individual, even downright disgraceful. Laugh in the face of people who ask, with a concerned smile, "Aren’t you a bit old for that?"

 

15. Have regular medical check-ups

Below, we've outlined the seven most important, potentially life-saving health checks:

  • Cholesterol test A blood test is the only way to establish your cholesterol levels
  • Blood pressure checks High blood pressure can damage the heart and make a heart attack more likely. See your doctor for regular check-ups 
  • Breast screening Women over 50 should have a mammogram, a type of X-ray, to check for early signs of breast cancer
  • Skin checks Keep an eye on any moles, and report any changes to your doctor
  • Eye tests An optician can detect early signs of diabetes and glaucoma as well as sight changes
  • Bowel cancer A bowel cancer screening test every couple of years is important. More than 80 per cent of cases occur in people over 60 
  • Cervical smear This test is used to detect abnormal cells in the cervix early on