What steps can people take today to ensure healthy aging in their future?

I am frequently asked by patients about how to grow old gracefully and in good health. Unfortunately, the fountain of youth has not been discovered. However there are steps that everyone can take to make the senior years enjoyable ones providing we have our mental and physical health. This blog will provide some suggestions that I think can lead you to healthy lifestyle in your middle age and older years.

The risk of Alzheimer’s disease
One in eight adults above the age of 65 years old in the United States has Alzheimer’s disease and some cognitive decline is a normal part of aging. The greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s is advancing age. The likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s doubles about every five years after age 65 and after age 85, the risk reaches nearly 50 percent.

Those who have a parent, brother, sister or child with Alzheimer’s are more likely to develop the disease. The risk increases if more than one family member has the illness.

Genetics (heredity) also plays a role. There are two types of genes that can play a role in affecting whether a person develops a disease—risk genes and deterministic genes. Alzheimer’s genes have been found in both categories. Risk genes increase the likelihood of developing a disease, but do not guarantee it will happen. Deterministic genes directly cause a disease, guaranteeing that anyone who inherits them will develop the disorder.

So what can you do?
Live an active life. Regular exercise is one of the greatest keys to physical and mental wellbeing. Regular exercise may prevent or even provide relief from many common chronic conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, depression and arthritis

Maintain your brain. Studies have shown that a lifestyle that includes cognitive stimulation through active learning slows cognitive decline. That means getting off the couch and onto the sidewalks, parks, or jogging paths. A brisk walk 20-30 minutes a day is all that you need.

Get enough sleep. Older adults need just as much sleep as young adults – seven to nine hours per night. Lack of sleep can cause depression, irritability, increased fall risk and memory problems

Make an effort to reduce stress. Long-term stress can damage brain cells and lead to depression, memory loss, fatigue and decreased ability to fight off and recover from infection.

What are some foods people can eat now for healthy aging later?
Eat nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables and whole-grains to keep your body and mind sharp.
Colorful fruits and vegetables contain antioxidant which help stop unstable molecules from damaging healthy cells. I suggest you consume colorful vegetables and fruits, such as leafy greens, tomatoes, blueberries and carrots as they contain the highest quantities of antioxidants. You want to enjoy five to nine servings a day.

You need calcium and vitamin D. The calcium and fortified vitamin D in dairy foods are crucial to strong bones and help prevent osteoporosis. I suggest 3 cups of low-fat milk, yogurt, or other dairy products a day.

Whole grains are rich in fiber and help lower cholesterol and provide for regular bowel movements. Examples are oats, quinoa, barley, wheat and brown rice, which also lowers your chance of developing type 2 diabetes and keeps blood vessels in peak condition. You should strive for three servings of whole grains a day.

Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids in fatty fish help protect your heart, lower your odds of having a stroke and may even help guard against Alzheimer’s disease. Help yourself to two servings a week of fatty fish such as salmon or tuna.

Finally, maintain a healthy sex life. Sex serves as a form of exercise and can help reduce stress, improve moods and increase overall health. Another advantage of regular sex is that it can actually lower your total cholesterol level, and increase the high-density lipoproteins (HDL) or the good cholesterol. And besides….it’s a lot of fun!

Bottom Line: You can’t change your genes or your parents but you can lead a healthy lifestyle by having a regular exercise regimen and having a healthy diet. Both of these will lead to good health and enjoyment of your senior years.

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