Healthy Habits for Longevity: 5 Best Lifestyle Choices for Healthy Aging

Did you know that by 2034, adults ages 65 and older are projected to outnumber those who are under age 18, for the first time in U.S. history? That’s just one interesting fact in the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 report “Living Longer: Historical and Projected Life Expectancy in the United States, 1960 to 2060.” This extensive look at American longevity, which tracked stats on population aging, also noted that the life expectancy for our overall population is projected to increase by about six years, from 79.7 in 2017 to 85.6 in 2060.

That’s a big jump from previous generations. The report states that between 1960 and 2015, male life expectancy increased by about 10 years (to 77), while female life expectancy grew by almost 9 years, to 81.7. This is positive news, but there’s a catch: With people living longer, it’s more important than ever to take care of our bodies—and the earlier, the better. It’s crucial to establish healthy aging habits that will not only carry us into our elder years, but carry us through them with greater ease, comfort, and enjoyment.

Healthy Aging

What does healthy aging require? We’ll delve into more detail below, but here are a few key components that help ensure you’ll stay healthier over the long haul:

Improve Your Brain Health

It’s never too early to start taking better care of your brain. Remember, brain health is a cornerstone of mental health. And a brain working at its optimal level is going to pay off by enabling better health decisions at any age. Avoiding risky behaviors while adopting brain-boosting habits helps set you up for success and helps prevent neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.

Physical Activity & Mobility

Movement is not an option! Too many Americans today lead sedentary lifestyles. In fact, some medical professionals have claimed that excessive sitting is the new smoking. That’s because it’s a lifestyle choice that’s very destructive to health—yet totally preventable. Everything from walking and jogging to strength exercises and sports are great choices to get you moving and get you healthier.

Diet and Nutrition

It’s a no-brainer that what we consume affects every single part of our bodies. When we rely on a SAD diet—that is, the Standard American Diet, chock-full of ultra-processed foods—we increase inflammation in the body and can experience all kinds of dangerous effects, from weight management issues to diabetes.

The Phenomenon of “Super Agers”

While many people associate aging with a loss in vitality, especially in brain functioning, there are people who are defying this assumption. They’re called cognitive super agers, and they’re elders who haven’t succumbed to the same cognitive decline that has affected many people in their age group (80s and 90s). Super agers perform better on memory tests than their peers.

The National Institute on Aging released information about this category of Americans in 2020, noting that the over-90 population is actually the fastest-growing population group in the U.S. Different studies have found certain factors in common among the super agers: a thicker cingulate cortex (a brain region that’s important for memory); a higher density of certain neurons linked to social intelligence and awareness; and more brain volume/less shrinkage overall. Scientists are examining the reasons behind their super ager status, such as genetics, environment, and lifestyle.

Healthy Aging Habits | BrainMD

5 Healthy Habits for Healthier Aging

Want to enter the super ager category? Start now. Beginning healthier habits from a young age is ideal, but no matter what age you are, it’s never too late to begin. Try these tactics for the best results:

   1. Exercise

The Heart Foundation reports that the average American is active for less than 20 minutes per day. And one study found that the people who are the most sedentary have a greater risk of disease and death. That includes diabetes, heart attack and stroke, as well as a 49% increase in risk of death by any cause. The good news is, simply walking for 60 to 75 minutes per day can help counteract those effects.

Don’t forget about strength training, too. As we get older, we naturally lose muscle mass. That’s one reason why strength training is so important—especially for women, to help combat bone loss that can contribute to conditions like osteoporosis. One 2018 study stated that resistance exercise (strength training) “may be the most optimal strategy to improve the muscle and bone mass in postmenopausal women, middle-aged men, or even the older population.”

   2. Brain Boosters

Another benefit of exercise is that it boosts blood flow to the brain. But there are other steps you can take for better brain health: taking nutritional supplements, going for a preventative screening like a brain SPECT scan, avoiding head trauma, and reducing your negative thoughts, to name a few.

You’ll also want to keep your brain active by learning new things, especially as you age. Many older people can find themselves less stimulated or motivated after retirement, for example. But staying engaged with hobbies, sports, educational pursuits, or even relaxing pastimes like jigsaw puzzles and chess games can help keep your brain active and sharp.

   3. Sleep

Adults should aim for about 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. For some people, sleep isn’t something that comes easily. But when sleep suffers, so do many aspects of our lives. When people are tired, they’re more likely to skip that exercise session, choose highly processed “convenience foods,” and make poor lifestyle decisions in general.

A sound sleep-hygiene strategy can help maximize your shut-eye. You might develop a relaxing nighttime routine, such as turning off the electronics at least 1 hour before bedtime, meditating, and listening to soothing music. Sticking to the same wake-up and sleep times is beneficial to establish a rhythm. And you might consider adding sleep-inducing supplements to your regimen. I have used time-release melatonin with valerian root and magnesium to great effect, while others reach for solutions like 5HTP, GABA, and inositol.

   4. Diet and Nutrition

The right foods offer many benefits for the body. Did you know that beets and cayenne pepper can help increase blood flow to the brain? Or that cruciferous veggies like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts help detoxify the body? On the other hand, you’ll want to avoid nutritionally empty foods like sugar—and beware of all the ways they sneak into your diet through packaged or prepared foods.

In general, follow an anti-inflammatory diet that contains omega-3 fatty acids, which you can find in fatty fish (such as salmon or anchovies). Omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with numerous benefits, including improvements in blood flow, brain function, memory, and mood, but they also help reduce brain shrinkage as a result of aging. You can also take supplements like fish oil, probiotics, and curcumins.

   5. Social Life

The National Institute on Aging report mentioned above highlighted a Northwestern University study that examined the link between social factors and healthy cognitive aging. Comparing cognitive super agers and their cognitively average peers, researchers found that super agers “reported more friends and family connections, a finding that builds on past research showing links between psychological well-being and lower risk of Alzheimer’s.”

Become a Super Ager with Healthy Aging Habits

As Americans live longer, thanks to medical advancements and improved quality of life, we’re asking more of our bodies than ever before in our human evolution. Luckily, we also have more knowledge and resources than ever before to better care for ourselves. And it’s never too early—or too late—to start a healthier regimen to protect and improve our physical health. We want our brains and bodies to not only survive over the long haul, but to perform at their peak for decades to come.

That’s the kind of healthy aging we should all aspire to.

Tana Amen, BSN, RN