Everything You Need to Know About Healthy Aging
The way we look at aging has changed a lot in the past decade. Think about it – many popular celebrities are in their fifties, the same age as the main characters of The Golden Girls. People are living longer, more vibrant lives and the early bird special crowd isn’t what it used to be. With technological and scientific advances coming fast and furious, people are no longer defined by their age; they’re empowered and inspired by it.
Don’t be intimidated by aging and time – find purpose in the journey. Think about what you’d like to accomplish over the next few decades of your life and consider what your body needs to keep up with your goals and dreams. It’s time to start thinking about healthy aging, so take a deep dive into everything you need to know about aging, from the first signs you may see (and feel) to the best self-care routines to help keep you operating at your best throughout the years.
The first signs of aging
You may recognize the feeling — you’re going about your business as you always do when suddenly, you notice it. Something in your body doesn’t feel quite right anymore. Maybe it’s an ache in your back after sitting too long or exercising, a pain in your knee, or new wrinkles around your eyes where there weren’t any before. This is all totally normal; the first signs of aging usually begin popping up in your late 20s and early 30s, and often appear via your skin and joints.
“Changes in the skin appearance are probably the most recognizable signs of aging and they manifest with fine lines, drier and thinner skin, and uneven skin texture,” says nutrition scientist Dr. Eugenia Alfine. “While some of the causes of skin aging, like individual genetics, are physiological and inevitable, factors such as air pollution, poor nutrition, smoking, and sun exposure have a profound effect on skin quality and can be managed through lifestyle changes.” If you’re concerned about what you’re seeing in the mirror today, start making changes for tomorrow: quit smoking and incorporate an SPF of at least 30 into your daily skincare routine. (Combine it with a moisturizer to make it faster and easier to remember.)
Your joints may also be signaling that things are changing, from feeling less flexible overall to taking more time to bounce back from strenuous workouts. But what’s going on in your body to cause those aches and pains? “This happens because the amount of synovial fluid, the lubricating fluid within the joints, decreases and cartilage cushions become thinner,” explains Alfine.
Throughout your late 20s and 30s, you may also notice other signs of aging, including poor sleep, weight gain, slower metabolism, and digestive issues. (And yes, trying to bounce back from a night of too much wine is definitely a sign of aging.) If you address these issues now, you’ll be better able to handle them in the future – a key theme for healthy aging overall.
Nutrition through the decades
Feeling your best no matter your age starts with a healthy diet, and nutrition becomes even more important in your later years. “Eating healthy can help reduce the risk of conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity,” says Alfine. This means swapping frequent fast food or packaged and processed foods for fresh fruits and vegetables, drinking less, and quitting smoking, not to mention slowing down your soda habit or sweet tooth if you have one.
There’s no magic fruit or salad blend that will prevent aging, but certain foods do have an impact on how you look and feel. “Eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables is especially important not only because of their high content in nutrients and fiber, but also because they contain several non-nutrient compounds (like flavonoids or catechins to name a few) with beneficial effects on health,” Dr. Alfine shares.
Exercise and energy in your 20s and 30s
Regular exercise is pivotal to supporting whole-body wellness in the moment and in the future – but don’t get caught up in visions of intense daily cardio or 50-pound weights. Think about moving your body with purpose each day to make exercise feel more accessible and less intimidating. “When talking about exercise, I try to speak about it in terms of movement. People see ‘exercise’ and turn off, but think of it as prioritizing movement each day,” says nurse practitioner and master herbalist Lynn Green.
Alfine recommends starting an exercise routine you enjoy in your 20s and sticking to it. “A consistent lack of exercise decreases energy expenditure, which can lead to weight gain. Moreover, studies have shown that physical activity helps people sleep better and speeds up the time it takes for food to travel through the large intestine, easing constipation and helping become more regular.” The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate activity (like brisk walking, dancing, gardening, or water aerobics) or 75 minutes of intense activity (running, swimming laps, cycling, hiking) per week, plus weights and strength training.
If you have little kids, Green recommends letting loose and enjoying some family time on the playground. “Go to the playground and actually play with your child — swings, monkey bars, climbing all utilize muscle groups.” Incorporate movement into your family’s routines, whether that’s a weekly bike ride, taking the stairs, or vigorous dance parties on the weekends. If you make it fun, you’ll encourage everyone in your crew to move more and it won’t feel like a chore.
Tweak your workout for your 40s and beyond
Your 40s tend to be more of a transitional time; you may not feel as spry as you did in your 20s, but you’re not ready to slow down, either. “In your 40s, metabolism and energy are some of the biggest issues,” says Green, adding that if you haven’t already, this decade is a great time to start refining your nutrition and watching calorie and expenditure counts, as well as incorporating more movement into your day. “Motion is lotion to joints.”
As you move into your 50s, 60s, and beyond, you may need to recalibrate your exercise routines and reduce some of the more strenuous exercises. “If you are having issues with movement and joints, dial back higher impact sports and hone in on lower impact activities that give you the huge cardiac benefits,” Green advises. Exercise should remain a priority, though, and not just for your joints and heart. The things that are good for the heart are good for the brain,” she says. Balance exercises and practices like tai chi and yoga may help you resist falls, and lifting light weights keeps muscles stimulated as your body changes. Take walks, ride your bike, garden, go dancing, or play with your grandkids – find fun in your fitness routine!
Women and healthy aging
Pregnancy and parenthood are obviously huge parts of your life if you have children; your nutritional and self-care needs change a lot when you’re trying to conceive and while carrying a baby. After you’ve welcomed your new addition, be kind to yourself and don’t feel pressured to recover and “snap back” immediately; instead, gently return to your previous healthy habits and set an example for your little one to emulate as they grow.
Menopause, breast health, and bone density are some primary concerns of women as they age. Menopause can happen anytime during your 40s and 50s, though the Mayo Clinic reports that the average age for women in the United States is 51. “We see a lot of midlife thyroid and menopausal issues with women,” explains Green. “Your estrogen is starting to decrease, follicles don’t kick out eggs as regularly as they used to.” You may experience perimenopause symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, thinning hair, and mood swings; these are normal, but trust your gut and visit with your healthcare provider if you think something is off, as you know your body best.
You should start getting regular mammograms once you turn 40 to screen for breast cancer and other irregularities. (Hopefully you’ve been doing self-exams at home, but if not, get started ASAP!) To support your bone health, make sure you’re getting adequate calcium in your diet. It doesn’t have to come from dairy – leafy greens contain calcium, as do fruits like oranges. You can also supplement with calcium in a variety of ways, including gummies. “Some of the best things you can do to maintain breast health include adequate exercise, limiting alcohol, and staying in shape,” says Green.
How to stay sharp as you age
Memory, focus, and concentration are major concerns as you age, but if you implement brain-friendly habits now, you may be thankful later. Establish hobbies that bring you joy, read, journal, and do puzzles; try not to spend so much time staring at screens and zoning out in front of Netflix. Find things that challenge you mentally.
In your older years, Green says it’s all about staying active and vibrant as long as you can. “Get out and get daily movement,” she recommends. “Keep your mind active. You don’t have to learn to play an instrument or learn a language, but do Sudoku, word finds, crosswords.” Play cards with friends, sign up for group activities, and read. “All of these things help keep your mind active. One of the worst things you can do is sit and watch TV all day.”
Supplements and healthy aging
Just like the rest of your go-to wellness routines, your supplement choices may need some tweaking as you move from decade to decade. Lucky for you, we’ve compiled a handy guide to adjusting your supplement routine as you age. While a multivitamin should be a mainstay from your 20s to your 60s and beyond, things like family planning and pregnancy, joint health, and cognitive support may require some adjustments.
Stress, mood, attitudes, and outlook
“Stress management is hugely important for your mind and body,” shares Green. She often sees patients in their 30s who are juggling the ups and downs of raising kids while trying to maintain their own interests and identity. “I see so many stressed-out young parents. Maintain those things that help you feel like yourself. Maintaining connections with people and morphing your friendships into supportive family friendships is so important so you’re not just known as ‘X’s mom.’”
Daily stress is normal, but if things are starting to feel unmanageable, it may be time to make a career change, adjust your lifestyle, or find a professional to help. Certain studies have shown a link between chronic stress and accelerated markers of aging, not to mention impacting your sleep, mood, and mental health.
Once retirement is less of a promise and more of a reality, make plans for your newfound free time and stay excited and optimistic about what’s to come. “Make the most of it,” Green says. “Do any travel early in retirement when you can physically do the things you want and they’re enjoyable.” Spending time with your family and friends is good for your mental health and stress levels; laughter is one of the best stress relievers around.
Feelings of loneliness and lack of purpose can arise as you age, especially after retirement. If you don’t have a supportive network of friends and family, this may be time to join a community group, volunteer, or find other ways to connect with others. Reach out to old friends, take a walk with your neighbor, or pick up a part-time job if you’re able. A pet may also help alleviate loneliness and provide another source of activity and connection; there’s nothing like the dog park to bring people together.
No matter where you may be on your path, keeping a positive mindset about aging is the best way to confront new challenges and opportunities that present themselves. You’re strong, resilient, and inspiring at any age – and the best is yet to come!
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