Keys for Good Health at Any Age
Health issues can differ depending on your age. For a young woman in her 20s, reproductive issues might top the list, while a man in his 70s might have high blood pressure. No matter what your age, however, there are certain activities and habits that will help you be healthy. Among these are basic strategies such as diet and exercise, but even those less commonly thought of — like socialization and religion — can play a role.
Your Eating Habits
Food plays a major role in health, which makes sense. If your body is like a highly complex, sophisticated machine, the type and amount of fuel you put in it will make a big difference. You wouldn’t try to operate a car on a mix of half water and half gas, nor would you fill it with unrefined crude oil. There are several keys to eating right: eat more food but fewer calories, go for color, make careful choices and minimize processed food. Here’s one simple trick — divide your plate in quarters, fill half with fruits and vegetables, one quarter with protein and one quarter with starches like whole grains, beans or potatoes. Drizzle on a little healthy fat like olive oil. Choosing colorful fruits and veggies increases nutrients and antioxidants. Processed food is typically high in sugar, salt, fat and additives, so keep it off the plate.
Exercise will keep your body strong and flexible, strengthen your heart and increase your capacity to perform your daily activities. It takes surprisingly little time; the key is to do it regularly and include the right kinds of activities. You need a minimum of 30 minutes of aerobic activity daily — walk, run, cycle, swim — whatever you like. If you can’t carve out 30 minutes, go for three 10-minute stints. Include strength-training of at least 30 minutes twice a week, using a resistance band or weights, as well as flexibility exercises like yoga. Finally, spend some time on balance work. It also helps to be on the lookout for ways to promote activity. For example, take the stairs whenever possible and park your car at the far end of the lot so you walk some additional steps.
Humans really are social animals. We came from small tribes and need contact with others on a regular basis. Socialization is especially important for older people, who no longer have children at home and may have less contact with others after retirement. Some social activities are just that, but they may also offer an opportunity to do something you feel is worthwhile and important. Being around other people can boost your feelings of optimism and connectivity. Volunteer to be a literacy tutor or mentor a teen. Make a regular lunch date with a friend. Regular social contact can decrease stress levels and improve the biochemistry of your brain. Even having pets around can help reduce stress and lower your blood pressure.
No matter how old you are, mental stimulation is beneficial to your health. For children, it could be mastering a new game, gardening, while adults might tackle learning a new language. Research shows that the “use it or lose it” saying applies to cognitive functions as well as physical functions. Do the crossword puzzle every day or challenge yourself with word puzzles or Sudoku. Play games, especially strategic games like chess. While you might not think of religion as benefiting your health, there’s increasing evidence that those who have a strong spiritual life tend to be healthier and less likely to engage in self-destructive behavior like excess alcohol use and drug abuse. Part of the beneficial effects might be due to the social activities that are common in many faiths (church potluck, anyone?), but even in those religions which tend to be centered around more solitary practices, having a strong faith seems to have health benefits, such as a stronger immune system.
You can influence your health with your daily habits and activities. Eat properly, move your body on a regular basis and spend time with friends and loved ones. Oh, and one more thing — make time for regular medical and dental care to check your status and take action early when there’s a problem. Odds are you’ll experience such benefits as lower blood pressure and reduced stress, fewer aches and pains and a more cheerful outlook on life. Not to mention that you’ll probably enjoy your days a lot more.