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Healthy Aging


Topic Overview

What is healthy aging?

Getting older is a natural part of life. How you will feel as you get older depends on many things, including what health problems run in your family and the choices you make. If you take good care of your body and learn positive ways to deal with stress now, you can slow down or even prevent problems that often come with getting older.

It's never too early or too late to change bad habits and start good ones. No matter when you start, a healthy lifestyle can make a difference in how you feel and what you can do.

What determines how healthy you will be as you get older?

The changes you'll go through as you get older depend on a number of things. One is your family history (genetics). If your family members have diseases or ongoing (chronic) health problems like high blood pressure or diabetes, then you may have a greater chance of having those problems yourself. But just because your risk is higher, it doesn't mean you will definitely have the same problems. In fact, the lifestyle choices you make can help reduce your chances of getting illnesses that run in your family. And even if you do get a family illness, choosing to be physically active, to eat healthy foods, and to learn how to deal with stress can keep the illness from destroying your ability to enjoy your golden years.

What kinds of changes should you expect as you age?

Changes as you get older are usually gradual. Certain physical changes are common. Your metabolism (how fast your body can burn calories) slows over time, which means that your body needs less food energy than before. How much and how well you sleep will likely change. Most people start needing reading glasses around age 40, and many have some hearing loss later in life. Starting in your 50s, bone aging increases. Also starting around age 50, you may notice changes in sexual function—it's normal to have a slower sexual response.

Most vital organs gradually become less efficient with age. The kidneys are less able to keep enough water in your body. And the heart can start to show signs of wear and tear. So as you get older, it's important to be physically active, drink plenty of water, and choose healthy foods. Doing these things will help your body work well for a longer period of time.

What do you need to do to feel your best as you age?

One of the most important things you can do for your health at any age is to be physically active. Physical activity keeps your body strong, and it helps with how you feel. People who stay active are less likely to get depressed. Physical activity can be anything from walking to gardening to working out at the gym. The important thing is to be active almost every day. No matter what your age or condition, there is a type of physical activity that's right for you. Always ask your doctor whether it is safe for you to start a physical activity program.

Your mental and emotional health are also important. Protect or improve your emotional health by staying in touch with friends, family, and the community. People who feel connected to others are more likely to thrive than those who do not. And try to keep stress at a minimum. In addition to getting regular physical activity, you can take charge of how stress affects you by taking 20 minutes a day to just relax.

To protect or improve your memory and mental sharpness, keep your brain active and challenged. Learn or do something new and different. For example, attend an educational workshop or learn a new card game. Depression can be a serious problem for older adults. If you think you may be depressed, seek help—antidepressant medicine and counseling can help treat depression.

Other good health habits can help you stay at your best:

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Avoid salty foods and foods with a lot of fat in them, such as fried foods.
  • Remember that sexually transmitted infections can affect anyone at any age, so safe sex is a must.
  • If you smoke, try to quit.
  • Always wear your seat belt.
  • Don't abuse alcohol or drugs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about healthy aging:

Ways to stay healthy while aging:

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