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7 Steps to Aging Well

Staying healthy is a way to keep enjoying life

Adapted from National Institutes of Health | April 27, 2012

Staying healthy isn't a chore. It's a way to keep enjoying life.

Here are seven steps to aging well:

1. Control your blood pressure


Why?

You can have high blood pressure (BP) — also called hypertension — and still feel fine. That's because high blood pressure does not cause symptoms that you can see or feel. But high blood pressure, sometimes called "the silent killer," is a major health problem. If not treated, it can lead to stroke, heart disease, eye problems and kidney failure.

  • Normal BP — Your systolic (top, or first, number) pressure is less than 120 and your diastolic pressure (bottom, or second, number) is less than 80 — for example, 119/79.
  • Prehypertension — Your top number is between 120 and 139 or the bottom number is between 80 and 89. You may be at risk for developing high blood pressure.
  • High BP — Your blood pressure measures 140/90 or higher at two or more checkups.

What You Can Do:
  • Keep a healthy weight. Being overweight adds to your risk.
  • Exercise every day. Moderate exercise can lower blood pressure. Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise plan.
  • Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy foods. To control high blood pressure, eat a diet rich in these foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables are high in potassium, which you need.
  • Cut down on salt and sodium. Most Americans eat more salt and sodium than they need. A low-salt diet might help lower your blood pressure.
  • Drink less alcohol. Drinking alcohol can affect blood pressure. As a general rule, men should have no more than two drinks a day; women no more than one a day.
  • Follow your doctor's orders. If lifestyle changes alone do not control your BP, your doctor may prescribe blood pressure pills.

2. Control your cholesterol


Why?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance present in cell walls or membranes everywhere in the body, including the heart. Your body needs some excess cholesterol, but excess cholesterol deposited in your blood can raise your risk of heart disease or stroke. Excess cholesterol can build up in your arteries, including the coronary arteries, where it contributes to narrowing and blockage. Cholesterol travels through the blood in two "packages": High-density lipoproteins (HDL) is the "good" cholesterol. It carries cholesterol in the blood from other parts of the body to the liver, which removes it. HDL keeps cholesterol from building up in the walls of the arteries. Low density lipoproteins (LDL), the "bad" cholesterol, leads to a buildup of cholesterol in the walls of your arteries. The higher the LDL level in your blood, the greater your chances of developing coronary heart disease.

What You Can Do:

Reduce your LDL bad cholesterol and raise your HDL good cholesterol through diet and exercise. If that fails, you may need drugs.
  • Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) — TLC includes a cholesterol-lowering diet (called the TLC Diet), physical activity, and weight management. TLC is for anyone whose LDL is above the goal set by your physician.
  • Drug Treatment — If cholesterol-lowering drugs are needed, they are used together with TLC treatment to help lower LDL.

3. Control your weight


Why?


Research shows that extra weight puts you at higher risk for a multitude of health risks as you age: Type 2 diabetes (high blood sugar), high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, some types of cancer, sleep apnea (when breathing stops for short periods during sleep), osteoarthritis (wearing away of the joints) and many other problems.

What You Can Do:


Losing as little as 5 to 15 percent of your body weight can do much to improve your health. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, losing 5 percent of your body weight means losing 10 pounds. Losing 15 percent means losing 30 pounds. A safe rate of weight loss is one-half to two pounds per week. Try some of these ideas to support your weight-loss efforts:
  • Keep a food diary.
  • Shop from a list and shop when you are not hungry.
  • Store foods out of sight.
  • Dish up smaller servings. At restaurants, eat only half your meal and take the rest home.
  • Eat at the table and turn off the TV.
  • Be realistic about weight-loss goals. Aim for a slow, modest weight loss.
  • Seek emotional support from family and friends.
  • Expect setbacks and forgive yourself.
  • Make physical activity part of your weight-loss plan.

4. Exercise


Why?

Physical activity burns calories. When you burn more calories than you eat each day, you will take off pounds. As we age, most of us lose from 20 to 40 percent of muscle mass. The quality of muscle tissue in older adults is also decreased. Strength exercises can partly restore muscles and strength, often very quickly.

What You Can Do:


Talk to your doctor about how much exercise is right for you. A good goal for many people is to work up to exercising 4 to 6 times a week for 30 to 60 minutes at a time.

5. Stop smoking


Why?

Tobacco use remains the single most preventable cause of death in the United States. Cigarette smoking accounts for nearly one-third of all cancer deaths in this country each year. Smoking is the most common risk factor for the development of lung cancer, which is the leading cause of cancer death. It is also associated with many other types of cancer. Smoking also increases the risk of other health problems, such as chronic lung disease and heart disease. Smoking during pregnancy can have adverse effects on the unborn child, such as premature delivery and low birth weight.

What You Can Do:


All health care professionals agree that quitting smoking is the best gift you can give yourself and your loved ones.

6. Don't drink too much

Why?


The consequences of alcohol misuse are serious — in many cases, life threatening. Heavy drinking can increase the risk for certain cancers, especially those of the liver, esophagus, throat and larynx (voice box). Heavy drinking can also cause liver cirrhosis, immune system problems, brain damage and harm to the fetus during pregnancy. In addition, drinking increases the risk of death from automobile crashes as well as recreational and on-the-job injuries.

What You Can Do:


Moderate alcohol use — up to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women and older people — is not harmful for most adults. (A standard drink is one 12-ounce bottle or can of either beer or wine cooler, one 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.)

7. Follow preventive measures proven to help


Why?


Taking responsibility for your own health as you age means being an active participant with your physician and other health care professionals.

What You Can Do:


Here are five preventive steps to follow:
  • Find and stay with a "medical home." With the growing use of retail-based and emergency walk-in clinics, many families are in danger of seeing a succession of health care professionals who have no history of them or their family members. Find a "medical home" physician or medical practice and stay with it over time.
  • Get vaccinated. Pay attention to childhood immunization schedules, as well as established and emerging vaccines for adults. Ignoring them can be hazardous to your health as you age.
  • Save your skin. With age come sunlight-related effects, from wrinkles and dermatitis to basal cell carcinomas and melanoma cancers. Aggressively protect your skin from overexposure. See your physician regularly for changes in your skin.
  • Take your medicine. Taking the correct amount of your prescribed medicine at the proper time is called medical compliance. Remember to take your medicine; it can only be effective when taken as prescribed.
  • Educate yourself. Being proactive about your health as you age means continually learning about how you can stay healthy.

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