How To Age Well With Diet, Exercise And Creativity

We tell you what really works and what doesn't as you age

Tara Parker-Pope Updated: Feb 21, 2020 01:28:02 IST
How To Age Well With Diet, Exercise And Creativity

While you can’t control getting older, the good news is you can slow the decline of ageing with smart choices along the way. And it’s never too late to start. From the foods you eat and how you exercise, to your friendships and retirement goals, there are simple and effective ways to keep your body tuned up and your mind tuned in.

First, a note about weight. Losing just five per cent of your body weight has been shown to reduce your risk for diabetes and heart disease and improve metabolic function in liver, fat and muscle tissue. While we’d all love to shed all of our extra pounds, it’s a lot easier to start with a 5 per cent weight-loss goal and keep it off.

What You Eat?

Studies have found that eating one serving of processed meat a day, like bacon, sausage and deli meats, was associated with a 42 per cent higher risk of heart disease and 19 per cent increased risk of diabetes; other research has implicated processed meats in a higher risk for colorectal cancer. Processed meats have on average four times more sodium and 50 per cent more nitrate preservatives than unprocessed meats.

Overall, the best strategy is to skip all processed foods and beverages. This will immediately eliminate added sugars from your diet. How do you know if a food is processed? One good indicator is if it comes packaged. Of course, some whole, unprocessed foods that are good for you come in packages. Think nuts, eggs, olive oil and milk to name a few. Try to live by the one ingredient rule. If a packaged food contains only one ingredient (ground turkey, for instance) it’s probably a reasonable choice.

There’s a lot to be said for eating blueberries on a regular basis as well as other dark-coloured fruits and vegetables. A high consumption of all fruits and vegetables has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce your risk for diabetes. Once you cut out packaged foods, you will start eating a lot more fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish and wholegrains, which have been shown to be good for you.


What About Supplements?

Study after study has seemed to debunk the benefit of taking supplements. The best advice: Save the money you would spend on them and invest in a new pair of walking shoes, a gym membership or a delicious healthy meal with your family and other loved ones. All of those are likely to do more for your emotional and physical health than a supplement.


A body in motion will age better than one on the couch. Consider these tips for exercise as you age.

In recent years, high-intensity interval training has generated considerable attention. This type of workout, typically lasting less than 15 minutes, and including a warm-up and cool-down, but has been shown in multiple studies to provide health and fitness benefits that are the same as or greater than an hour or more of continuous and relatively moderate exercise.

A Mayo Clinic study published in 2017 found that interval training led to changes in muscles at the cellular level, essentially reversing the natural decline that occurs with ageing. Even if you’re not an exerciser, it’s not too late to start. In the study, older people’s cells responded more robustly to intense exercise than the cells of the young did. Weightlifting can help you maintain muscle mass and stronger bones as you age. And the good news is you don’t have to lift weights like a bodybuilder to reap the benefits.

Scientists have found that a light weight lifting routine is equally as effective at increasing muscle mass and strength, as lifting very heavy weights. The key is lifting the weight enough times to grow tired, not the heaviness of the weights themselves. Strength training can also help keep you from slowing down. Focus on strengthening muscles in the calves and ankles.

During a 2017 study, researchers looked at the neurological effects of country dancing with those of walking and other activities.  Male and female study participants in their 60s and 70s were divided into activity groups that included brisk walking, a programme of gentle stretching and toning work and a dancing group.

The dance group practised increasingly intricate country-dance choreography. Each participant learnt and alternated between two roles for each dance, increasing the cognitive challenge. After six months, scans showed that while cerebral white matter (a major factor in brain ageing) had decreased in the other groups, it had actually increased in the cognitively challenging dance group, suggesting that activities that involve moving, socializing and thinking have the potential to perk up an ageing brain.


Yoga and Meditation

 If you don’t have the ability to take part in vigorous activity, a routine of yoga and meditation may strengthen thinking skills and help to stave off ageing-related mental decline.

One study compared people who took part in a yoga programme that included meditation with those using memory enhancement exercises. Those who practised yoga and meditation did better on a test of visuospatial memory, a type of memory that is vital for navigating while walking or driving and recalling locations. In reviewing the brain scans, researchers found those who had practised yoga had increased their brain connectivity and thus had more communication between different parts of the brain.

Use Your Brain

Most of what we do to keep our bodies fit is also good for the brain. Learning while moving may be a potent way to slow the effects of ageing, strengthening both the body and the mind at the same time.

Tap into Your Inner Artist

Art can inspire an ageing body and mind but there is evidence of the benefit of art for ageing. A study sorted active seniors aged 65 and older, into an intervention group and a control group. The control group maintained its usual activities, the intervention group was assigned to an intensive community-based art programme, painting, creative writing, jewellery making, pottery and singing in a choir. They met weekly for art instruction and also attended concerts and art exhibits.

At the end of the study, the participants in the art programme enjoyed better health, used less medication and had fewer doctor visits compared with the control group. The artists teaching the programmes described how the participants were exhilarated by the process and they were motivated to continue after each creative endeavour.

Take Your Meds

An extraordinary number of people don’t take their prescribed medications. Studies show that 20 to 30 per cent of medication prescriptions are never dispensed at a pharmacist’s, and that approximately 50 per cent of medications are not taken as prescribed.

Here’s the bottom line: If you’ve gone to the trouble to visit a doctor to check on your health, why not follow through and take your meds and put yourself on a path towards better ageing.


Staying in touch with family and friends—and forming new relationships—can keep you healthier longer and may add years to your life.

A large body of scientific research shows that social interaction—having strong, happy relationships with family, friends and community members—is an important factor in good health and longevity.

Friendships can get you through the inevitable health setbacks that occur with ageing. Friends and family give us emotional support that can help us cope with stress. Perhaps most important: As we age, our friends and family give us a sense of purpose and a reason to keep getting up in the morning.

Studies show that people who keep working past retirement age, tend to have better health and stay more socially connected. But it’s tough to parse out whether healthy people tend to keep working or whether work tends to keep us healthy. Even so, most research supports the idea that staying busy, maintaining social connections and finding meaning and purpose in your daily routine are all part of healthy ageing.

Studies also suggest that the type of work matters. If you find work fulfilling and enjoy the company of your colleagues, you should consider sticking with it. If your job is back-breaking or high stress, consider checking out around retirement age—but make a plan for your second act. Volunteer or find paid work somewhere that will keep you active, engaged and give you a reason to get up in the morning. The main benefit of work—[and volunteering]—may be the social network it offers.

This version was condensed by Reader’s Digest. copyright © 2018 by The New York Times Co.
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