We know to eat right and work out, but there are a host of lesser-known life-lengthening strategies in the book Aging Wisely by Robert A. Levine, M.D. See five of his surprising tips on staying vital as you age—”simple guidelines for people who want to age wisely [that] require minor amounts of discipline, but are worthwhile for the payback received in terms of a happy and productive life as we age”—below.
Everyone ages—it’s an inevitable part of life. There are aspects of this process we cannot control, and others that we can. We are capable in many ways of determining how we age, and we can choose to maximize our physical and mental potential to lead a productive and pleasurable life as we grow older.
Surprise No. 1: Prevention should start much earlier than most people think.
The Alzheimer’s disease process starts in our brains at least twenty to thirty years before its symptoms are clinically manifest, as does atherosclerosis in our arteries. These do not just suddenly develop when we hit age seventy or eighty.
This means that if we want to avoid heart attacks, or keep Alzheimer’s from turning us into cognitive invalids, we must start preventative measures at an early age. The same is true for all the chronic diseases associated with aging. Most people are aware that alcoholism, drug addiction, and AIDS are processes under our control, but don’t realize that the common diseases of aging are also possible for us to affect. The earlier we start our battles against these diseases, the more likely we are to be successful, allowing us to lead productive and happy lives as we grow older. A preventative program should begin when we are in our forties to be most effective.
Surprise No. 2: A few simple changes will help you fight a whole range of disease.
Protecting ourselves against Alzheimer’s, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and COPD all require similar actions and behavioral changes. Thus, fighting one disease means we are fighting them all.
First of all, smoking cigarettes is absolutely forbidden because of its destructive effect on multiple bodily systems. Secondly, a sedentary life is a killer. Daily aerobic exercise as part of our routine is a necessary requirement if we are attempting to age well. Do up to an hour of aerobic exercise every day if possible, but whatever can be done should be done.
Speaking of aerobic exercise: Changing the type of exercise occasionally (walking, running, biking, swimming, and so forth) may aid in avoiding injuries. And working with weights two or three times a week for twenty to thirty minutes is also helpful in strengthening muscles and allowing us to remain independent.
Surprise No. 3: Helping your body helps your brain.
Aerobic exercise is more important in enhancing brain function and memory than any other activity. This has been proven in both rats and human subjects. Chemicals are released in the brain with exercise that stimulate neurogenesis at any age—the growth of new brain cells. So any exercise we do is beneficial to our brains, as well as the rest of our bodies.
Surprise No. 4. Socialization plays a big part in preventing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
It is important to be involved socially with other people on a regular basis when we are older as well as when young. Join a book club, play cards, etc. Interaction with different people stimulates the brain and enhances thinking and memory.
Surprise No. 5. Alcohol in moderate amounts is healthy!
One or two drinks every day can reduce the incidence of heart attacks and strokes, and increase longevity.
And on the subject of drinking and eating: Diet is a vital factor in how we age. Fresh fruits and vegetables should be consumed daily in large amounts, and fish at least three times a week. Red meats and lunch meats should be avoided or only eaten occasionally. Similarly, sweets and high calorie desserts should be used only as special treats.