Discover the keys to aging well so you can enjoy your best life longer.
Yes, it’s true: getting older brings significant life change that can make it harder to stay active, nimble and mentally strong. The good news is that adopting a few healthy habits can soften some of the edges. Learning and living these pillars of healthy aging is a great way to navigate the changes that come with time—and still live your best mountain lifestyle here in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Life expectancy for adults in the U.S. has changed dramatically over the last century, from an average of 54 years in the 1920s to 82 years today. Advancements in modern medicine along with improved living standards have extended our lives—and our quality of life. Today, practicing a healthy lifestyle can greatly reduce your risk of disease as well as help with what is called “successful aging.” This refers to having the cognitive and physical capacity to actively engage with your life—and be happy.
“Establish good habits early and maintain them,” said Edward Wiese, MD, Aspen Valley Primary Care and the medical director for Whitcomb Terrace, the only nonprofit senior residence in the Roaring Fork Valley. “While what your body is capable of changes over time, you can still do a lot of things to stay fit and active as you age.”
The Five Pillars of Healthy Aging
Many factors influence how we age. While some, like genetics, are out of our control, others are within it. Dr. Wiese emphasizes the importance of preventive care, including seeing your doctor and keeping up with your vaccines, as well as establishing and maintaining good habits based on the five pillars of healthy aging.
Keep up with the latest updates from Aspen Valley Hospital. We’re here to guide you on your healthy journey.
There is a reason physical activity is a cornerstone of healthy aging: research suggests that people who exercise regularly live longer—and better. A study of adults ages 40+ found that taking 8,000 or more steps per day, compared to 4,000 steps, was associated with a 51% lower risk of death from all causes. In addition, aging brings a loss of muscle mass and strength, which can increase the risk of falls and fractures and contribute to frailty.
Regular exercise has many benefits, from helping you maintain a healthy weight to preserving muscle mass and function. If you don’t love exercising, take heart: even moderate activity has major health benefits. Walking, easy hiking, swimming and physical activities like gardening can all count toward an ideal goal of 30 minutes most days per week.
If you have any bad habits, now is the time to break them. Smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, and consuming too much alcohol can all increase your risk of chronic disease—and damage your health. Your primary care physician can provide personalized guidance to help you make changes that can improve your health.
Eating a healthy diet can protect you as you age, and also even help improve your brain function. Experts often recommend following a Mediterranean-style diet, with its emphasis on fresh produce, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. Research has shown this diet is effective in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and sudden death. It’s important to include enough healthy protein to maintain muscle mass, and taking dietary supplements like Vitamin D can help to protect your bones. Your primary care physician can provide guidance on what’s right for you.
Staying hydrated is also essential, to ensure healthy liver, kidney and brain function. In the dry air of altitude, it’s extra important to ensure that you are drinking enough. Current recommendations are 2.7 liters per day for women and 3.7 per day for men. While you get 20% of your daily fluids from foods, experts suggest sipping water throughout the day to ensure proper hydration.
“While what your body is capable of changes over time, you can still do a lot of things to stay fit and active as you age.”
EDWARD WIESE, MD, ASPEN VALLEY PRIMARY CARE AND THE MEDICAL DIRECTOR FOR WHITCOMB TERRACE
Get Quality Sleep
Being well-rested helps you stay alert and healthy, but as you age, it can be harder to get quality sleep. Without it, you’re more likely to feel irritable and have trouble concentrating. In addition, research reveals that a lack of sleep could increase your risk for developing dementia. Developing good sleep habits, including going to bed and getting up at the same time and following a consistent bedtime routine, can help you get your recommended 7 to 9 hours daily. For more on this topic, read “Winterproofing Your Sleep Routine.”
Keep Your Brain Sharp
Cognitive functions like problem-solving and memory can change as we age, so it is important to stimulate your brain as much as possible. Reading, taking up a new hobby, or practicing an existing skill can all help—think continuing to play a musical instrument or even learning a new language.
“Like your muscles, your brain works better the more it’s stimulated, especially when learning new skills that are challenging,” said Brooke Allen, MD, Roaring Fork Neurology. “Find and make time for things that engage your mind. This will help your brain gain and retain skills, which can help with brain plasticity as you age.”
Socializing and Finding Purpose
As we age, it can be difficult to maintain social connections, but studies have shown that loneliness and isolation can create health risks like depression, heart disease and cognitive decline. In fact, your social network—and no, not on Facebook—may be the most important lifestyle factor for successful aging. “Surround yourself with people with a similar mindset who enjoy the same activities,” said Dr. Wiese. This social time can keep you motivated, reduce stress and help you feel happier—at any age.
“A lot of my patients say, ‘I don’t feel as old as I am,’” Dr. Wiese added. “Aging well requires a certain frame of mind. Stay engaged, continue to find a purpose, and remember that the world holds positive things for you. Along with healthy habits, this mindset will help you enjoy a high-quality life longer.”
“Find and make time for things that engage your mind. This will help your brain gain and retain skills, which can help with brain plasticity as you age.”
BROOKE ALLEN, MD, ROARING FORK NEUROLOGY