Not Fading Away: 6 Ways to Age Gracefully

The legendary film star Bette Davis once lamented, “Getting old is not for sissies.” She may have been right. As we advance in years, we come to terms with the idea that we won’t be around forever, that the days are inevitably passing us by. The good news is that you need not despair — as you grow older, bear in mind that the best is yet to come: opportunities to start over, to let you live out each day as though it were your last. Here are six (scientifically proven) tips to getting the most out of every day, mentally and physically, and living life to the fullest, regardless of your age.

1. Remember That It’s Never Too Late

You might think that if you haven’t adopted a healthy lifestyle by your mid-20s or early 30s, that there’s probably not much you can do — especially if there’s a risk of long-term illness like cancer or diabetes in your family. Nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout your life, your brain is constantly changing due to its neuroplasticity, always in search of new connections to form. You can start good habits at any point, and turn them into lifelong routines, while enjoying the benefits of eating healthy and regular exercise.

2. Keep Optimistic

This may seem obvious, or maybe hard, but when you hear about the benefits, you may find it hard to not be optimistic. Studies consistently show that optimistic people tend to live longer and more meaningful lives — that they tend to be more active and regularly meditate, and are less likely to suffer from chronic illnesses like heart disease. To put that in perspective, one study followed 1,000 men and women over a decade — subjects who identified as optimistic were 55 percent less likely to die during the period of the study, and their risk of dying from heart failure was 23 percent lower than that of their more-pessimistic counterparts.

3. Find Something You Love, And Do It

If an active lifestyle is something you can do, then it’s not too late to take up a new hobby — or simply to volunteer. Essentially, give your life a purpose — and you’ll realize that many people who volunteer do so to give back to their community. Others still act out of a desire to help others. Regardless of the reason, you take the focus from your own troubles to act selflessly. In fact, our brains may be hardwired for altruism. In a study by the University of California, Los Angeles, impulses were blocked from the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex in patients, causing them to act more generously toward the people around them. The more generous patients also showed greater activity between the amygdala and the somatosensory cortex, which play roles in both feeling emotions and imitating other people.

4. Exercise Often

Try to get in at least an hour of physical activity each day. It doesn’t have to be anything strenuous — even a walk through the neighborhood park or a morning spent doing some simple gardening and yard-work is enough to stay active. Aside from the obvious health benefits — stimulating blood flow and regulating body temperature — the buildup of muscle mass can also help your metabolism, allowing it to better absorb medications the way you would at a younger age. Benefits extend beyond the physical, as studies show that exercise improves our cognitive abilities as well. In one study, a class was given aerobic exercise and vocabulary words to memorize. Those who exercised shortly before a cumulative quiz on what they learned did better — probably the result of the brain’s neurotrophic factor, which controls both exercise and memory. Moreover, researchers are now seeing a correlation between increased activity and lowered risk of dementia.

5. Socialize

Keep an open network of friends. Above all, one of the most-significant causes of dementia and other health complications is loneliness. An analysis of over 148 studies — following a total of 300,000 people — concluded that those who forged strong social relationships had the greatest chance of survival. Aside from learning new skills, a great deal of connections form in your brain from human relationships — reason enough for why you need to regularly call up that one friend and meet for coffee at least once a week. According to Julianne Holt-Lunstad, the study’s lead author: “When someone is connected to a group and feels responsibility for other people, that sense of purpose and meaning translates to taking better care of themselves and taking fewer risks.”

6. A Good Night’s Rest

Approximately 8 to 9 hours per night. This can never be too strongly emphasized. All too many adults suffer from a lack of sleep. As we age, we tend to sleep less deeply, the result of the brain producing less melatonin. This is also a possibility for why our sleep cycles change as we age — getting tired earlier in the evenings and waking up earlier in the mornings — so setting aside a particular time in the evening to fall asleep is important. In addition to tiredness during the day, sleep deprivation is associated with attention and memory problems.

This article was first published in Brain World Magazine’s Winter 2017 issue.

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