When you look into your future, who do you want to see? Someone who’s full of life and chatting everyone up, telling vibrant stories about your past? Still signing up for 10Ks well into your seventh decade? Someone whose doctor tells them they have the heart of someone decades younger?
It’s possible to live longer and feel better if you have the right habits. Here’s what internal medicine doctors, registered dietitians and certified personal trainers do to make sure they age well:
1. ‘I Switch Up My Food’
Variety is the X-factor when it comes to building a healthy diet for longevity, Angel Planells, MD, RDN, a Seattle-based national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
“Consuming a wide variety of foods — whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, dairy and meat and non-meat protein — helps to fuel my body and have it running like a high-octane sports car,” he says.
As Planells explains, variety beats boredom and ensures he’s getting a range of nutrients, including carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals.
That’s on display with his protein choices, where he toggles between chicken, fish, pork and lamb, as well as snacking on nuts and seeds. In addition to being used to build and repair muscles and maintain the strength of your skeleton, protein is also important for the health of hair and nails, too, he says.
2. ‘I Get Some Sort of Movement in Every Day’
Eric Goldberg, MD, clinical associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Health and senior director of NYU Langone Internal Medicine Associates, heads out for a run first thing in the morning.
“Establishing a strong baseline for fitness at a younger age has been shown to lead to healthier aging,” he tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Movement has looked different for him during the pandemic, and he’s had to make adjustments that would benefit his health the most during the changes of the past year.
“I started to run more days of the week — but shorter distances — in order to combat the stress of the past year and to have some intentional movement each day, especially with longer days sitting on a screen,” Dr. Goldberg explains.
Not only does this buoy his physical and mental health today, but it protects against the risk of frailty in the future. Frailty is a syndrome where loss of muscle leads to weakness, slowness, poor endurance and a low level of physical activity, per the Medical University of South Carolina. People who have frailty are more likely to fall, be hospitalized and have an increased risk of mortality — but frailty is not inevitable with aging.
The key, Dr. Goldberg says, is to get into the habit so that this daily movement becomes more automatic. “Habits generally take a month to build, so consistency is essential. Once integrated into your routine, they are easier to maintain,” he says.
3. ‘I Commit to Sleep’
One of the best pieces of healthy aging and longevity advice can be the hardest one to follow: Prioritize sleep as best as you can.
Brent Agin, MD, founder and medical director at Priority You MD in Clearwater, Florida, aims for 7 to 8 hours per night. “Quality of sleep is more important than quantity in most cases, so I don’t try to achieve a sleep cycle that’s unrealistic,” Dr. Agin tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Sleep, along with a nutrient-packed diet and regular exercise, is what Dr. Agin considers the three essentials for a healthy lifestyle. “Lifestyle is the driving force behind healthy aging,” he says.
If you know you’re lacking the sleep component, a good place to start is to aim to sleep more than six hours and then incrementally add on 15 minutes from there until you get to a duration that feels good to you. Sleeping fewer than six hours per night is associated with a higher risk of death from heart disease, stroke and cancer, according to the Journal of the American Heart Association.
4. ‘I Exercise According to the 3 Pillars’
There is actually no one right way to exercise, but for the most benefit, you should mix it up.
“To make sure I’m prepared for healthy aging, I stick to the idea that my training is diverse and it covers the three pillars that I always go by: cardiovascular training for your heart, strength training for bone health and flexibility, and mobility training for balance,” Aleksandra Stacha-Fleming, certified personal trainer and founder of Longevity Lab NYC, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
The end goal isn’t a specific look or body type, but to allow your body to move freely and do what you need it to do.
“Everyone who’s active knowns how good it feels to be able to do everyday tasks without being out of breath, such as being strong enough to shovel the snow out of your driveway or carry groceries home from the store,” Stacha-Fleming says. “To simply do the normal stuff of living freely is aging gracefully with strength, and we should work on that every day.”
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