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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Improve Your Odds for a Long and Healthy Life

By Joanne Barker
WebMD Feature

You know the story: Somebody's 99-year-old aunt never exercised, smoked her whole life, and lived on a diet of red meat and ice cream. So why bother with healthy living, right?

"For every one person who lives a long life of unhealthy choices, there are countless others who die prematurely because of them," says Robert Schreiber, MD. He's a doctor at Hebrew SeniorLife, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School.

No one is guaranteed a healthy life. But following certain guidelines -- namely, eating well, exercising, and not smoking -- can do a lot for you.

Start with these three simple steps.

Step 1: Tap In to the Power of Food

Make smart choices. You need enough fuel to get through the day without loading up on extra calories. Start with fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, seafood, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. Avoid trans fats and empty calories like those in sugary drinks that don't give you any nutrients.

Cut back on sweets. If you really love chocolate, enjoy it in small amounts, keeping the calories in mind. "Chocolate has some nutritional value but is also high in sugar and fat," says Jen Sacheck, PhD, a nutrition professor at Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.

Pass up drinks and food products with added sugar. The food label may not specifically say "added sugar," so be on the lookout for ingredients such as corn syrup, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, and molasses.

How to Jump-Start Your Healthy Diet Plan

  • Plan meals ahead of time to ward off unhealthy temptations.
  • Upgrade to healthier ingredients. For example, make an omelet with egg whites and vegetables, instead of piling on cheese and sausage.
  • Serve yourself smaller portions.
  • Slow down when you eat. You'll give your body a chance to feel full.

Step 2: Exercise Regularly

Make fitness a part of your daily life. A good goal is 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. You can break that into five sessions if each session lasts for 30 minutes. Or you can do it for less time, as long as you make your activity more challenging.

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