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50+: Live Better, Longer

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The Secret to Healthy Aging

Want to stay young in mind and body? Develop these lifelong habits.
WebMD Magazine - Feature

Who doesn't wish for a fountain of youth? Magical youth-restoring springs exist only in legend, but science does point to a few simple, healthy habits that can help extend your life.

Heather Whitson, MD, associate professor of medicine (geriatrics) at Duke University School of Medicine, shares the most effective tips.

Don't Slow Down

"Exercise and physical activity is where the strongest evidence lies, not just for reducing mortality, but also for across-the-board health benefits," Whitson says. She ticks off exercise's advantages: fewer heart risks, improved sleep and memory, less depression and pain, better bone strength, and fewer falls.

What kind of fitness is best? "If you're only able to do one kind of exercise, aerobic exercise is what you want to do," she says.

Do anything that sounds like fun. In other words, walk briskly, ride a stationary bike, or take a dance class. Even better, alternate aerobics with strength and flexibility training for a well-rounded program.

Go Mediterranean

With its emphasis on fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest ways in the world to eat. Plus, it's delicious, so you'll want to stick with it.

The Mediterranean diet has been linked to better heart health and greater longevity. Whitson recommends it to her patients.

Ban butter . Switch to unsaturated olive oil for cooking, and use olive oil for salad dressings. Vegetable oils such as canola and grape seed are also healthy.

Switch to fish . Twice a week, substitute a serving of salmon, herring, or albacore tuna for red meat.

Load up on veggies . Leave more room on your plate for vegetables like broccoli, kale, carrots, and tomatoes. Grill or steam them, or serve them raw, instead of frying.

Stay Connected

When family moves away and friends move on, you can lose touch and get isolated. Don't let that happen.

"The more connectedness people have, the better," Whitson says.

Build a support network through your doctor, community center, or religious organization.

No Butts

It takes an average of seven attempts to ditch the tobacco habit for good. "Just because you've tried in the past doesn't mean you're incapable of quitting. It just means you're closer to the time when you succeed," Whitson says.

Reviewed on March 14, 2013

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