Slideshow: Eat Healthy, Stay Fit, and Live Well Over 50
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Eat Healthy Fats
You already know that saturated fats are bad for your arteries and heart health. But they can also harm your concentration and memory. So cut down on the red meat, butter, and other foods high in saturated fats. Instead, add more fatty fish and fats from plants, like flaxseed and nuts. These healthy fats may have extra benefits for your heart and your brain.
Fill Your Empty Nest
If your kids have moved out and your home feels empty, think about adopting a pet. People with pets like cats and dogs seem to have lower cholesterol and a lower risk of heart disease. They also need fewer doctors' visits. We don't know why exactly pets seem to help. But at the very least, having a dog that needs walks is a great way to build in daily exercise.
Protect Your Joints
Getting older doesn't mean you have to give up your morning run. People used to think running would wreck their knees. But new research suggests it might actually strengthen them. Running doesn't seem to raise your risk of arthritis either.
That said, if you have arthritis or damaged joints, running could be too much. But you can still benefit from exercise. It helps strengthen muscles, support the joints, and lessen pain. So choose low-impact exercise like walking or biking instead.
As you get older, your sex life changes -- and there can be real benefits. You're more confident. You've been having sex for a while. You're so much better at it than you were when you were 22. Getting older can free your sex life from hang-ups and constraints, especially if your kids have moved out and you have the house to yourself again.
Surprise yourself. Instead of sticking with what's familiar and comfortable, look for new experiences. Go to out-of-the-ordinary places. Make new friends. Learn a musical instrument or a language. New experiences will build new pathways in your brain, keeping your mind healthy as you age. They'll also expand your options for finding excitement and happiness.
Is your blood pressure higher than it used to be? That's not unusual. Blood pressure tends to go up as we get older. Since sodium can drive up your blood pressure, cut down on salt in your diet. The worst high-salt food offenders are premade and packaged foods. Bread and rolls can also be high in sodium.
Want a natural sodium-buster? Eat a banana -- the potassium will help lessen the effect of sodium in your diet and help keep your blood pressure lower.
Slash Your Alzheimer's Risk
Want to keep your mind sharp as you get older? Exercise. One study found that regular exercise in middle age can lower your risk of memory and thinking problems when you're older by 39%. Exercise boosts blood flow to the brain and helps new brain cells grow. Just 30 minutes of walking, biking, or even gardening 5 days a week can give your brain a benefit.
Get a fuller picture of your health by using automatic activity monitors, logging the food you eat on smartphone apps, or trying devices like home blood pressure monitors. You'll learn new ways to improve your health and chart your progress.
Make a New Start
So you didn't have the healthiest habits in your 30s and 40s. Maybe you ate too much and exercised too little. That's okay. The key is to make some changes now. Changing your lifestyle in your 60s and beyond -- exercising more and eating healthier -- can still make a big difference. You can lower your risk of heart problems, cancer, and bone fractures. It's not too late -- you really can be healthier and more fit now than you were when you were 30.
Make Smarter Food Choices
As you get older, your metabolism slows down and you need fewer calories. So make the calories you eat count. Choose foods packed with the nutrients you need. Eat dark leafy greens and colorful fruits and vegetables. Increase low-fat dairy to get calcium for bones. Fortified foods -- like cereals with vitamin B12 and milk with vitamin D -- can help, too. Cut down on empty calories from sugary drinks and sweets.
Stay on Balance
Having good balance is one of the best ways to prevent a fall -- and potentially serious injuries. Make balance exercises part of your day. Stand on one foot or walk heel-to-toe -- as if you were walking on a balance beam. The gentle, dance-like movements of tai chi are another helpful option. One study found that older people who stuck with tai chi for 6 months cut their risk of a fall in half.
Aerobic exercise is important, but don't forget to build your muscles, too. One study found that regular strength training reversed aging in the muscles of older people. Genetic changes in their cells made their muscles more like those of people in their 20s.
Spend more time with friends or family. It can help keep your mind keen. Studies have shown that very social people have sharper thinking and a much lower risk of memory problems as they age. Or try volunteering. It's linked with a lower risk of heart disease and a longer life. Don't wait until you retire to start. Studies show that the earlier you begin volunteering, the lower your risk of health problems later.
Fend Off Wrinkles
Want your skin to defy the years? Use sunscreen every day. A 2013 study found that using sunscreen daily really does prevent wrinkles. And it's not too late -- even people who didn't start using sunscreen until middle age still get a benefit. Use a product with an SPF of 30 or higher.
You might need a little less sleep these days than you used to. That's normal. But if you're getting less than 7 hours a night, or feel exhausted during the day, get help. Insomnia is not a normal part of getting older. Exercise more, drink less alcohol, discuss your medications with your doctor, or seek treatment if you have an underlying problem like depression or anxiety; it can help you sleep soundly again.
Enjoy the Rewards of Age
Here's some good news: One recent study found that the older people get, the more content and satisfied they are. People in their 80s reported being more satisfied than people in their 70s. So look forward to the future. It could be a time of great happiness.
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Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation: "Exercise Physical, Mental, and Mind/Body."'
American Heart Association: "Pets may reduce your risk of heart disease," "Potassium and High Blood Pressure," "The Salty Six."
Arthritis Foundation: "Exercise Reverses Aging in Muscle," "Benefits of Stationary Bicycling."
Caprariello, PA. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, February 2013.
CDC: "Exercise Based Interventions: Tai Chi: Moving for Better Balance."
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Cleveland Clinic: "Stay Fit."
Corporation for National & Community Service: "The Health Benefits of Volunteering."
Geda YE. Archives of Neurology, January 2010.
Geriatric Mental Health Foundation: "Sleeping Well As We Age."
Harvard Medical School: "Social Networks and Memory Function."
HelpGuide.org: "Better Sex After 50," "Eating Well Over 50," "How to Improve Your Memory," "How to Sleep Well Over 50," "Staying Healthy Over 50," "The Therapeutic Benefits of Owning Pets."
Jeste D. "Association Between Older Age and More Successful Aging: Critical Role of Resilience and Depression," American Journal of Psychiatry, 2013.
National Institute on Aging: "Exercise & Physical Activity: Your Everyday Guide from the National Institute on Aging: Sample Exercises -- Balance."
New York-Presbyterian: "Message to the Elderly: It's Never Too Late to Prevent Illness."
NIH Senior Health: "Balance Problems: Causes and Prevention."
Nutrition.gov: "Questions to Ask Before Taking Vitamin and Mineral Supplements."
Skin Cancer Foundation: "Study: Regular Sunscreen Can Prevent Wrinkles."
UCSF: "Self Tracking May Become Key Element of Personalized Medicine."
UpToDate: "Drug Prescribing for Older Adults."
Urquhart DM, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, March 4 2011.
U.S. Preventative Services Task Force: "Vitamin D and Calcium Supplementation to Prevent Fractures."
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.