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To make sure life's journey is a long and fulfilling one, follow these tips to stay healthy and strong through all your decades.
Want to find out your life expectancy — and how to improve it? Go to livingto100.com
You enjoy this whole living thing. That's why you look both ways before crossing the street, buckle up when you get into the car and think twice before going bungee jumping. Since living a long, healthy life is a far better option than, well, the alternative, we asked longevity experts to weigh in on what health and fitness measures you should be taking now — whether you're 20, 80 or somewhere in between — to make sure you'll be securely in the upright position for as long as possible. Here's to blowing out 100 candles in the not-so-near future.
In Your 20s...
Establish Good Habits
Why: The earlier you incorporate healthy behaviors into your lifestyle, the more benefits you'll reap (and the less damage you'll need to undo later in life).
- 1. Slather on the sunscreen. "The majority of our lifetime sun exposure occurs when we are young," says Steven Joyal, M.D., vice president of science and medical affairs for the Life Extension Foundation, the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to research on extending the healthy human life span. Joyal advises avoiding excess sun exposure at peak hours (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and applying a topical sunscreen formulated to protect against UVA and UVB rays.
- 2. Start reining in your diet. Sure, you've been able to eat all the junk food you wanted, with little consequence. But that's all about to change. To prepare for the big metabolism shift of your thirties, begin to wean yourself off the really bad stuff — refined sugars, saturated fats and processed foods not otherwise found in nature. While you're at it, have a glass or two of red wine. "Studies have demonstrated that people who drink wine in moderation — one 5-ounce glass per day for women, two for men — live an average of five years longer than nondrinkers, and are healthier by several measures," says Richard Baxter, M.D., an anti-aging expert and author of Age Gets Better With Wine: New Science for a Healthier, Better and Longer Life.
3. Incorporate high-intensity interval training into your workouts "I'm not a fan of long, slow, mindless cardio," says Jonny Bowden, a personal trainer and author of The Most Effective Ways to Live Longer. "You can train smarter with burst training, intervals and shorter workouts of higher intensity." Research has shown that compared with people who engage in regular exercise like jogging, those involved in interval training double their endurance and improve oxygen use and strength by more than 10%.
In Your 30s...
Fend Off Heart Disease
Why: Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., and you're more likely to gain weight in your thirties, which can take a toll on your heart. You're also more likely to be subject to career- or family-related stress, which can raise blood pressure.
- 1. Work proactively to take off the pounds. Many people find that their metabolism starts to slow as they hit this age range. Doing short yet intensive workouts regularly can give your metabolism a needed boost. Studies show that even 45 minutes of exercise three times a week allows new brain cells to grow and helps reduce the risk of dying from heart disease.
2. Take fish oil supplements. "A daily dose of fish oil significantly lowers the risk of sudden death and heart disease, as well as risk markers for cardiovascular disease in general," says Bowden.
- 3. Eat more nuts. Consuming five ounces of nuts a week reduces the risk of dying from heart disease by a whopping 35%. Walnuts, particularly, are chock-full of B vitamins, which also help your body better deal with the stress that comes with kids, a mortgage or your alma mater's last-minute loss in the NCAA tournament.
In Your 40s...
Focus on Weight Training
Why: Lean body mass decreases about 15% between the ages of 30 and 60, which means five to seven pounds of muscle lost each decade. Plus, weight training slows memory loss. In a 2006 study in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, Brandeis University researchers found that strength training increased the participants' memory span. The higher the resistance, the more memory improved.
- 1. Start with the legs... Doing squats and lunges can help alleviate knee problems that often develop later in life — problems that ultimately may prevent you from leading an active, fend-for-yourself lifestyle.
- 2. ...but don't ignore the lower back. You've probably been sitting at a computer for decades now, so it's high time to strengthen those weak core muscles in the stomach and lower back. Click here for the ultimate core-sculpting workout.
In Your 50s...
Find a Gym Buddy (and Mind the Belly Fat!)
Why: "People who feel connected live longer and healthier lives — there are no 'isolated' centenarians," says Bowden.
1. Lift weights with a partner. Just as in your forties, weight training in your fifties is crucial to prevent the loss of lean muscle mass. Consider lifting alongside a pal to reap the benefits of both weight training and socializing. "Japan has the highest life expectancy of any country, and while you can chalk up some of that to dietary habits — green tea, lots of seafood — there is also a strong sense of community in the culture, which plays a huge part in longevity," Bowden explains. Having an active social network also helps ward off depression, which comes with its own host of health issues.
- 2. Take care of your joints. Bowden recommends taking fish oil and other supplements designed to help reduce inflammation.
- 3. Mind your midsection. While men are more likely to gain weight around the waist, many women notice an increase in belly fat after menopause. No matter your sex, excess belly fat increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer, so keep a tape measure — and a stability ball — handy.
In Your 60s (and on)...
Ditch Bad Habits — and Embrace a Few Good Ones
Why: At this point, it's all about maintenance.
- 1. Quit smoking already. Okay, sure, you should've done this a long time ago, but smokers who quit — yes, even after a lifetime of lighting up — start repairing their bodies right away, says Carol Southard, R.N., a tobacco cessation consultant for Chicago-area hospitals. In fact, "after only two weeks, lung function increases by up to 30% in most people," she explains.
2. Increase your vitamin D intake. "The vast majority of people are vitamin D–insufficient, with recent research suggesting that more than 50% of the population has suboptimal vitamin D levels," Joyal says. These vital nutrients help maintain good bone health and fight off osteoporosis. Sources of vitamin D include fortified dairy products and fatty fish such as salmon. But most people require a daily 2,000 to 8,000 I.U. vitamin D supplement to achieve the optimal dose.
- 3. Stay active, social and engaged. Learn the cha-cha. Or to swim. Or try yoga. Memorizing the basic movements will keep your brain working as it recalls the new moves, and executing those moves is a terrific way to get your body going. Plus, sharing the experience with friends provides you a social boost that's linked to longevity. Senior fitness programs such as SilverSneakers are available nationwide — and at a Gold's Gym near you. Find one now!