There is no question that Americans are living longer. In 2000, adults 65 or older made up 12.4 percent of the population. Just 10 years later, that number rose to 13 percent. The number of people living to 100 or older also went up about 6 percent.
And guess what? More than half of the people 65 or older who do work are working full-time.
So what are the keys to living a longer life?
Lots of factors contribute to how long you live. Managing any chronic conditions you may have and tending to your overall health are high on the list. Staying active to keep your muscles strong and prevent falls are also vital to healthy aging.
Your gender, ethnicity, mental health and ability to understand and manage your activities have also been shown to influence longevity. Family history or inherited characteristics may be involved.
Some studies have looked at nutritional behavior, obesity, use of alcohol, dental health, social support and coping with stress. Researchers have also looked at how your personality, outlook on life and education level may play a part in how long you live. The results are not conclusive, but these studies suggest areas of behavior that might be important.
The National Council on Aging works with community organizations to help older adults take control of their lives. They teach healthy behaviors in these areas:
Being active every day can help prevent health problems that come with aging. If you're 65 or older, are generally fit and have no limiting health conditions, strive for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking, every week. That could mean 30 minutes every day for five days. Or you can spread it over the week in chunks of 10 minutes or more.
On at least two days of the week, you also need to do exercises to strengthen all your major muscle groups - legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms. Exercises for balance and flexibility that are appropriate to your abilities are also recommended.
Talk to your doctor if you are physically inactive or you have a health condition such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, or other symptoms. Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program or increasing your activity level. He or she can tell you what types and amounts of activities are safe and suitable for you.
Managing chronic disease
Nine in 10 people over 65 live with at least one chronic condition. Most have two or more. Chronic conditions include heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, COPD, cancer, high blood pressure, kidney disease, asthma and others. You may see different providers and take many medications. Potential benefits spring from small actions such as regularly taking medications as directed, checking blood pressure or glucose, eating well and being physically active.
Fall-related injuries often result in hospitalization and even early death. People who fall often have reduced mobility and less independence. Talk with your doctor or check out a community program to find out how to prevent falls.
Managing depression and unhealthy behaviors
Older Americans may face issues such as depression or abuse of alcohol, drugs or medications. The National Council on Aging encourages learning to manage depression symptoms and unhealthy behaviors. Community programs or a doctor's care can help older adults lead more rewarding lives. A strong social support network can also help.
Your calorie needs change as you age. Talk to your doctor about a healthy eating plan for you. You'll want to focus on nutrient-rich foods. Make sure you're including fruits, vegetables, low-fat or fat-free dairy, whole-wheat and high-fiber foods, Limit salt and foods with solid fats. Look for sources of vitamin D for bone strength; for those over 70, 800 daily units are recommended. Vitamin B12 is also important. For people over 50, 2.4 mcg are recommended each day. Remember to balance calories in (what you eat - and drink!) with calories out (daily activities and exercise).
There is no real way to stop the aging process. But these healthy habits may play a role in living longer and enjoying a rich quality of life.
Created on 02/25/2009
Updated on 09/10/2014
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2008 physical activity guidelines for Americans.
- National Council on Aging. Center for Healthy Aging. Community programs.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical activity. How much physical activity do older adults need?
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary guidelines for Americans 2010.