We're all aging. And this much I've figured out: the challenge isn't how to stop it, it's how to do it.
When I turned 50 a few years ago, it became unnervingly clear that changes had to be made. Post-menopausal pounds were creeping on, my blood pressure and cholesterol levels were rising, I wasn't moving my body enough and as a result, my energy was waning. All of this was making me feel invisible, old and ready to give up --believing aging like this was inevitable. Looking around, I saw that I wasn't the only one who felt this way. What's worse, when I envisioned my life five or ten years down the road ...I got really scared.
That's when I took control and took action. I researched and wrote The Best of Everything After 50, and six years later I am in --for me --good health: weight is down, health check numbers where they should be, intake of unhealthy foods down, and my daily activity level is way up. These simple changes turned my health, outlook and life around, preparing me for the natural progression of aging, and everything that comes with it.
Not long ago I read the New York Times obituary of Dr. Lester Breslow, a public health leader whose research offered proof that people can live longer, healthier lives by changing habits. In a seminal study, Dr. Breslow followed the behavior of 7,000 people in Alameda County, CA, for 35 years. He concluded that seven simple daily health habits can predict how long people will live and how healthy they will be during their lifetime.
The study showed that following the recommended habits not only predicted lower mortality, even more importantly, those who lived longer also suffered fewer disabilities. In a news release, Dr. Breslow said, "What was surprising to me was how these seven habits were so strongly predictive of mortality."
The "Seven Healthy Habits" --as Dr. Breslow referred to his key tips --are:
- Don't smoke.
- Drink moderately or don't drink at all.
- Get a good night's sleep of seven or eight hours.
- Exercise 30 minutes at a time, several times a week. Walking vigorously is a top choice.
- Forget the scales. Eat moderately to maintain weight in relation to height.
- Eat regularly, whether that's two meals a day, three or five. Whatever you do normally, keep it up because it's the regularity of life and moderation in eating, sleeping and exercising that makes all the difference.
- Eat breakfast every day.
The statistics from Dr. Breslow's study are astounding. As The New York Times article stated:
A follow-up study showed that those who followed better habits were less likely to become disabled. Of those with four or more good health habits, 12.2 percent were likely to be disabled 10 years after the study began; those with two or three, 14.1 percent; and those with only one or no positive health habits at all, 18.7 percent. Dr. Breslow found that a 60-year-old who followed the seven recommended behaviors would be as healthy as a 30-year-old who followed fewer than three.
To Dr. Breslow's excellent advice, I would add the following:
- Embrace your age with grace, dignity, and humor.
- Be fearless.
- Stay connected to friends and family.
- Stay engaged with the world.
The anti-aging industry wants us to believe that we can actually turn back the clock. We can't. But what we can do is be responsible for our own health by following Dr. Breslow's simple steps to healthier living. There is no magic amulet, but there is magic in living life to the fullest, and the best way to do that is to take charge of your health --today --no matter what your age.
According to The New York Times, Dr. Breslow, who lived to 97, practiced what he preached: "Dr. Breslow himself did not smoke or drink. He walked regularly, practiced moderation in all things and enjoyed tending his vegetable garden."
Until next time ...remember this: We can't change getting older ...but we can change how we do it!
I'm the National Osteoporosis Foundation 'Ambassador for Bone Health' and a fierce champion of positive aging. For more tips on living your best life after 50 (or 60, or 70...) check out "The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts' Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More" and www.bestofeverythingafter50.com. Keep me posted on how you're doing by subscribing to me on Facebook and "tweeting" me on Twitter at @BGrufferman.