How to Age Healthily: Myths, Facts & Tips
Aging is one thing. But getting old is another.
Aging is a natural process that occurs in all living beings, but with proper steps, it can be a healthy and fulfilling experience without the assumed pitfalls of “getting old.”
Between the beauty industry to the health, fitness and food industries there’s a lot of information out there as to what will keep you feeling young, and what won’t.
In this article, we will explore some of the common myths and facts about getting older and provide tips for individuals who wish to age healthily.
5 Myths of Aging
Aging is a natural process that we all go through, but it often comes with many myths and misconceptions. These myths can lead to anxiety and fear about getting older. Before we get into the facts of aging, let’s debunk some of the most common myths of aging and provide a more accurate and nuanced understanding of what it means to grow older.
1. You can prevent aging
One of the biggest misconceptions about aging is that it's preventable. No matter how expensive your skincare products, how clean your diet and yes, even how perfect your workout is, you cannot completely stave off the aging process. Nothing we can do will stop the movement of time. However, there are many factors that can influence how quickly or slowly our brains and bodies age. We’ll cover more of that later.
2. Getting older automatically equals decline…
Another common myth is that as you age, you are automatically doomed to decline in all aspects of your life. People often accept that getting sick or weak is just part of getting old, but it's not! The truth is, while some physical and cognitive changes may occur with age, they do not necessarily mean that one's quality of life will worsen. With proper care, many older individuals continue to lead active, healthy, and fulfilling lives well into their “golden years.”
3. Exercise becomes dangerous for seniors
Many people believe that exercise is only for young people and that seniors shouldn't risk it due to injury or limitations. The reality is that exercise is just as important for seniors as it is for anyone else. Regular physical activity can help improve cardiovascular health, maintain muscle mass, reduce the risk of falls, boost overall mental and emotional well-being, and increase longevity.
4. Older people don’t need as much sleep
One of the most common myths of aging is that older people don't need as much sleep as younger people. While it's true that our sleep patterns may change as we age, the idea that older adults require less sleep is simply not true.
In fact, most adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep per night, regardless of their age. However, older adults may find it harder to get the quality sleep they need due to changes in their sleep patterns and an increased risk of sleep disorders such as sleep apnea.
Sleep is essential for our overall health and well-being, and lack of sleep can have serious consequences for older adults. Poor sleep can lead to increased risk of falls, cognitive decline, depression, and other health issues.
5. Only women need to worry about osteoporosis
While it's true that women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men, the condition can also affect men. In fact, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, approximately 1 in 4 men over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones become weak and brittle, making them more prone to fractures. It's caused by a loss of bone mass and density, which can happen as a result of aging, genetics, hormonal changes, certain medications, and other factors.
As bone mass decreases, bones become hollower and break easier, even with a soft fall from a standing position. Effective strength training can slow bone density loss, and even reverse the process and increase bone density in many people.
The Facts of Healthy Aging
Socialization is Key
Staying connected with friends, family, and community is one of the most critical factors for healthy aging. Research has shown that social engagement can help reduce the risk of depression and cognitive decline, as well as enhance overall mental and emotional well-being. (Masi, 2011)
Nutrition is Crucial
Proper nutrition is crucial at every stage of life, but the body's nutritional needs change as we age. Older adults need to consume more calcium, vitamin D, and other essential nutrients to maintain good health. A balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help promote overall health and well-being. (DGA, 2020)
Mental Health is Just as Important
Mental health is just as important as physical health, and it's essential to take care of both as you age. Regular exercise, socialization, and activities that promote mental stimulation, such as reading, solving puzzles, or learning new skills, can help keep the mind sharp and reduce the risk of cognitive decline. (NIA, 2022)
Sleep is Essential
Getting enough sleep is crucial for various aspects of our health. Sleep plays a critical role in memory consolidation, mood regulation, immune system function, and hormone regulation (Mander, 2017).
Chronic lack of sleep can lead to negative emotional reactions and increase the risk of developing mood disorders like depression and anxiety (Palagani, 2013). Additionally, it can cause high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and stroke.
Sleep also helps regulate blood sugar levels, immune system function, and weight control (Sharma, 2010). Lack of sleep can increase the risk of developing colorectal adenomas, a precursor to cancerous tumors. Therefore, getting a good night's sleep is essential for maintaining optimal health and well-being.
To ensure a good night's sleep, older adults should prioritize creating a sleep-conducive environment, sticking to a regular sleep schedule, and engaging in healthy sleep habits such as avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed and avoiding electronic devices in the bedroom.
Exercise is Needed. Strength Training is Necessary.
Studies indicate that adults who don’t strength train lose on average at least a half pound of lean muscle tissue each year starting at about age 25. This process of muscle tissue loss is called “sarcopenia.”
With sarcopenia, their metabolism burns fewer and fewer calories, and sarcopenia is one big reason why effective strength training is key to maintaining your youthful vitality. Effective strength training not only halts this progression of muscle loss, but can actually reverse the process and as a result make your body “biologically” younger.
Falls & Fractures
Strength training can prevent falls from occurring too. Two studies focused on adults between 85 to 97 years old strength training and measured rate of falls before and during training.
One study noticed an increase in balance and a lower rate of falling during 12 weeks of strength training when compared to the months prior to training (Cadore, 2014) . In another study, older adults who strength trained experienced an average of one less fall during the eight- week training period when compared to a control group that only performed stretching (Serra-Rexach, 2011).
A research review of 107 fall prevention studies showed that strength training led to lower fall rates 70% of the time (El-Khoury, 2013).
The participants in both groups experienced another benefit which may explain why balance and fall rates improved: they gained strength in muscles that control their knee and hip joints.
Strength dictates the ease of the body to move, especially when overcoming obstacles such as walking on unstable surfaces or over objects.
Ultimately, Strength training reduces the overall rate of falling and bone fractures because it increases the ability to balance, increases muscle strength, and makes the bones stronger and more resistant.
One aspect of strength training that often gets overlooked is the impact it has on longevity.
A study from the American Journal of Medicine measured the total amount of muscle in over 3,000 older adults. After 15 years, those with the most muscle mass were 20% more likely to still be alive (Kraschenewski, 2016).
Strength training reduces the risk of developing chronic diseases, such as cancer and diabetes. It improves brain function, including memory and the ability to focus.
Also, strength training stops and even reverses the effects of aging on muscle, strength, and general physical ability.
The main point is this: strength training will help you live longer!
5 Tips to Healthy Aging
Taking care of ourselves as we age requires a holistic approach that accounts for all aspects of our lives: physical fitness, internal health, psychological needs, emotional wellness, and so much more. However, there are foundational steps to aging healthily that most of us can take starting now:
Exercise Regularly: Regular physical activity (particularly strength training) is essential for healthy aging for a number of reasons- improved strength, metabolism, balance, energy, longevity, blood sugar levels, cholesterol and so much more! Find an activity you enjoy, such as walking, swimming, or yoga, and make it a complement to regular strength training workouts. Aim to strength train for 20 minutes, twice a week and move your body more throughout the day, everyday.
Eat a balanced diet: Eating a balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help promote overall health and well-being. Avoid processed foods and high-fat or high-sugar foods, and limit your alcohol consumption.
Stay socially engaged: Social engagement is crucial for healthy aging. Staying connected with friends, family, and community can help reduce the risk of depression and cognitive decline and enhance overall mental and emotional well-being.
Keep your mind active: Regular mental stimulation, such as reading, solving puzzles, or learning new skills, can help keep the mind sharp and reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Engage in activities that challenge your brain!
Get good quality sleep: Sleep helps you feel rested each day. But while you’re sleeping, your brain and body don’t just shut down. Internal organs and processes are hard at work throughout the night. Over time, skimping on sleep can mess up more than just your morning mood. Studies show getting quality sleep can help improve all sorts of issues, from your blood sugar to your workouts. The exact number of hours necessary to achieve that refreshed feeling varies. Still, for most adults, it’s between 7 and 8 hours a night.
Aging is inevitable, but with thoughtful planning, it can be a healthy and fulfilling experience. By separating the myths from the facts and following some simple tips for healthy aging, individuals can ensure that they age gracefully and maintain good health, both physically and mentally.
Regular exercise, good nutrition, social engagement, and mental stimulation are all key components of healthy aging.
By prioritizing these aspects of our lives, we can ensure that we continue to lead active, healthy, and fulfilling lives well into our later decades.
So let's embrace the aging process and enjoy the journey of growing older, healthier, and wiser!
We know strength training is important, but nutrition is also a huge piece of your wellbeing. If you'd like help learning how to implement these new habits alongside your workouts, schedule a Nutrition Intro session today! Email [email protected] to get started.
- Cadore, E. L., Casas-Herrero, A., Zambom-Ferraresi, F., Idoate, F., Millor, N., Gómez, M.,…& Izquierdo, M. (2014). Multicomponent exercises including muscle power training enhance muscle mass, power output, and functional outcomes in institutionalized frail nonagenarians. Age, 36(2), 773-785.
- El-Khoury, F., Cassou, B., Charles, M. A., & Dargent-Molina, P. (2013). The effect of fall prevention exercise programmes on fall induced injuries in community dwelling older adults: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Bmj, 347, f6234.
- Kraschenewski, J. L., Sciamanna, C. N., Poger, J. M., Rovniak, L. S., Lehman, E. B., Cooper, A.B., … Ciccolo, J. T. (2016). Is strength training associated with mortality benefits? A 15 year cohort study of US older adults. Preventative Medicine, 87, 121-127.
- Mander, B. A., Winer, J. R., & Walker, M. P. (2017). Sleep and human aging. Neuron, 94(1), 19-36.
- Masi, C. M., Chen, H. Y., Hawkley, L. C., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2011). A meta-analysis of interventions to reduce loneliness. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 15(3), 219-266.
- National Institute on Aging. (2022). Cognitive Health and Older Adults. Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/cognitive-health-and-older-adults.
- Palagini, L., Baglioni, C., Ciapparelli, A., Gemignani, A., & Riemann, D. (2013). REM sleep dysregulation in depression: state of the art. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 26(1), 84-89.
- Sharma, S., Kavuru, M., & Sleep, D. (2010). Sleep and metabolism: an overview. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 14(6), 373-384.
- Serra-Rexach, J. A., Bustamante-Ara, N., Hierro Villarán, M., González Gil, P., Sanz Ibáñez, M. J., Blanco Sanz, N., … & Lucia, A. (2011). Short-term, light to moderate intensity exercise training improves leg muscle strength in the oldest old: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society,59(4), 594-602.
- Srikanthan, P. & Karlamangla, A.S. (2014). Muscle mass index as a predictor of longevity in older-adults. American Journal of Medicine, 127(6), 547-553.
- United States Department of Agriculture. (2020). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. Available at https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov.
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