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Healthy Aging

It’s never too late to start on a path toward healthy aging. Follow our primer on wellness and aging to maximize your years of healthy living.

Healthy aging has more to do with establishing good daily habits than visiting your healthcare provider for fancy 50,000-mile tune-ups. What you do every day, day in and day out forms the basis of your longevity outlook. Our goal at Lompoc Valley Medical Center is not only to help people live long lives but to help people live long lives of high-quality health and enjoyment.

Here are the best ways to ensure that you stay healthy and age well.

Eat for Longevity

For healthy aging, the majority of foods you eat should be high in nutritional value. One of the most commonly recommended diets for general wellness is the Mediterranean diet. In fact, this is the diet that is recommended by the American Heart Association. A Mediterranean diet encourages people to eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, grains, potatoes, nuts, seeds, and beans. It incorporates olive oil into many daily meals, avoids red meat, and recommends a low to moderate intake of dairy, eggs, fish, and poultry.

The MIND diet, which is similar to the Mediterranean diet, is another, more specific, method of eating to ensure that you are nurturing both your body and brain; it has been associated with lower rates of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. This diet advises the following:

  • Eat lots of berries and dark green, leafy vegetables, which will provide the most essential nutrients and vitamins.
  • Eat nuts for snacks.
  • Use high-quality oils, such as olive oil.
  • Reduce your meat consumption and focus on beans, legumes, and lentils.
  • Eat fish at least once a week.
  • Limit your intake of dairy and added sugar.

In coordination with your healthcare provider, you can decide which type of diet may be right for you. Make sure to check in with your healthcare provider, too, about addressing any nutritional deficiencies, such as low vitamin D or vitamin B12 levels.

Other eating habits can also improve the way in which your body ages. Make sure to only eat when you are hungry, and to limit your portion sizes. Stop eating when you are no longer hungry (don’t mindlessly down a bag of chips in front of the television). Don’t deprive yourself entirely of foods you enjoy, either; an occasional treat now and then is permissible.

Move Your Body

As you age, your body experiences a series of changes that make physical movement more difficult, including a natural loss of muscle mass, a decrease in cardiovascular fitness, and a loss of flexibility. You can combat these changes by adopting a diverse fitness program. This does not have to be intensive or flashy. A beneficial exercise program simply focuses on the following three tenants of movement.

Maintaining Your Muscle Mass

An easy way to keep up your muscle mass is to do bodyweight exercises, such as push-ups or squats. If you have a staircase where you live, or somewhere nearby, you can do successful resistance exercises by walking up and down a flight or two, and varying your pace and weight load. For a lighter impact, try water aerobics with free weights. In addition to keeping your muscles fit and strong, strength training also helps maintain your bone density, which reduces your likelihood of fractures from falls, which are a big contributor to reduced healthy aging. You can read more about Bone and Joint Heath here.

Staying Cardiovascularly Fit

Many of us are familiar with the concept of aerobic exercise. This type of exercise helps maintain the health of our cardiovascular system, which includes the heart and its network of blood vessels. Even an activity as simple as walking 30 minutes a day, five times a week can help you to live a longer, healthier life. Other activities that can maintain or increase your cardiovascular fitness include swimming, dancing, or even vigorous gardening.

Maintaining Your Flexibility and Balance

One of the most undervalued aspects of physical movement is balance and flexibility. By focusing on these tenants, you can increase your confidence and stability and, most importantly, reduce your risk of falls. Simple exercises, such as one-leg raises or rotational jumps, can help keep you balanced and sturdy. Structured activities, such as dance classes, yoga classes, or tai chi, can make a big impact, too.

When it comes to the three types of exercise above, make sure you choose activities you enjoy so that you are more likely to stick with them over the long term. Find a fitness buddy so you can help motivate each other. If your exercise program is beginning to feel stale, try setting a new fitness goal, such as pledging to participate in a 5K walk or run.

Want more good news about moving your body? One side effect of incorporating daily movement into your life is that it can reduce your risk of developing the chronic health conditions that are the biggest threats to your health and longevity, such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

Engage Your Mind

To age well in all aspects, it is important to keep your mind sharp and healthy, too.

Find activities you enjoy—such as keeping up with the news, pleasure reading, puzzles, crosswords, or logic games—and stick with them. Another important way to engage your mind is to socialize. By spending time with other people, you can reduce your risk of cognitive decline. In order to ensure regular engagement with others, make sure to invest time in hobbies you enjoy or set up regular activities like card games or outings to interesting places.

Emphasize Sleep

Getting a proper amount of sleep can help you age in a healthy way as well. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults between the ages of 18 and 64 sleep between 7 to 9 hours each night, and that adults ages 65 and older sleep 7 to 8 hours nightly. Research has shown that older adults who do not get quality sleep have problems forming new memories and perform poorer on cognitive tests.

Don’t get caught sleepless between the sheets. If you are having trouble getting the recommended nightly rest, make sure to evaluate your sleep hygiene.

Avoid the Known Threats to Healthy Aging

Healthy aging may be as much about avoiding certain behaviors as it is about being proactive with positive behaviors.

The following habits are known threats to healthy aging because they increase your likelihood of developing acute or chronic disease:

  • Cigarette smoking or other nicotine use
  • Intaking alcohol beyond moderate use (more than 2 drinks daily for men or 1 drink daily for women)
  • Sitting excessively or living an otherwise sedentary lifestyle
  • Intaking excessive calories, leading to abdominal obesity
  • Engaging in high-risk behaviors, such as illicit drug use, unprotected sexual intercourse, or operating motor vehicles without safety equipment
  • Living in a high-stress environment

By avoiding the above activities, you can add years to your life and ensure that you are maximizing your health status.

Know Your Personal Risks

We are in control of much of our ability to age in a healthy way, however we cannot control the makeup of our genes. When it comes to healthy aging, knowledge is power. Interview your loved ones to find out what health risks may be lurking in your family tree. You may be surprised to discover a genetic condition you were unaware of, a pattern of early cardiovascular disease, or a specific type of cancer. Regardless of what you find, once you are fully informed about your genetic history, you can work with your healthcare provider to do the necessary screenings so that you can detect the presence of disease as soon as possible.

Find the Right Doctor

When it comes to healthy aging, the above primer can help serve as your template. However, nothing can replace the personalized recommendations that you can get from your own medical provider. For more information about partnering with Lompoc Valley Medical Center in your healthy aging journey, visit our primary care services page.