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En español | Are you ready to make some positive health changes this year? Then consider this your ultimate checklist. Bookmark this article, and review it every three months for a reminder, for inspiration or just to see how you’re doing.
1-4. Establish baselines that count
Do you and your doctor monitor these important numbers?
- Blood pressure: High BP is more common than you think: A review of nearly 1,300 healthy people 55-65 put their future risk of hypertension at 90 percent.
- Waist-to-height ratio: Keep dangerous belly fat in check to extend your life. Researchers recommend a waist circumference less than half your height.
- C-reactive protein: CRP is a marker of inflammation; a 2016 study found lower CRP levels in “successful” agers, and lower concentrations were associated with longer life. A CRP level below 2.0 mg/L is considered low risk. Ask your doctor if you’re a candidate for this test.
- A1C: A study in the European Heart Journal predicts that a 55-year-old nonsmoking woman with high BP and cholesterol and an A1C of 6 (elevated) won’t make it to age 75. Let that A1C (a test of your blood sugar level) get higher than 8 and life expectancy drops below age 73.
5. Update your insurance
A 2017 review found that insured adults had a 37 percent lower mortality risk, and near-elderly people with insurance showed slower health declines. Check AARP’s Medicare Resource Center to make sure you’re getting all the benefits, at aarp.org/health/medicare-insurance.
6. Get to the dentist
Seeing a dentist two or more times a year may lower your risk of mortality from all causes by 30 to 50 percent, according to a Journal of Aging Research study.
7. While you’re at it, floss
According to that same study, nonflossers had a 30 percent higher death risk than daily flossers. Poor oral hygiene has been linked to elevated C-reactive protein inflammation levels.
8-12. Schedule these 5 screenings
- Hepatitis C
- Skin cancer
- Prostate cancer
13-18. Check the mirror for these 6 things
- Eyes: Yellowing could signal liver problems, such as hepatitis.
- Eyelids: Drooping can indicate Bell’s palsy or, worse, a stroke.
- Lips: Cracked or dry lips could mean a vitamin B deficiency.
- Teeth: Acid reflux erosion can narrow or shorten teeth.
- Tongue: A white tongue could be oral thrush (common in denture wearers). A black fuzzy tongue (yikes!) suggests an infection. Call the doctor.
- Your whole face: Dry or discolored patches, or changing moles, could signal skin cancer.
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A 2018 University of Pennsylvania study found that the effect of sleep deprivation on the body mimicked the aging process on a cellular level, where it can cause cognitive decline and impaired memory. Meanwhile, a Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience study found an association between regular slumber patterns in older adults and longevity. Prioritize your sleep routine and respect the z’s.
20. But not too much sleep
Another study found that those who slept more than 10 hours a night had a 30 percent higher risk of early death.
21. Snap a selfie
And keep it on your phone. If you ever see something unusual in the mirror, take another picture — then show your doc.
For expert tips to help feel your best, get AARP’s monthly Health newsletter.
SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF (IN YOUR BODY)
22-27. Understand these 6 scientific terms for successful aging
- Telomeres: The capped ends of chromosome strands that shorten with age and cellular damage. Omega-3-rich seafood and folate-packed greens help keep telomeres long.
- Inflammaging: Chronic, low-grade inflammation associated with aging. Inflammation is linked to nearly every major health issue, from heart disease to type 2 diabetes to cancer. Lower inflammation with healthy fats like nuts and olive oil.
- Microbiota: Bacteria in your digestive tract that, when unhealthy, can promote inflammation and weight gain. Studies of centenarians (age 100-plus) have shown healthy gut microbiota to be a key marker of longevity. Good gut health is boosted by high levels of dietary fiber.
- Immunosenescence: Age-related weakening of the immune system that has been linked to chronic inflammation or inflammaging. Boost your immunity through vitamin-packed produce.
- Sarcopenia: Age-related muscle loss. A 2018 study in Aging and Disease notes that maintaining muscle as we age helps lower our disease risk and may also combat chronic inflammation. Your goal: Stay strong with resistance exercises and lean protein.
- Osteopenia: Loss of bone density that is not bad enough to be considered osteoporosis. Lower bone density = higher fracture risk. Resistance training and calcium help build thicker bones.
28. Increase your ‘aging advantage’
Regular physical activity can slow the aging process and prevent disease. A 2017 study in Preventive Medicine compared telomere length in sedentary and active adults and found that exercisers experience a nine-year aging advantage.
29. If you exercise already, keep at it
People age 80-plus who continue to exercise have a lower death rate than those who quit, says a 2016 study in the Journal of Sport and Health Science.
30. Do something
Anything. A study of 334,000 Europeans found that the biggest beneficiaries of exercise — those who went from inactive to moderately inactive — had a 16 to 30 percent drop in death risk. See, even a little activity goes a long way.
31-33. Measure your physical vitality
- Get-up test: From a seated position on the floor, stand up. If you can do so without help from your hands, furniture, a wall or other people, you’re looking good. To improve: Do functional exercises like hiking hills.
- Grip strength: You can buy a hand dynamometer, a device that measures grip strength, for $30 or less. The test is weighted by age and sex, so you can see how you measure up to your peers. If your grip falls short, or if you just notice it getting harder to open jars, talk to your doctor about a strength-training program.
- Flexibility: Sit on the edge of a chair with one leg extended. Reach for the toes of the extended leg with both hands. The goal is less than 4 inches’ space between fingers and toes. To improve: Take a yoga class.
34. Join a team
An analysis of data collected from 1.2 million adults found that team sports offered the highest mental health benefits from exercise (though all types of activity are beneficial).
35. Do squats and lunges
They deliver lower-body strength, a top predictor of physical function in older adults.
36. And practice balance
In one study, women 60 and older who underwent a 12-week program of balancing exercises improved their strength, balance and power.
37-41. Enjoy these 5 potential benefits of high intensity interval training
You can do HIIT even with a walking program; simply vary short bursts of fast walking with longer bouts of strolling at your regular pace. You’ll help:
- Lower inflammation.
- Improve blood pressure and heart performance.
- Slow aging and increase telomere length.
- Improve insulin response and metabolic health.
- Reduce the risk of many diseases, including some cancers.
42. Have your own back
Strengthen your core and fortify your back as you age with plank-style exercises. A study of 4,400 people 70 and older found that staying free of chronic back pain can increase life expectancy by 13 percent.
43. Go slow and steady
Tai chi is well-known for its mind-body benefits, but a five-year study of about 61,000 Chinese men ages 40 to 74 found the ancient practice may also fuel longevity.
EATING THE GOOD STUFF
44. Feed your muscles
A study of women ages 65 to 70 found that a daily diet of more than 25 grams of fiber, with a third of calories coming from healthy fats (via fish, nuts and olive oil), helped enhance “dynamic explosive strength.”
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Weight-bearing exercises slow bone loss and can prevent fractures. So try some weight training, walking, hiking, jogging, stair climbing, tennis and dancing.
46. Eat fiber, cheat death
A 2018 study found that, on average, for every 10 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed daily, participants experienced an aging benefit of 5.4 years.
47. Eat fruits and vegetables …
An estimated 5.6 million premature deaths worldwide in 2013 could be attributed to people eating fewer than 800 grams of produce daily, or about 10 servings, according to a 2017 review of 95 studies.
48. … And nuts and seeds …
A 2017 study found that those eating just 5 percent of their daily calorie consumption from nuts and seeds reduced cellular aging by 1½ years.
49. … Or maybe eat just a little bit healthier
A 2017 New England Journal of Medicine study of about 74,000 people found that those who made and stuck with even small dietary improvements over 12 years enjoyed a lower death risk, some as much as 17 percent lower.
50. Back off on calories
In a 2018 study, those who maintained a 15 percent reduction in daily calories for two years lost 17 pounds and enjoyed a marked reduction in oxidative stress on the body, which suggests slower, healthier aging.
51-55. Cut down on these 5 inflammation-causing foods
- Refined flour
- Fried foods
- Omega-6 fatty acids (from foods fried in corn and vegetable oils) and saturated fats
- Artificial sweeteners
56. Drink your milk
A study in Cell Reports found that vitamin D3 helps to suppress a “molecular pathology of aging.” Researchers suspect this may be the reason why D deficiency is linked to so many age-related diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
57. Order the guacamole
A review of 129 previously published avocado studies found that eating the fruit — and eating it often — could ward off metabolic syndrome and belly fat.
58. Boost your lentil health
One study of older Japanese, Australian, Greek and Swedish people found legumes to be the only food that lowered mortality risk — by 7-8 percent for every 20 grams consumed daily (cup of cooked beans is about 85 grams).
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You’ve heard it before, but that’s only because research has shown repeatedly, over decades now, that a Mediterranean- style diet rich in vegetables, fruit, fish and healthy oils is linked with heart, brain and telomere health—leading to longer life.
60. Cut meat, add beans
Many of the centenarians studied by BlueZones.com eat meat only about once a week. Those in the study who tended to live longest built their diet around, yes, beans.
61. Make time for tea
Increased tea consumption has been linked with lower inflammation levels, weight loss and reduced cancer risk in a number of studies. Green tea has been shown to be more beneficial than the black variety.
MANAGING YOUR TEAM
62. Throw a party
And cherish the opportunity to hang out with your tribe. A review published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that strong social relationships had positive physiological effects, such as lower inflammation, while isolation had an even harsher negative effect on participants’ blood pressure than diabetes.
63. Say some hard goodbyes
A study found that people who are in positive close relationships may have a lower risk of heart disease than those who are entangled in negative ones.
64. Be a caregiver for yourself, too
Older adults who provided care to loved ones and experienced regular bouts of “caregiver strain” had a 63 percent higher mortality risk than noncaregivers, according to a study in the journal JAMA. If you’re primarily responsible for the needs of a parent or spouse, be sure to give yourself care, too.
65. Apply all of this relationship info to social media
A 2017 Pew Research Center survey found that more than a third of Americans 65 and older now use social media, which means you’ve probably discovered just how toxic it can be. Consider reducing your exposure and using it only to keep up with family.
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Marriage has been linked to better health and longer life for a variety of reasons — not the least of which is, you lasted all these years without killing each other.
67. Make time for romance between the sheets
A 2017 study found that sexual intimacy in couples is associated with longer telomeres.
CONTROL YOUR ENVIRONMENT
68. Use your smartphone’s full potential …
Your phone has the power to keep you connected and also to be a data center for your health. Patient-generated health data — info from your phone or wearable devices — can now be used to customize medical care. Ask your doctor what kind of data or apps might be useful.
69. … But not in the car
A study at Wayne State University found that older drivers are much worse than younger drivers when texting while driving. During a test, almost 40 percent of those 25 to 34 wandered out of their lanes while texting. Among people 45 to 59, the incidence was 100 percent.
70. While we’re on the subject, beware that left turn at Albuquerque
Pay extra attention when you’re hanging a louie: More than half of all fatal two-vehicle crashes involving drivers 70 and older occurred at intersections, particularly when a left turn is involved, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
71. Wash your hands
And avoid people with head colds. The virus is no joke for older folks.
72. Don’t skip the flu vaccine
A new five-year study found that annual flu shots were just as effective in older adults as in everyone else. So, no excuses.
73. See the bad guys coming
According to the 2018 report from the National Center for Victims of Crime, the crime rate against people 65 and older dropped between 1995 and 2015, but older adults are still at high risk for violent crime. (Women have more than double the risk of men.) Forty-four percent of violent-crime victims in 2015 knew their attacker.
RISE TO CHALLENGES
74. Ask yourself: Do I react well to stress?
If not, it’s time to reevaluate your approach. Research shows big links among chronic stress, chronic inflammation and stress-
75. Find financial support
A 2017 global survey of 31,240 people found that more than 60 percent of financially struggling workers 50 or older would like to retire as soon as possible, but half expect to be working into their 70s. If that sounds like you, realize that you’re not going through this alone, and find an outlet for your stress. If chronic debt is your issue, consider looking into a financial support group like Debtors Anonymous. For those who need financial planning but can’t afford it, the Financial Planners Association offers free financial counseling in many of its chapters; check out onefpa.org.
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A 2018 study analyzed falls in older adults and found the biggest predictors were previous fractures, high body mass, falls in the past year and taking alpha- and beta-blockers. An analysis of stair falls found that intoxication increased head and neck injuries.
77-82. Beware of these 6 other symptoms of financial stress
The 2017 global survey also found that employees who are troubled by their finances are twice as likely to be in poor health as those without money worries. Here are six signs that your financial woes could be creating health problems:
- You have physical symptoms like back pain, digestive issues, migraines and anxiety.
- You exhibit more absenteeism and less engagement at work.
- Your existing health issues are getting worse.
- You self-medicate with alcohol and drugs at a greater rate.
- You have greater difficulty in quitting smoking.
- Your relationships with loved ones are damaged.
83. Don’t cling to a dying profession
Moving on to something new is the new normal. In an AARP report, about two-thirds of workers 51 and older who changed jobs ended up moving to different occupations entirely. Which may sound stressful until you actually do it and find that you have an exciting new career underway.
84. Don’t ignore that little pain
A 2015 study found that more than half of those who experienced sudden cardiac arrest had ignored warning signs. Meanwhile, studies have shown that when cancer patients ignored symptoms, it was often because they were busy, or because they didn’t want to make a fuss or waste a doctor’s time.
85. Ride in the back
According to Boeing, the majority of airline fatalities from 2008 through 2017 happened during final approach and landing. And two analyses of the history of air disasters — one by Popular Mechanics in 2007 and another by Time in 2015 — concluded that the rear third of a plane has the highest survival rate.
86. Grab your life jacket
The U.S. Coast Guard estimates that more than 80 percent of people who died in boating accidents would have been saved if they had been wearing life jackets. If your boat capsizes? Stay with the boat — it’s the biggest object rescuers can spot — and if you can, climb on top of it.
87. Calm that doggie
If a fierce dog is coming toward you, the Humane Society has these suggestions:
- Remain motionless, hands at your sides, and avoid eye contact with the dog.
- If the dog loses interest in you, slowly back away until it has moved out of sight.
- If the dog attacks, feed it your jacket, purse, bicycle or anything else you can put between yourself and the animal.
- If you fall or are knocked to the ground, curl into a ball with your hands over your ears and remain motionless. Try not to scream or roll around.
88. Don’t get lost
If you become disoriented in the wild, the U.S. Forest Service suggests the STOP plan.
- Stop: Stay calm, stay put.
- Think: How did you get where you are?
- Observe: Are you still on a trail? What landmarks should you be able to see?
- Plan: If you’re unsure, or night is coming, stay put.
Aside from water, what’s one of the best things to bring on a hike? A whistle.
89. Think young
A study of nearly 6,500 subjects who were 52 or older found that those who felt younger than their years had a mortality rate of 14.3 percent, while those who felt older had a rate of 24.6 percent.
ENGAGE YOUR BRAIN
90. Define what drives you
Research has shown that purposeful people live longer than their counterparts.
91. Raise your hand …
Folks over 50 who volunteered at least 200 hours in the past 12 months experienced mental health benefits but also were less likely to develop hypertension, a Carnegie Mellon University study reveals.
92. … But only if you really want to
Half-hearted volunteer work isn’t healthy. A Boston College study found that people age 50 and older who had “low or medium” engagement in their work reported even lower well-being than folks who had zero engagement.
93. Find your bridge
A new part-time or “bridge” job in retirement — either in or out of your field — has been associated with fewer major diseases and physical limitations, as well as better mental health.
94. Take a bath in the woods
The Japanese call it shinrin-yoku — “forest bathing,” or taking in the natural world through your senses. This kind of nature therapy can relieve stress and improve immune system function. You don’t need the woods, either; even the local park can help.
95. Put your best skills to the test — often
People who achieve a state of “flow” with their talents — total immersion, time disappears, no critical voice interferes — have greater long-term happiness than those who don’t. Flow is also predictive of high performance: One study found that winning athletes experienced more flow than losing athletes.
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One study showed that having a bucket list isn’t just for kicks—it can make end-of-life planning easier, as all parties, including family and physicians, will be on the same page about your life’s priorities.
97. Hang around kids
When older adults share experience and knowledge with the young, they gain emotional satisfaction and feelings of fulfillment, according to a Stanford Center for Longevity report.
98. Dust off that library card
A study of 3,635 older adults found that book readers had a 23-month survival advantage and 20 percent lower mortality risk compared with nonreaders. Reading was protective regardless of gender, education or health.
99. Pray for longer life
A 2016 study followed 74,534 women for 20 years; those who attended religious services more than once a week enjoyed a 33 percent lower mortality rate than those who skipped church.