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.
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.”
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.