Like most of us, you’ve probably been hit over the head for the past few years with the “power of habits”: the idea that locking in some simple, healthy everyday behaviors will set you on a course for greater well-being. And there’s a lot of truth to that conventional wisdom. But even healthy habits can benefit from a shake-up. When you take the same handful of ostensibly positive actions day in and day out, it often means you’re missing out on a variety of options and activities that could offer a wider array of benefits. We asked experts in medicine, nutrition, exercise and more about the healthy habits they wish people would take breaks from, especially those who want to stay in tip-top shape as they graduate from their 50s, 60s and 70s.
Habit 1: You walk every day for exercise
Walking is terrific. Everybody should walk more. It helps maintain strength in your heart, brain and joints, among other benefits. But with age, people often end up pigeonholing themselves into one type of workout — usually walking — and ditching different types of exercise because they fear injuring themselves or worry that they’re “too old” to run, lift weights or play a certain sport, says Claire Morrow, a senior physical therapist with Hinge Health, a digital clinic for back and joint pain.
Don’t let fear stick you in a rut. “Your body is made to move,” Morrow says, and that need “doesn’t diminish as you get older.” In fact, as you get older, the rate at which you lose muscle mass and joint mobility accelerates — unless you embrace exercise. Without strength training, for instance, the average person will lose between 3 and 8 percent of their muscle mass per decade after age 30; the rate steepens after 60. Muscle loss is associated with increased fall risk; cognitive decline and an increased risk of dementia; diabetes and heart disease risk; and even premature death. And it’s not inevitable!
An effective exercise routine includes varied activities to challenge muscles, build endurance, keep joints feeling young and stave off chronic age-related conditions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity (water aerobics, doubles tennis, brisk walking) or 75 minutes a week of vigorous cardio activity (jogging, hiking uphill, swimming laps), plus at least two days a week of muscle-strengthening activities such as weight lifting, resistance bands or body-weight moves like lunges and push-ups.
Habit 2: You constantly wear supportive shoes
Most older adults wear shoes all day long, including slippers or house shoes when indoors. “They think it gives more support,” says Emily Splichal, a functional podiatrist in Chandler, Arizona.
But constantly encasing feet in shoes progressively weakens them by depriving them of the opportunity to work. “Our toes need to push into the ground to maintain balance, and our foot muscles contract to maintain balance and posture,” Splichal says. Supportive shoes and insoles do the bulk of the work, instead of the feet themselves.
Thick, cushiony soles also rob the bottoms of the feet of crucial sensory stimulation. “Part of your nervous system lives in your feet — thousands of nerves that are sensitive to texture, pressure, vibration and other stimuli,” Splichal says. They send information back and forth to the brain, helping you maintain proper posture, stay balanced and avoid falling. The more often you wear shoes, the less your brain practices those essential skills. Splichal says the nerves in our feet start to lose sensitivity in our 40s, requiring more stimulation to create the same response.
There’s a very simple solution. When home, go barefoot at least 30 minutes a day. Do that particularly when cleaning and cooking, when your movements are more varied (sideways, on your toes, bending, lifting and so on). You can also invest in a sensory insole that stimulates your feet, Splichal says. If you suffer from plantar fasciitis pain, however, check with your doctor about whether going barefoot sometimes at home is recommended.