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8 Things to Do After 50 to Help You Live Longer

It's never to late to adopt behaviors that can improve your health and longevity

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There are many myths about aging, and the idea that you need to slow down or slack off on healthy habits is one of them. In fact, there are a number of things that you can do once you hit 50 — or 60 or 70 — that can have a big impact on your health and increase your odds of living longer.

Here are eight habits to pick up (or drop) at 50-plus.

1. Keep your social calendar full

Are you spending too much time alone? Believe it or not, loneliness can have a big impact on our mental and physical health, and older adults are especially at risk because many lose touch with family and friends due to moves, physical limitations or deaths.

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Social isolation has been linked to everything from heart disease and diabetes to cognitive decline and more. A recent advisory from the U.S. Surgeon General reports that social disconnection can shorten lives by about as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Looking for a few ways to keep in the mix as you age?

  • Stay in touch with family and friends. If you can’t be there in person, stay connected with voice and video calls. AARP has tutorials for those who need technical assistance. Your local library may also be able to help.
  • Volunteer. Research shows that volunteering has both physical and mental benefits for older adults. A 2020 study from researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that older adults who volunteer for as little as two hours per week can significantly reduce their risks of premature death. If a faith-based organization interests you, find one in your community where you can engage in activities and meet others.
  • Learn something new. Many public and private organizations offer low-cost classes (think woodworking, music lessons, dancing, etc.) for older adults. Not only is picking up a new hobby good for your social life, but research shows it can also be a boon for your brain.
  • Consider adopting a pet. Studies suggest owning a pet can help older adults stay physically active and even help them retain thinking and memory skills. Just be sure to pick a pet that matches your lifestyle. For example, if you are rarely at home or have trouble getting out for walks, a cat might be a better fit than a dog.

2. Get your eyes and ears checked

You’re in the habit of going to your primary care provider for your annual checkup — but don’t forget about your vision and hearing, which also need special attention as you get older.

A big reason: People who have trouble hearing and don’t get it corrected are more likely to develop dementia. What’s more, vision loss can increase your risk of falls, along with a host of other health issues, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Help Someone Else Live Longer

Learning CPR won’t help prolong your life, but it could help someone else. 

Performing CPR is easy and now is “hands only” — without “mouth-to-mouth” breathing assistance. If someone is not responsive and not breathing: Call 911 (or instruct someone else to). Then kneel by the side of the person in trouble, place your hands on their breastbone (center of the chest) and press down hard and fast — aim for 100 to 120 compressions a minute. Keep going until the professionals arrive. 

Clues that you may be experiencing hearing loss include needing to turn up the TV volume or having trouble understanding conversations when there is background noise. Some causes may be reversible (like an ear infection or a buildup of earwax), but generally it’s just the body’s aging process.

If you find that you’re having trouble hearing, talk to your primary care provider; they may refer you to an audiologist or otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor). Many people find they need hearing aids, which these days can be purchased over the counter. (Visit AARP’s Hearing Center for more information.)

Vision loss is also common as we age and can be due to cataracts (when the lens of the eye is clouded) or age-related macular degeneration (disease of the macula, which is part of your eye’s retina).

If you are over 65, you should have your eyes checked every one to two years by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Unless you have certain medical conditions, original Medicare does not cover routine eye exams, glasses or contact lenses, but many Medicare Advantage plans and other insurers do.

3. Mind your mouth

Cavities aren’t just for kids. Tooth decay and gum disease can happen at any age, and both have been linked in studies to risks for cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease (like pneumonia). Poor oral health has also been associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

You know the drill: Brush twice a day (with a toothpaste that contains fluoride) and floss regularly. You should visit a dentist twice a year.

One big hurdle is that dental care is often minimally covered by insurance or not covered at all. If you’re in need of low- or no-cost dental care, check to see if there is a government-sponsored clinic near you. Many dental schools also offer low-cost care.


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4. Focus on your sleep

The term “sleep like a baby” rings true, but as you get older, getting a good night’s rest can be harder. It could be the medications you’re taking, or maybe you’re in pain.

Poor sleep has been linked to a number of health issues, like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke — even early death.

If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, talk to your doctor. It may be due to another condition that can be treated, such as stress or sleep apnea. However, more often than not, adopting some new habits is all that is needed.

A few things to try:

  • Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up around the same time every day, including weekends.
  • Don’t go to bed hungry — or too full. 
  • Watch your drinks. Caffeine intake too late in the day can keep you up. Alcohol may help you doze off but can interfere with sleep during the night.
  • Keep your bedroom dark. You may need good shades. And turn off digital devices before you hop into bed.
  • Find ways to help relax before bedtime. Read a good book, take a warm bath or have some herbal tea (chamomile).

5. Keep your weight in check

It’s common for adults to gain weight once they hit middle age — a shift in metabolism (how the body gets energy from food) is often to blame.

The problem is that the average weight gain is 1.1 to 2.2 pounds per year, which can add up quickly. And a study published in 2022 in JAMA Network Open found that being overweight in midlife is associated with dying several years younger than people at a normal weight.

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To help put the brakes on weight gain:

  • Use up a least as many calories as you put in. The CDC recommends that older adults get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity (brisk walking will do the trick). You can also find workouts on AARP’s Staying Fit page that you can do at home.
  • Watch for common pitfalls, like going out to eat and parties with buffets. Opt for healthier foods in these situations (load up on veggies and lean proteins) and be cognizant of your portion sizes.

6. Work on balance and strength

In addition to cardio, older adults need to spend time building strength and balance — both to help prevent bone loss and to reduce the risk of falls.

According to the CDC, falls are a major cause of injury for older adults. It’s estimated that among people 65 and older, more than one 1 out of 4 people experience a fall each year, and one 1 of 5 falls cause a serious injury such as a broken bone or head injury.

“As we age, the importance of performing strength and balance training increases,” says Jeffrey Schlicht, professor of health promotion and exercise sciences at Western Connecticut State University. “Strength training preserves muscle strength, while balance and coordination training are critical for reducing fall risk."

No need to join a gym: Digging in the garden or working with resistance bands counts as strength training, the CDC says. And to improve your balance, try standing on one leg or attempting any one of these exercises.

7. If you’re still smoking, quit.

It is never too late to stop smoking. While years of smoking takes its toll, your circulatory system and lung function can still improve, even if you stop later in life. After you quit smoking, even after the age of 60, your heart rate and blood pressure drop to more normal levels, and your risk of having a heart attack or stroke will decrease, according to the National Institute on Aging.

Smoking is an addiction, and quitting isn’t easy. But there are resources to help. Talk to your doctor about your options or call 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669). All states have “quit lines” with counselors who are trained to help smokers quit. Services are free, and some states can give you free nicotine replacement products (patches, gum and lozenges).

8. Stay on top of routine screenings

It’s important to stay on top of screenings for diseases that become more common with age, including cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, these screenings can help prevent thousands of additional cancer cases and deaths. Yet, a significant share of adults skip out on these screenings for various reasons, and the COVID pandemic has only made things worse.

Here are the screenings that are recommended by the American Cancer Society for people 50 and older:

  • Breast cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Lung cancer (for people who currently smoke or formerly smoked)
  • Prostate cancer

Talk to your doctor or a health care provider about when and how often these screenings are needed.​

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