Do you feel as good now as you did at age 40? How about at age 50? You might be able to feel as good as you used to with new, healthy habits. You might even feel better. While it may seem like a lot of effort to develop new habits, it’s worth it. Even small changes can improve your health.
Path to improved well being
Diet and exercise are the two most important changes you can make. Even if you’ve never been active, it’s never too late to get started. A healthy diet and physical activity are good at any age. As you age, these healthy habits strengthen muscles and bones. Strong muscles and bones reduce serious injuries related to falls. When your muscles are strong, activities like getting up from a chair or opening a door are easier. When lifting weights, start with a 1-pound or 5-pound weight. If you don’t have weights, use a can of soup, a book, or a full bottle of water. Keep your weights in the same room as your television. Do a few exercises while you watch.
Another way to build muscle is to use a resistance band. This is also called an exercise band. Resistance bands are flexible and come in different lengths. They are commonly used to strengthen upper arm and leg muscles.
Try these tips when aiming for a healthy diet and exercise.
You don’t have to change your diet all at once. Try making 1 small change at a time. For example, instead of eating 2 slices of white toast for breakfast, replace 1 of them with a slice of whole grain bread. If you drink orange juice every day, eat an orange 3 days a week instead. Eat whole fruit rather than drinking fruit juice. If you like salty snacks, try low-fat popcorn instead of potato chips.
- Add more fiber to your diet. Fiber reduces constipation; helps with weight loss; reduces the risk of diabetes, pre-diabetes, heart disease and colon cancer; and lowers your blood cholesterol level. Men over age 50 should get 30 grams of fiber per day; women over age 50 should get 21 grams per day. Good sources of fiber include beans, whole grains, vegetables, and fruit,
- Try the Mediterranean diet. This heart-healthy diet promotes foods such as fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. It does not include a lot of meat, dairy, or sweets.
- Drink more water. Water flushes out toxins. Staying hydrated will give you more energy.
- Eat more whole foods. This means eating food as close to its natural state as possible, like fresh fruits and vegetables and food that is the least processed possible, such as whole grains.
Exercise can improve chronic diseases, such as diabetes. It also can improve your emotional outlook. A healthy diet and exercise help feed your brain. This improves your decision-making abilities as you get older. Consider these changes:
- Exercise 20 to 30 minutes on most days. A combination of aerobic (walking, swimming) and strength training (weights) is best. Walking is one of the easiest activities to start. You don’t have to do all 30 minutes at once. Try walking for 15 minutes twice each day. Or walk for 10 minutes 3 times each day.
- Exercise with a partner. This makes exercising more fun and it’s social. Consider a group, an individual, or even your dog.
- If you don’t like to walk, consider other activities. Try gardening, dancing, fishing, tai chi, or yoga. Any active activity that you enjoy can benefit your health.
Things to consider
Talk with your doctor before starting an exercise program. Your muscles will likely be sore when you first increase your physical activity. But don’t consider that a reason to stop. Mild soreness will go away in a few days as you become more used to exercise.
How active you are and what you eat are habits. Adopting healthy habits can be tough at first. By starting small and rewarding yourself for each step you take, you can make a difference in how good you feel. You may find it easier to be more physically active and eat more fiber if you think of every day and every meal as a chance to do something good for yourself.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Do I need a full exam before changing my diet and physical activity?
- Can I stop taking my prescription medicines if I adopt a healthy diet and exercise?
- What exercises do you recommend for people who have heart conditions, arthritis and other medical issues?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.