When I’m 64 - Help me age gracefully
May 24, 2015 8:16 AM   Subscribe

What’s the one thing I should be doing to stay healthy as I age, keep up my energy, stay healthy and be in good health for the neither or four decades?

I’m 48 years old. Since my last birthday I’ve noticed lots of signs of aging: needing reading glasses, back pain, more tired, less energy and all those things one hears about aging, but never takes seriously until they start to happen.

I drink only occasionally (beer with Mexican food and a glass of wine once or twice a week). I’m not a junk food eater, nor am I a vegan - I fall somewhere in-between, eating meat or chicken once or twice a week. I don’t smoke anything or do drugs. I don’t run or do much aerobically. I try to take a walk each day and walk a mile or two each weekend day with my trusty pup. I work full time and sit at a desk most of the day, though I just got an adjustable “VariDesk” so I can now stand some of the time too. I’m single with grown children and a new young granddaughter.

What should I be doing to ensure I age gracefully?
posted by mulcahy to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 97 users marked this as a favorite
Regular exercise would be a good addition for you, I think, since you already have a good diet. Maybe look at Couch to 5k or take a dance class? Something that you would enjoy.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:19 AM on May 24, 2015

I've read article after article that says that moderate weight training is one of the best things possible for people as they age. It keeps the bones strong and can help with posture and delay muscle deterioration.
posted by xingcat at 8:19 AM on May 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

Squat and lift heavy things. As you age you lose muscle mass. This is reversible. You don't need to worry about getting bulky, you are going to have to put in effort to maintain what you have.

Walk more.

Learn some basic yoga.

So, work on strength, aerobic fitness and flexibility.
posted by TORunner at 8:21 AM on May 24, 2015 [9 favorites]

Lift weights. It keeps your bones dense, your metabolism fast, and the increased muscle mass will protect you from all sorts of frailty in age. It may have hormonal effects that are beneficial when your hormone levels change with age. You are also likely to recover from injury and illness quicker if physically fit. If you do it with friends the social interaction can also be protective against depression, although that is true of any group activity.
posted by lollusc at 8:25 AM on May 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

To go in a completely different direction - take care of your skin! Sunscreen, hats when outdoors, and daily moisturizing is going to help you both look and feel younger into your next decades.
posted by chainsofreedom at 8:27 AM on May 24, 2015 [6 favorites]

Learn something new! Help keep your mind active and engaged by pushing your mental limits a bit. Whether this is learning a new language, something artsy/crafty, or simply spending time doing puzzles, many studies have shown that continuing to learn is important for preventing memory problems and other mental deterioration associated with aging.
posted by ananci at 8:37 AM on May 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

I would add in 2 strength training and one yoga class (or equivalents) per week. I'm 44 and yoga has changed my relationship to my back. (I go 3x a week but after 6 weeks at 1x a week I saw benefits.)

I know how annoying that is since everyone seems to push yoga.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:48 AM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm 50, also single mother of 3 young adults and definitely not social by nature. Great advice upthread, especially lifting weights, yoga, sunscreen.

Here's some stuff I started doing around your age:

* discovered kayaking. It's me and the boat and I go places and it's awesome.
* I've always been a runner, but I started registering for road races.
* started getting Juvaderm fillers in the areas around my mouth which has made a MASSIVE difference.
* went to Sephora and mixed up my makeup, got great advice about colors and eyeliner (I'm an eyeliner, mascara, lip crayon person, AT MOST).
* started online dating, hated online dating, stopped online dating (but it was worth trying).
* cut off my mid-back length brown hair that I had to color every 9 days, got super short Miley Cyrus type of cut, stopped coloring it and now it's white and damned cool.
* hydrate like it's a contest. Seriously, if I don't pound at least 3 liters of water a day, I see it in my face and I'm also exhausted.


*took perimenopause really, really seriously. Night sweats and day sweats SUCK. I invested in serious wicking camisoles, practice mediation and mindfulness, know to bring a change of clothes to work, carry a little fan, started regular acupuncture and i-cool supplements and I'm no longer a sweating, angry monster.

Welcome to the club.
posted by kinetic at 9:05 AM on May 24, 2015 [20 favorites]

I agree that lifting weights is important. I'm just shy of 55 and have been lifting for a year and a half, and have noticed substantial improvements. I seldom have nagging back injuries and strains, and I feel healthier than I did 10 years ago.

Also: don't think of yourself as old. That mentality can creep into your thinking, and this might affect your body. The New York Times has an article on an experiment in which they took men in their 70s and regressed them in time 22 years - the reported effects were remarkable. I'm not sure if this is scientifically valid, but it certainly is interesting.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 9:13 AM on May 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Be involved in your community. I've seen what a huge difference that makes in my friends and relatives as they age.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:13 AM on May 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

> Learn something new!

Yup. Also, brush and floss; the more you take care of your teeth, the easier you'll have it later on. (I will turn 64 in July.)
posted by languagehat at 9:27 AM on May 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

definitely lifting weights! many women worry about doing so because they think they will become huge and bulging but that would require exhaustive workouts of like 20h per week or more, which is not what anyone is suggesting. you can do it on your own or with a trainer, if that's economically feasible. even 1 or 2 sessions would be good just to give you an idea of how to get started. you want a strong focus on core strength, which will literally make every physical aspect of your life easier.

also spend as much time as you can on self-care, both post-lifting and just in general. take 10-15 minutes in the morning to do some light stretching, even before you get out of bed. do a couple of hours of yoga/pilates/tai chi weekly in order stay limber. swim if you have access to swimming facilities. get a weekly/twice monthly massage, pedicure, etc. get a salon blow-out for no other reason than to enjoy looking great. TREAT YO SELF.

i spent 8 years living on the beach, un-sunscreened, so as a result my skin-age isn't the greatest. i started getting crows' feet botox about 5 years ago and it's been great. no new ones have showed up and the old ones are barely noticeable, even when i'm exhausted. it's not for everyone, and some people definitely overdo it, but if done with a light touch you can have excellent results.

really though the most important decision i made for myself after 30 was to no longer spend free time doing stuff that i dislike, and to no longer spend free time with people who piss me off.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:39 AM on May 24, 2015 [8 favorites]

Resistance and aerobic exercise seem like the obvious deficiencies.
posted by J. Wilson at 10:22 AM on May 24, 2015

Eat lightly, keep moving, and maintain a light heart.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 10:23 AM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Definitely exercise--increase your aerobic exercise and add strength and balance training. You can probably get both with yoga or Pilates. Those will make a huge difference to your level of function as you age and ultimately your fall risk. Weight bearing (even body weight) exercise also maintains bone density. Regular exercise is also associated with less dementia and diabetes along with lower rates of heart attacks and strokes.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 10:57 AM on May 24, 2015

Great advice from other folks here. I'll just second the advice to exercise in a way that's fun for you (which might include changing it up from time to time) and add that mental acuity helps with this as well. Read good books! Challenge yourself! Learn things! That can help you feel young, too.
posted by JaneEyre at 10:58 AM on May 24, 2015

Ride a bike, or take up another sport. I started regular long-distance cycling at 56. Riding with a club and alone. No way to measure this, but I believe I'm stronger and probably happier than most folks my age.

Also, get advice on how to add in the above-mentioned weight training or yoga, when you already spend a lot of your time on a regular sport.
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:53 AM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

If it's over 85 dB, wear earplugs - mowing the lawn, using power tools, vacuuming, at restaurants, at sporting events - wear earplugs. It's very likely that age-related hearing loss is really just the accumulation of noise exposure over many years. If you do have hearing loss, don't wait to get hearing aids. Untreated hearing loss makes communication very difficult and is being increasingly linked to dementia and alzheimer's.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:57 AM on May 24, 2015 [6 favorites]

Take gentle exercise and a sensible diet, but I don't think anyone has mentioned "keeping your brain active".
I watch Jeopardy most nights and use https://www.khanacademy.org/
posted by lungtaworld at 12:21 PM on May 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

There was recently a great article in the NY Times about the right amount of exercise for good health:

The sweet spot for exercise benefits, however, came among those who tripled the recommended level of exercise, working out moderately, mostly by walking, for 450 minutes per week, or a little more than an hour per day. Those people were 39 percent less likely to die prematurely than people who never exercised.

I personally liked this because that's the exact amount of time I typically spend walking my dog every week - about an hour/day. I've never been an athlete or a fitness person, but walking my dog this much works for my life because it has other benefits, namely, keeping my dog from driving me insane! If you can carve out an hour each day for walking your dog (doesn't need to be all at once), then your exercise needs will be taken care of, aside from the strength and flexibility stuff mentioned above.

I also have to say, I really think it has mental/emotional benefits as well, which of course end up being good for physical health too: I recently just finished a work trip away from home, where I was very busy. I found myself feeling super-stressed and keyed-up on the flight home, and finally realized that it was probably partly because I hadn't been getting my dog walks in!
posted by lunasol at 1:14 PM on May 24, 2015 [10 favorites]

Cultivate a circle of friends of widely varying ages - not only do we learn and enjoy from older/younger friends, I've seen the effect on my partner (who is 13 years older) of seeing friends pass away and suffer from long term ill health.
posted by humph at 1:54 PM on May 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

humph's excellent point made me think of one of the coolest people I know who happens to be exactly 64. She has a wide circle of friends of varying ages (I'm almost 30 years younger and consider her one of my closest friends). She told me once that while she loves her friends her age, she finds it's important to have younger friends who teach her new things and challenge her.

I'm thinking about both her and my parents, who are in their early 70s but very healthy and active. They all have active hobbies that keep them young. My parents both took up cycling in their 40s and now that they are retired or semi-retired (respectively) they ride 50-100 miles/week. The friend I mentioned gardens and spends a lot of time outside with her dogs - she also lifts weights and does yoga once/week. All three of them just *do* a lot of stuff: my parents go to see live music pretty regularly, and make time for their friends, for instance. I think all of that is really key.

All of them eat pretty healthy too, but not perfectly by any means: lots of fruit, veggies, and lean protein, but also beer and the occasional dessert. Moderation.
posted by lunasol at 2:08 PM on May 24, 2015 [6 favorites]

Try and find friends with a positive attitude to life!
posted by lungtaworld at 3:40 PM on May 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, walking is good, more walking is better.

I'm 63 and have a congenital heart condition--no intervention required at this point--that makes lifting in a gym unwise, so I walk. The human body is pretty much designed for walking, so it's beneficial while also being low impact.

I typically walk our two dogs for 60-90 minutes daily. We did 3.6 miles yesterday, 4.1 miles today. (And, yes, that makes them both super-happy and tired.) Granted, I retired recently, so it's easier to find the time these days.

One thing to keep in mind, walking isn't "cardio" unless the pace is brisk and is kept up for at least 30 minutes. This means that sniffing/peeing/pooping time doesn't count. We get that out of the way in the first 15-30 minutes, then the march is on. (The Border Collie is fine with that; she loves a job. And the little rat terrier hardly notices the difference, because his 16-foot leash allows him plenty of room for running, scavenging, pouncing and investigating, which activities he's pretty much engaged in from the time we leave the house to the time we return, and still keep up the pace.)

Via the New York Times, I recently discovered LiveTrekker and find that documenting our walks with photos and video is fun for sharing with family and friends, AND it motivates me to walk longer than I might otherwise.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:13 PM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sleep more.
posted by Sir Rinse at 5:41 PM on May 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

Seconding lifting weights, especially squatting so you can sit down and stand up with less difficulty, and deadlifting for a stronger back. Overhead pressing would also be beneficial for shoulder health.

Oh and stretching too. Yoga is a good idea (which reminds me, I really need to stop beating around the bush and should get stuck back into that).
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:14 PM on May 24, 2015

50s here. Your core. It all flows from a strong core.
posted by AugustWest at 8:45 PM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

All of the above and seconding balance exercises. Many of my older relatives are having terrible issues with balance. (And slipping on the ice this winter made me realize how much more falling hurts as you age.)
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 6:40 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

What should I be doing to ensure I age gracefully?

Tai chi, bicycling, and a proper diet. You need to stay trim, improve your poise and balance, and keep your heart pumping, but with low-impact activities you can practice from now until you die, which may not be until you're a hundred, so plan ahead.

You also need friends. Develop your social graces. Old single people without friends die crotchety and sad. No one even knows they're dead until they start to smell or the mail starts to pile up at the door. Before you get old and sad and crotchety and dead, make sure you create or maintain some local friendships. People you see at least once a week. You could start by cultivating friendships in a tai chi class and a bicycling club. You could have something (tai chi, bicycling, etc.) going on every night of the week.

And you need to create. Buy and play an instrument (and maybe join or form a little band, write some songs). Join a choir (and perform in front of lots of people). Draw or paint or sculpt (and put your stuff in the local art fair). Write fiction or poetry or essays (and publish it on the web). Buy some tools and practice a craft such as carpentry (and build things to give away or sell).
posted by pracowity at 4:48 AM on May 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

I just finished reading two books about aging and the main message I took from both is that exercise is key to aging well, on so many different levels. Spring Chicken: Stay Young Forever (or Die Trying) surveys the research on aging in a really readable style.

Older, Faster, Stronger is by a woman who wanted to get in the best shape of her life when she turned 50. She consulted experts, and also talked to lots of women who have stayed active, and young, into their 70's through 90's.
posted by daikon at 7:10 PM on May 31, 2015

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