Aging Well Is Living Well

By Christopher Cussat | January 8th, 2020

Expert advice from PartnerMD


People love making resolutions for the New Year, with varying levels of success and sustainability. Instead of trying one narrow change, why not choose a broader life adjustment to age well – not just for the now, but for the future. Jim Mumper, M.D., chief medical officer for PartnerMD, shares insights about aging and what we can do to age better throughout all the new years ahead!

Eating habits. Maintaining a healthy diet is good practice at any age, so it is no surprise that poor eating habits can be detrimental to our health. Limiting sugars and processed carbohydrates is helpful for those who may develop pre-diabetes as they age. “A variety of colorful fruits and vegetables should be part of our diets every day. We at PartnerMD think the Mediterranean diet has the most data supporting it as a heart- and brain-healthy diet,” Mumper says.

Exercise. Like healthy eating, another common-sense approach to aging well for baby boomers is exercise. Physically active individuals have better overall health, lower health-care costs and fewer mobility issues than people their age who are sedentary. Exercise is known to improve strength, flexibility, mobility and fitness – all of which improve daily function. Mumper further believes that exercise helps adults maintain their independence as they age and reduces the risks of falls and injuries. “It is never too late to begin exercising – even individuals who were sedentary but begin exercising in their 80s have survival benefits compared to peers who remain sedentary.” Talk to your physician or a certified health coach about exercises that would be right for you.

Sleep. It may not be apparent that sleep patterns alter over time, yet even a gradual sleeping change can affect one’s health. As we age, sleep tends to become lighter and more fragmented, and we tend to have more awakenings and arousals during sleep. Mumper says that the “architecture” of our sleep also changes. “REM sleep as a percentage of sleep time decreases, with lighter stages of sleep becoming a larger percentage of our sleep time.” He notes that the consequences of these age-related changes are still not well understood.

Stress. Stress can have negative consequences at any age; however, says Mumper, it tends to affect us differently now than when we were younger, and adults later in life tend to have less resilience to stress. “Our bodies have a diminished capacity to recover from the normal stress response.” He says the process of flushing out stress hormones in our brains when we sleep is less efficient as we age, and this ultimately can affect cognition.

Isolation. Perhaps one of the less-discussed aspects of aging that can harm one’s health is isolation. “We know that social isolation raises the risks for heart disease and stroke, and it has been linked to an impaired immune system and early death,” explains Mumper. Older adults can combat the trend toward social isolation by reaching out to loved ones and friends, becoming part of a spiritual community, volunteering at a charitable organization or hiring a companion.

Cognitive health. Many adults worry about dementia or cognitive decline and feel that nothing they do will reduce their risk. However, an abundance of compelling data supports the concept that we can have a significant impact on our risk of dementia through making wise lifestyle choices.

By exercising daily, following a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep and challenging our brains with enjoyable new activities, we can better manage stress, cognitive issues and social isolation. Health issues related to aging and genetics can affect us at any time, but being proactive and deciding to age well may be the most important resolution we can make to achieve a long, healthy and active life.

Christopher Cussat is a freelance writer and adjunct professor of English at American Public University.