Healthy Living

Successful Aging: Add Life to Your Years

May. 20, 2016

While you may expect to live longer than your parents or grandparents did, do you know what you can do to live happier and healthier? UR Medicine healthy aging expert Dr. William Hall says that keeping your mind and body active are keys to a long, happy life.

senior couple smiling on golf course

Research shows that putting your memory to the test can actually alter your brain chemistry, fostering new cell growth that improves memory and thinking. So give your brain a workout. Learning a new language offers enormous potential for stimulating cognition and memory. You can also do puzzles like crosswords and Sudoku, read books, and exercise your brain like you exercise your body.

When it comes to your body, keeping active is absolutely essential as we age. Even 20 minutes of activity a day, three times per week, provides therapeutic benefits. Thirty minutes every day is even better.

Here are some simple activities to get you moving and add life to your years.

  • Mow, mow, mow your lawn: Yard work that involves movement and bending—like cutting the grass and gardening—can promote balance and flexibility and is easy on the joints. Plus you’ll get the benefits of fresh, outdoor air. Take care to avoid heavy lifting and protect yourself from sun exposure.
  • Step it up: Opt to climb rather than taking elevators for a safe, all-purpose exercise that promotes lower extremity strength, balance and aerobic conditioning. Hold a hand rail while climbing and make sure steps are not slippery.
  • Walk and talk: Walking is still the best exercise overall and when you walk with friends, the added social benefit can have a positive impact on your happiness.
  • Get sporty: Surprise yourself by trying a new sport, such as golf or tennis, if they aren’t already on your list. You’ll benefit both from the activity and the challenge of learning something new.
  • Join a gym: Gyms have come a long way since high school physical education class and are not just for young people anymore. Most facilities are eager to have older members and many offer instruction tailored to your needs and interests.
  • Get in the swim: Swimming is one of the all-time best exercises for any age. Don’t worry how you look in Lycra; chances are these days most recreational swimmers will look just like you.
  • Push those pedals: Bicycling offers great aerobic conditioning. Try a recumbent bike, a stationary model with a reclined design for added safety.
  • Fill your dance card: Take up ballroom dancing for an exercise that has it all: aerobics, balance, strength, music and even romance.

Playwright George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.” Keeping active and socially engaged will help you fend off some of the trappings traditionally associated with aging and enjoy the years ahead of you.

William Hall, MD

William J. Hall, M.D., is the Paul Fine Professor of Medicine and Director of the Center for Healthy Aging at the University of Rochester Medical Center, and author of Taking Charge of Your Health. He is a member of the American Geriatrics Society and served on the Board of Directors of AARP.