As a family medicine doctor, I see the full spectrum of patients — from the youngest of the young to the more "seasoned" among us. So naturally, healthy aging is a topic I discuss with my patients a lot.
My goal isn't just to help patients react to conditions or situations brought on by aging, but rather to help them be on the proactive side of aging with simple, healthy habits.
Here are the top seven habits I tell my patients to form now to help them age better later:
- Daily sun protection. There's a reason doctors and sun safety experts are always pushing people to put on the SPF: It works. Not only do sunscreen and other sun protective measures like hats and SPF clothing help prevent skin cancer, they also can protect your skin from premature aging. Dark spots and sagging, paper-thin or leathery skin are all caused by sun damage, so opt for a daily moisturizer with an SPF of 35 or more.
- Get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. I know, life seems to be busier than ever before, but getting a proper amount of sleep can be the best protection we have against some of the most common diseases that come with age. Getting a good night of rest not only reduces our chances of heart disease, stroke and obesity, it also can reduce inflammation and improve our brain's ability to concentrate and focus.
- Drink a gallon of water a day. Don't worry about using some magic formula to convert your body weight into the ounces you should drink in a day. A gallon of water is the sweet spot to keep our skin hydrated and looking young, our energy levels high and our digestive system regular.
- Eat well-balanced meals. In addition to causing obesity, cancer and other health issues, eating too much processed sugar can actually speed up the aging process in your skin, causing dark circles and wrinkles. Save the processed foods and sugary treats for special occasions and make fruits, vegetables and whole grains the main focus of your daily diet.
- Exercise. A weekly 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of intense exercise, is recommended to protect yourself against high cholesterol, diabetes, dementia and posture-related issues. Dedicate about 30 minutes a day to getting your heart rate up with a variety of exercises. Impact exercises, such as walking or running, help strengthen the bones while weight training twice a week can improve posture, help with sleep and minimize inflammation.
- Take care of your skin. While scrubs and exfoliants can leave our skin feeling silky and smooth, too much abrasion can actually lead to premature aging. Instead, wash your face with a gentle cleanser twice a day (and after each sweat session) and add in a daily moisturizer.
- Keep a positive attitude. Studies have shown not only do positive people live longer, they also have a 40% chance of a better outcome in a disabling situation. Make it a daily habit to reflect on things that make you happy or thankful and build positive social and family ties.
While all seven of those tasks may feel like a lot to take on at once, incorporating a few at a time can go a long way in helping you age well. It takes 66 days to develop a habit into an automatic behavior, so I always tell my patients to take it one month at a time. Once you hit that month, you’re already halfway there and the goal is that much more manageable. Make lists you can check off, designate an accountability partner, plan out your daily meals and, most important, give yourself some grace.
(And while you're at it, keep up with doctor and dentist appointments for yearly screenings and cleanings!)