We all know the conventional wisdom about how to live a more healthful life – exercise, eat well, abstain from smoking and drinking, see your doctor regularly. For many, following these rules can seem overly burdensome and may include some sacrifice and denying ourselves things that bring us pleasure. For those not likely to join a gym or who can’t give up their weekly steak and martini dinner, we have some tips for staying healthy that we think you’ll enjoy.
Get together with friends
It turns out that socializing with others is an essential component to staying healthy as we age. In one study of nearly 1500 retirees in Australia, researchers discovered that those with the most robust social lives were 22 percent less likely to die within 10 years compared to those who had fewer social contacts. A study conducted at Brigham Young University demonstrated that “the effect of [social isolation and loneliness] is comparable to obesity.” Lead study author Julianne Holt-Lunstad concluded that “we need to start taking our social relationships more seriously.” Socializing may even help your mind. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who were socially active in their 50s and 60s had slower rates of memory decline compared to those who were more isolated.
Often, as we age, we tend to spend more time indoors, watching TV or reading the newspaper. But the simple act of getting out of the house and going outside – either walking through your neighborhood, going to a park, or even to garden – has many benefits. According to the Harvard Health Letter, you’ll get more Vitamin D (which can help with numerous ailments), your mood will improve and you may heal more quickly.
Let go of guilt
Most of us have felt guilty about something at some time in our lives. And, to a degree, it serves a purpose – guilt guides our future behavior and regulates our moral compass. But guilt is a heavy burden and can cause havoc on the body and mind. A UCLA study found that a guilty mind increases the stress hormone cortisol, which can weaken your immune system, lead to high blood pressure, and reduce your ability to get a good night’s sleep. Almost all spiritual traditions speak of forgiveness, which includes forgiving yourself. If you find this challenging to do, ask for forgiveness (either from the person you feel you’ve wronged or a spiritual leader), perform an act of atonement, or perform a ritual of contrition.
Take a nap
Getting enough sleep is important to overall health. Studies have shown it helps us do everything from lower stress to maintain a healthy weight to improve our memory. But sometimes we simply can’t fit in those necessary eight hours in a single session. The answer? Take a nap! It provides all the benefits of “regular” sleep and can provide the perfect pick-me-up. A study by Sara Mednick, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside, showed that a nap was more effective in performing motor, perceptual and verbal tasks than those who took a caffeine pill or a placebo.
It may turn that laughter really is the best medicine. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter reduces stress, strengthens the immune system and improves your mood. According to a study done at the University of Maryland, it’s also good for the heart. Michael Miller, a cardiologist who led the study, said, “The recommendation for a healthy heart may one day be exercise, eat right and laugh a few times a day.”
Learn something new
Challenging your mind is one of the best ways to help strengthen your brain, which may help protect it against Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. While any mental exercise – crossword puzzles and other “brain games” – is good for the brain, a recent study done at the University of Texas at Dallas showed that learning a new skill has the most impact on brain health – and the more challenging the new skill, the greater the result. So, learn how to play the guitar or enroll in a computer class. You’ll not only be gaining valuable life experience – and enjoying the benefits of your newfound talent – you’ll be helping your brain function at its peak.