If you’re looking for Bob Selya, you’d better call his gym. That’s because the 84-year-old New York City attorney pursues a workout schedule that athletes a third his age might call grueling.
Selya checks into his gym twice a day, four days a week, once for a spin class and another time to lift weights.
“I admit that some mornings I do feel old, but it disappears as I go about my day,” says Selya, who admits that a bit of vanity plays at least some part in his commitment. “I don’t like to appear old. I’m always standing up straight and squaring my shoulders.”
Selya has long worked out to remain fit. But a few years ago, he needed a heart bypass, a health scare that moved him to eat better by including more green vegetables and legumes in his diet. And to keep his mind as strong as his muscles, he regularly works on quizzes and word games.
By exercising, eating better, and stimulating his brain, Selya is pursuing critical approaches to maintaining good health in old age. These activities and getting good sleep are crucial to slowing the aging process, living longer, and staving off age-related diseases.
Get fit to stay young
You don’t need to be a gym rat like Selya to get real anti-aging benefits from exercise. Research has repeatedly shown that moderate-intensity exercising like walking briskly or mowing the lawn for just 15 minutes every day lowers cardiovascular risk.
Even low-intensity exercise can lower the risk of heart diseases and chronic conditions like hypertension, depression, diabetes, and cancer. Meanwhile, physical fitness keeps bones strong, muscles intact, and reduces the chances of falls and fractures.
So what should older people just getting into shape do?
“Try not to think of exercise as a ‘should’ or a ‘must.’ View it as a privilege and be grateful that you are able to move,” says Los Angeles-based personal trainer Malin Svensson, the author of Wake Up Your Body + Mind After 50!. “Take action and work on the basics: strengthen your core, improve your alignment and maintain good posture. No matter what your age, you can always strengthen your muscles and bones.”
Healthy eating means healthy aging
Nutrition affects all aspects of health, for better or for worse. Food choices can help heal — or exacerbate — conditions such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension.
For someone suffering from obesity, losing just 5% of body weight decreases diabetes and cardiovascular disease risks while improving liver, fat, and muscle tissue functioning. Meanwhile, undernutrition leads to health risks that older people should avoid.
But it’s not just the belly that stands to benefit from better nutrition. Dr. Christopher Ochner, the author of The Alzheimer’s Prevention & Treatment Diet, says a heart-healthy diet also helps a person’s brain.
“A proper, brain-healthy diet most certainly can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and slow the progression in individuals already suffering from AD,” he says.
Researchers are still uncovering all the ways that diet impacts health. Some are looking into the complex connections between gut and mental health. Others are exploring nutrition’s surprising role in DNA repair in older adults.
Food is critical to slowing aging and the diseases associated with it. The bottom line: Eat whole grains and more vegetables while avoiding processed foods.
Work your brain
Food for thought is more than what you eat. Engaging the brain can also help protect it from age-related decline and neurodegenerative diseases. Solving challenging puzzles, working, or even just having a positive attitude are all tools to keep it in good health.
“While technically your brain isn’t a muscle, it does need exercise to maintain peak performance,” says Ochner. “This doesn’t mean playing sudoku nonstop, but it does mean embracing lifestyle habits that keep you challenged mentally and also that keep you engaged socially.”
Rest your body
A good night of sleep is essential to slowing the aging process. Researchers have found that sleep is fundamentally restorative across a person’s entire lifespan, especially for older adults.
Sleep problems are common after the age of 65. Shorter and poorer quality sleep makes you feel tired and depressed. It can also affect memory, increase your risk of falling, weaken the immune system, and contribute to inflammation, especially in older adults.
Instead of suffering, invest in self-care to address sleep problems. See a specialist and practice good sleep hygiene, like going to bed at the same time every night and avoiding screens right before bed.
“Our body is a machine. You’ve got to take care of it,” says Svensson, the physical trainer. “I like to remind my clients to treat their machine like a high-performance car.”
Slowing the aging process isn’t magic. Focus on developing good habits to maintain or even improve your health over the years: exercise regularly, improve your diet, keep your brain engaged, and get adequate sleep. That’s the research-backed formula to not only live longer, but to live better, too.