14 hints for healthy aging

Some tips for aging well, boosting longevity and improving quality of life

seniors stretching
To boost your "healthspan," it's a good idea to create or schedule moments of activity throughout the day.

By Michael McCloud, M.D.

As a physician, I’m less interested in hearing your answer to the question “Did your parents live to an old age?” than your answer to the question “Do you want French fries with that order?”

Dr. McCloud is a UC Davis Health System geriatrician, co-director of the health system’s geriatric clinic and creator of the health system’s Mini Medical School healthy-aging educational program.

While heredity does play somewhat of a role in longevity, it is a poor predictor of your remaining years. In actuality, our lifestyle choices are a better predictor of our “health span,” or years of life free of disability and chronic illness.

Here are 14 hints for healthy aging:

1. Diet and exercise? Sure, they are important. But they are only two legs of the healthy aging tripod. The third is sleep. An extra 30 minutes of sleep each night can help stave off hypertension, heart attacks and depression. Some evidence indicates that increasing sleep may even boost immunity.

2. When was the last time you met a thriving elderly person who got that way through taking food supplements?

3. Any diet that can truly enhance longevity must contain these three words: moderation, variety, balance.

4. Do you have some new, annoying symptom? Before asking what medicine you should take for it, ask which medicine you should stop because of it.

5. If you have a chronic medical condition, become an unabashed authority on it.

6. A well-kept, unambiguous chart of all medications taken can protect you from medication misadventures. Don’t list “Coumadin 2,” for example. Say “Coumadin (warfarin) 2 mg, taking two tabs (= 4mg) daily. Anticoagulant.”

7. Create moments of activity throughout the day, and you will have exercised without realizing it. A good day’s workout might include choosing stairs rather than an elevator, getting some gardening in, dancing, and having that important conversation over a walk.

8. Go to the doctor’s office not to learn your blood pressure, but to show your blood pressure. Show the average of a dozen readings from home. Occasionally check it both sitting and standing – it should not drop more than 15 to 20 points.

9. Look at the skin of your outer forearm. Does it reveal your age? Then look at the sun-protected inner forearm. Look younger? So why not sun-protect the rest of you?

10. The number one reason for loss of independence is a hip fracture. Wearing hip protectors, avoiding multifocal eyeglasses when walking or stair climbing, reducing medications and alcohol, and wearing secure footwear all lessen risk of a nursing home in your future.

11. Have your vitamin D and vitamin B-12 blood levels checked. Identifying and correcting actual deficiencies of either may prevent disabling illness in the future.

12. Do you love playing bridge? Take piano lessons. Is golf your passion? Learn Italian. An aging brain becomes more resilient when challenged to take on unfamiliar skills and tasks.

13. There may be some stay-at-home individuals who age well without involvement in the community. I haven’t met any, though.

14. Are you a cigarette smoker? The above tips won’t work for you. But the benefits of stopping accrue rapidly.

For many more hints to successful aging and to learn about UC Davis Health System’s Mini Medical School – a tuition-free program from top UC Davis faculty members about the secrets of healthy aging – visit www.agewell.ucdavis.edu.