The key to wellness might be simpler than you think!
Here’s a hard truth: No magic basics won’t change: pill exists that delivers instant good health. Correction: There are many “magic”pills, which may have side effects, to help with a variety of health concerns, but nothing replaces the basic foundations of healthy living.
If you want the best chance at the healthiest life possible, there are proven, simple ways to go about it. “There’s no fountain of youth, but the tried-and-true basics won’t change: exercising, eating right, socializing, and enjoying life,” says Kumar Dharmarajan, MD, MBA, cardiologist, geriatrician, and Associate Chief Medical Officer at Clover Health.
Here’s how you can incorporate those basics into your daily routine—and even have fun with them!
Keep moving: The Importance of Exercise
“The absolute most important thing you can do is be physically active,” says Catherine Sarkisian, MD, Professor of Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
Dr. Sarkisian specializes in geriatric health and has been studying the topic of successful aging for over two decades. She recommends some form of cardio for 20 to 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
Pick the activity you most enjoy, because then you’re more likely to stick with it, says Dr. Dharmarajan.
Try walking, swimming, biking, dancing—you name it! Having trouble getting started? Dr. Sarkisian has a special message for sedentary folks: You’re going to see the best results of anybody.
“To go from zero to anything, you’re going to get so much benefit!” she says.
“I tell my patients who are sedentary to start walking for five minutes a day, and then try to walk 10 the next day, and then 15. Start low, go slow.”
“Once we’re in our 50s, we should also do strength training at least twice a week,” she points out. “Use light weights for your upper and lower body. Or use your own body as a weight, as we do with moves like push-ups.”
Then add some balance exercises to your routine, Dr. Sarkisian advises. She suggests the National Institute on Aging (NIA) website as a source for simple exercises. Head to nia.nih.gov/health/exercise-physical-activity.
“You can find very simple exercises there, like putting your hands on the back of a chair, standing on one leg while you lift the other, and holding it for a few seconds.”
Cardio, balance, and strength training are important for your health, Dr. Sarkisian says. “We have so much scientific data to show that strength and balance training prevents falls, and cardiovascular endurance improves quality of life.”
Work with your doctor to figure out the safest way for you to move more.
Dr. Sarkisian offers this essential tip for nutrition: Keep it simple. Indulge in plenty of fruits and vegetables as well as whole, unprocessed foods.
Look for opportunities to eat “in season.” Fall, for example, is a good time to enjoy seasonal produce such as locally grown apples, fresh kale, squash, sweet potatoes, and zucchini.
As you plan meals, imagine your plate made up of vegetables and fruits on one side and whole grains and healthy proteins making up the other half.
If you eat meat, stick to mostly white meat and fish—and experiment with plant-based proteins a few times a week.
“People who have diabetes need to be careful to follow a proper diet,” she says.
“If you have heart disease, you don’t want to eat too many high-fat foods. And everyone should maintain a healthy body weight.”
For herself, Dr. Sarkisian says she “feels better after eating healthy food.” For her patients, she offers an understanding view. “Definitely eating fruit and vegetables is good for your general health and for your colon. Fried foods are not good for your digestion. But, in moderation, older adults can enjoy occasional treats if their doctor gives the OK.”
While maintaining a positive mental attitude is useful at any age, it’s also important to recognize that the pains and losses that come with aging take their toll emotionally. It’s a normal part of life, and it’s helpful to be able to accept that.
“Everyone’s going to have some physical decline, even if you were once a marathoner,” says Dr. Sarkisian.
“When people adjust their expectations as they get older, they put greater weight on other elements, such as spending time with friends and family.” That balancing and acceptance brings more peace of mind.
Connect with your people
Socializing with friends and family is key to good health and happiness, according to countless studies on the topic. “We are designed to interact with other people,” explains Dr. Sarkisian. “Social connections are associated with successful aging.”
And you can combine physical activity with friends for an even greater return on your joy, notes Dr. Dharmarajan.
“Walking with a neighbor, playing a game like pickleball, or dancing with your grandkids is going to check so many boxes, increasing your physical mobility as well as putting you in a better mood,” he says.
Take the steps
And finally, a dose of reality: These actions are simple, but they’re not always easy. Doctors can say it over and over, but ultimately the decision to live a healthy life is yours.
Sitting on the couch staring at a screen takes far less effort than gearing up for a walk or going out to meet a friend.
But we’re not kids anymore, and we don’t need to give in to that desire for instant gratification. We can choose the healthy way forward.
Healthcare Basics: Find a PCP
Here’s another simple step toward better health: Choose a primary care physician. Then work with that physician to track any existing health conditions and to stay ahead of potential medical problems.
Schedule your annual physical and ask your doctor about screenings or vaccines you are due for. If you have been diagnosed with a chronic condition such as diabetes or COPD, ask what you can do to stay well and active.
Your physician can also answer any health-related questions you have. For example, are you experiencing incontinence? Or maybe you feel a little unsteady on your feet at times? Speak up. There are things your doctor can do to help you live your best life.
This article was originally published in the fall 2022 issue of Clover Living magazine. Want to see more articles like this? Subscribe to Clover Living magazine for free (if you aren’t already subscribed) here.