Starting healthy habits when you're younger helps you thrive as you age, says Dilip Jeste, director of the Stein Institute for Research on Aging at the University of California, San Diego, which investigates the keys to aging well. "It is never too early or too late to start on the path to successful aging," he says. Here are five habits to cultivate.
1. Get Moving to Keep Bones Strong
Your bones are living tissue that are constantly renewed, and they can grow stronger if you exercise and eat well, says Susan Brown, author of Better Bones, Better Body. Though some bone-density loss as you age is natural, you can mitigate it by staying active through your lifetime. The full effects of exercise on bone growth continues to be studied; what's known is that weight-bearing exercise (such as jogging) as well as muscle-building exercises that include resistance against gravity (such as weight lifting and certain yoga poses) are especially important because the impact of weight on the bones sends them signals that trigger growth.
2. Fight Depression for a Healthy Brain
A long-term study of more than 13,000 people from the University of California, San Francisco shows that depressed people (especially when depression hits late in life) are more likely to develop dementia than their more sanguine peers. "People struggling with depression should not ignore their symptoms," says study author Deborah Barnes, a psychiatry professor at UCSF. Medication, talk therapy, and exercise all have a good track record at combating depression.
3. Cultivate Heart-Healthy Optimism
Looking on the bright side may lower your risk of having a heart attack or stroke, according to research from the Harvard School of Public Health. Study author Julia Boehm says optimism may directly affect contributors to cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, or its benefit may come from the fact that it encourages living a healthier lifestyle. Either way, she suggests you make staying happy a regular part of your self-care routine. "Spend time doing activities that bring you happiness, such as cultivating social relationships, expressing gratitude, and doing kind things for others," she says.
4. Eat Better Fats to Stay Sharp
Eating more monounsaturated fat (found in olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados) and less saturated fat (found in meat and butter) may protect your memory and cognitive skills as you age, according to a study of more than 6,000 older women from Harvard Medical School. Study author Olivia Okereke says poor cardiovascular health and chronic inflammation in the body (made worse by overconsumption of saturated fats) could be factors that trigger cognitive decline.
5. Eat Colors for Glowing Skin
For beautiful skin, eat more orange-red produce, such as tomatoes, squash, bell peppers, papaya, and carrots. Recent studies show that people with higher skin concentrations of carotenoids have fewer wrinkles and less evidence of sun damage. That's because these antioxidants build up in your skin over time and act as a natural sunscreen, boosting your SPF by two to three points, says Massachusetts dermatologist Valori Treloar. Carotenoids also fight collagen-damaging enzymes, which proliferate with age.