Keep Yourself Moving
Have you slacked off on exercise lately? Here’s a fact that should get you back on your feet. According to the Framingham Heart Study, women who are moderately active (the equivalent of walking 30 minutes five days a week) gain one-and-a-half years in life expectancy over couch potatoes, and highly active women boost that benefit by three-and-a-half years.
"Exercise increases the number of years you can live without heart disease and decreases the risk of a second heart attack or stroke in women who have already had one," Franco says. And it’s never too late: "You can become active at 50 or 60 and still increase your life expectancy."
Gauge Your Physical Abilities
Jot down how long it takes you to walk one-quarter of a mile (one lap around a school track); repeat every few months. If your time increases, it means you’re moving more slowly and may need to boost your exercise routine or ask your doctor for a cardiovascular disease check. "As you lose fitness, sooner or later even normal activities make you short of breath; then frailty kicks in," Kuller says.
Don’t Just Cut Calories, Burn Them
Dieting to lose weight? Add exercise. When 50- to 60-year-olds in a pilot study at Washington University School of Medicine in Saint Louis lost weight by dieting alone, they also lost bone density, muscle mass, strength, and aerobic conditioning. But those who shed the same number of pounds through exercise maintained or improved their muscle function and bone density.
Don’t Think That Size Protects You from Frailty
Thin, fragile-looking women with low energy are recognizable as frail. "But a woman who is quite overweight may have little muscle and be at risk of becoming frail — unable to do ordinary activities," says Linda P. Fried, MD, chief of geriatric medicine at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore.
Get Back on Your Feet After Illness or Injury
"Start moving right away to rebuild lost muscle mass, strength, and fitness," Franco advises. Muscle loss is greatest in the first two weeks after illness or injury, and the older you get, the more muscle you lose during periods of inactivity.
Adjust Your Attitude
Ever call brain freeze a "senior moment"? Don’t do it in front of Becca Levy, PhD, associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health. Her work has demonstrated that negative expectations about aging may be self-fulfilling and downright dangerous to your health. Her study started in the 1970s, when more than 1,100 people (two-thirds of the over-50 residents of Oxford, Ohio) signed up for the Ohio Longitudinal Study of Aging and Retirement. The initial evaluation contained several statements that revealed participants’ expectations of aging (such as "As you get older, you are less useful" or "Things keep getting worse as I get older"). Twenty-three years later, Levy found that those who had more positive perceptions of aging (such as "I have as much pep as I did last year" and "As I get older, things are better than I thought they would be") had survival rates that were more than seven years longer than those with less positive impressions. "When it comes to longevity," Levy says, "self-perception is more important than gender, loneliness, physical ability, or socioeconomic status." Here, ways you can think — and be — younger.
Change Your Language
On memory tasks, older people who were read positive aging words just prior to testing (sage, wise, insightful, accomplished) scored significantly better than those who heard negative ones (decrepit, senile, incompetent). Reframe your reality by using positive words instead of negative ones.
Don’t Age Yourself
Stop automatically ascribing forgetfulness or some passing pain or weakness to age. Ask yourself whether you might have had trouble recalling the same information at a younger age, or whether you might simply be tired or have a lot on your mind, Levy suggests.