We are living longer these days. But, more and more people are still developing chronic diseases that will shorten their lives and boost medical costs. Some 133 million adults almost half the adult population now have a chronic health condition.
This may lead you to believe that illness is synonymous with aging. But growing old doesn't have to bring disability and disease. Here are eight tips on how to stay healthier, stronger and happier as you age.
1. It's never too late to start leading a healthier lifestyle. Even well into their 60s and 70s, adults can take action to reduce their risk of developing chronic disease.
There are lots of things you can do to improve your function and your health well into older age.
2. If there's one step you should take for improving your health and helping you steer clear of chronic disease, it's exercise. And it really is never too late to start.
Exercise helps control body weight, lower your blood pressure and strengthen your muscles, which helps you avoid injuries by making you less likely to fall.
And an increase in muscle mass helps your body metabolize drugs more like a young person does, which means medicines can be cleared from the body more effectively.
Physical activity has also been linked to a decreased risk of dementia.
Milder activities such as walking, gardening or anything to keep moving would be sufficient.
3. Daily stretching is important. Your muscles tend to shorten and stiffen when you aren't active, but stretching activities such as yoga will improve your flexibility.
Yoga improves flexibility and can help relieve the discomfort of chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia and arthritis.
4. Sticking to a healthy weight by exercising and eating right has multiple benefits, studies show.
If you can keep your weight down, you'll decrease your risk of diabetes, which affects about 23.3 million Americans, as well as certain types of arthritis, which hinders activity for about 19 million Americans, according to the CDC.
One way to eat better is to eat more fruits and vegetables every day.
5. Preventive measures, such as getting a yearly flu shot and getting screened for breast, cervical and colorectal cancers, are also important for growing old gracefully.
Keeping an eye on other disease indicators, such as high blood pressure and the early stages of diabetes can also make a difference in terms of the degree of disability people experience later in life.
6. Attending religious services and having a generally sunny outlook on life have been linked to longer, healthier lives. For instance, a 2006 study found that regular church attendance can add 1.8 to 3.1 years to your life.
Decreased stress levels, from spiritual activities such as meditation, may be partly responsible for the health benefit.
A slew of studies also suggest that optimistic people live longer and are less likely to develop certain chronic conditions such as heart disease.
7. In a study this month, researchers followed a random sample of 10,317 Wisconsin high school students from their graduation in 1957 until the present. In 2004, the participants reported how often they had volunteered within the past 10 years. They also explained their reasons for volunteering.
Some of the participants' motives stemmed from a desire to help others while others had more self-oriented reasons for volunteering, such as "volunteering is a good escape from my own troubles."
The findings showed that those who volunteered out of a desire to help others had lower mortality rates than people who volunteered for selfish reasons or did not volunteer at all.
8. For middle-age women, having one alcoholic drink a day may improve health and pave the way to a long life, a new study shows.
The results of a recent study showed that women who had an occasional drink, up to one per day, of any alcoholic beverage during middle age had better overall health when they grew older than women who did not drink at all, those who consumed more than two drinks a day, and those who had four drinks or more at one time.
The researchers defined good overall health as having no major chronic diseases such as heart disease or diabetes and no major cognitive and physical impairment or mental health limitations. The study authors said such health leads to "successful aging."