One key to healthy aging is to establish healthy eating and exercise habits when you’re young.
When you’re young, the thought of getting older is usually far from your mind. But as we age, we often look back and think, “I wish I’d taken better care of myself.” While young people may not like to think about getting old, they would still be wise to pay attention to the eating and exercise habits they establish in their youth. The longer they have to practice healthy eating habits and engage in an active lifestyle, the more likely they are to age healthfully.
Eating is one of the few behaviors that we get to practice several times a day. That means every meal or snack provides an opportunity to reinforce your healthy diet habits—like practicing portion control and choosing nutrient-dense foods. Every time you make the right food choices, you’re more firmly establishing good habits that will stay with you throughout your life.
I have counseled many older patients who have had a lifetime of eating badly and suddenly decide to “shape up.” It might be triggered by a milestone birthday or even a health scare, but what they often tell me is that they wish that they had taken better care of themselves when they were younger. And they find that it’s really hard to change habits they’ve had for decades. As the old saying goes, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
It’s never too late to take better care of yourself. But if you’re young, you might want to listen up—because the habits you establish now can influence your health and well-being as you get older.
Begin Good Habits Now for Healthy Aging
Maintaining Healthy Bones as You Age
Strong, healthy bones are really built during adolescence and young adulthood. That’s because the body’s ability to store calcium in the bones peaks at about age 30. This is a critical period during which you can maximize bone density. So, get plenty of calcium in your diet (about 1000 mg per day) and regularly engage in weight-bearing exercise. Both of which are important to building bone mass, and they’re two of the best things you can do when you’re younger to ensure bone health as you age. But that doesn’t mean all is lost if you’re older. Weight bearing activity can help to keep bones strong. Taking in adequate calcium every day (needs increase to about 1200 mg per day after age 50) can help reduce the amount that needs to be pulled out of storage from your bones to meet needs.
Maintaining Muscle Mass and a Healthy Weight as You Age
Building muscle mass can be done at any age. When you establish the right habits at a young age, which includes consuming adequate protein and engaging in resistance exercise, you’re more likely to continue those habits throughout your life. Since, in large part, lean body mass determines your resting metabolic rate, building up muscle mass is one of the best defenses you have against “creeping obesity.” That’s the slow, incremental upticks in your body fat and weight as you age.
Maintaining Healthy Skin as You Age
The foods you put into your body, and the way you take care of your skin when you’re young, can affect the appearance of your skin as you age. Your skin relies on protein to manufacture supporting its structures, and plenty of fluid to help prevent dryness. Getting into the habit of cleansing, moisturizing and regularly using sunscreen when you’re young can help you to maintain a healthy complexion as you get older. Skin damage that happens when you’re young may not show up until decades later, so your best defense is to get in the habit of taking good care of your skin now.
By Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Senior Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training