7 Ways You're Ruining Your Body After 60, Say Experts
You've probably seen those T-shirts and bumper stickers that read, "I'm not getting older—I'm getting better." And you've probably rolled your eyes a time or two, at least, in response. But the truth is, according to science, adopting that attitude can actually lengthen your life—whether you take action or simply adjust your perspective about aging.
Being conscious and strategic about aging well—not just doing what you did when you were younger, or assuming that how your parents and grandparents approached their older years was the only way—can have real benefits for your body, mind, and quality of life. Here's what science says are 7 common ways you could be ruining your body after age 60, and how to avoid that. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Have "Long" COVID and May Not Even Know It.
You Don't Get Enough Sleep
You might remember that your parents or grandparents reported getting less sleep after age 60 and assume it's a natural part of getting older. That's not true—it can actually be dangerous. During sleep, various systems throughout the body refresh themselves, including the brain, which cleanses itself of debris that has been linked to dementia.
"The quantity and quality of sleep have profound physiological impacts that impact our day-to-day thinking, memory, and mood as well as our long-term risk of cognitive decline," says Scott Kaiser, MD, a board-certified geriatrician at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. Experts including the National Sleep Foundation recommend that adults of every age get seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night to ensure optimum health. If you're not, your doctor can help you get there.
You're Not Getting Your Vaccinations
As the recent pandemic has reminded us, vaccine and booster schedules aren't just for kids. Older adults should be vaccinated against the flu annually, and against diseases like shingles, meningitis and pneumonia as your doctor recommends. Not checking in about the shots you need can seriously compromise your health, especially if you plan to travel. "People should consult their primary care physician and get up to date on vaccines," says Manish B. Patel, DO. "After the age of 60, many try to take that retirement vacation they have been holding off. Ensuring a good time means staying healthy."
You're Not Being Social
Research has found that loneliness can have health effects similar to obesity, physical inactivity and smoking 15 cigarettes a day, increasing older adults' risk of dementia by 50%, says Kaiser. And brain health isn't the only threat: A recent Finnish study found that men who reported feeling lonely over two decades were more likely to be diagnosed with cancer—and face a worse prognosis.
Scientists think loneliness causes stress that wears down the body's immune system, leading to illness. So make it a point to regularly socialize with friends and loved ones, join activity and support groups, or volunteer. Studies have found that participating in mentorship and foster-grandparent programs is particularly beneficial for older adults' brain health.
You Have a Negative View Of Aging
Getting older doesn't mean game over—if you think it does, that could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. "Having a positive view of aging is associated with both living longer and living better," says Kaiser. In research done by a Yale psychology professor, participants who had positive self-perceptions about growing older lived 7.5 years longer and had lower rates of Alzheimer's disease better than people with more negative views.
You're Not Getting Enough Activity
A sedentary lifestyle is a major risk factor for the diseases that strike more often in the golden years—dementia, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke. The good news: even small amounts of activity can make a difference. Experts suggest inserting excuses to walk into your day wherever you can: take the stairs at work; park at the back of parking lots instead of the front; wake up early to go for a stroll instead of sleeping in; or adopt a dog that needs to be walked a few times a day.
You're Sitting For Long Periods
Even if you're exercising regularly, long periods of sitting can downshift your metabolism, raising your blood sugar level, increasing the risk of diabetes and imperiling your heart health, says Sarah Rettinger, MD, an endocrinologist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
If you sit for much of the day, Rettinger recommends setting a timer that reminds you to get up and move, every hour, for at least five to ten minutes. "If you can't take a short walk outside, walk up and down stairs, take a few laps around the house or apartment, do a few jumping jacks—anything to get your heart rate up a bit, or to make you a little out of breath," says Rettinger. "Over the course of a day, these mini-breaks really add up."
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You're Not Having Orgasms
Having sex once a month or less? That may increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a major review of research published in the American Journal of Cardiology. Yes, erectile dysfunction (ED) can be an indicator of heart disease—the same diseased blood vessels that can cause a heart attack or stroke also have trouble carrying blood to the penis—but this particular review found an association between low sexual activity and heart disease that was totally independent of ED. So get down to it. (It's not clear from the study if masturbation has beneficial effects, but no evidence suggests that it could hurt.) And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.