As 2021 draws to a close, many of us are reflecting on the various ways our minds and bodies have changed over the course of the past year. No matter your phase of life, aging is something we all experience daily—but that doesn’t mean we’re powerless in the process.
If you’re looking to start 2022 with your best foot forward, here are 10 pieces of expert advice on aging well from our Forbes Health Advisory Board members. With their words of wisdom in hand, you can make your year ahead a happy, healthy and vibrant one.
Commit to Brain-Healthy Habits
“The new year is a great time to commit to some brain-healthy habits,” says Amanda Smith, M.D., a professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and the director of clinical research at the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute in Tampa, Florida. “Eat colorful fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and fewer processed foods. Get a good night’s sleep, and try to set aside at least 15 minutes a day for exercise and another 15 for meditation or mindfulness exercises. Try challenging your brain by learning something new like a language, instrument or hobby. It’s never too late to take care of your brain, and every little bit can have a lasting effect on cognitive health!”
Take Care of Your Hearing Health
“Your sense of hearing plays a vital role in your cognitive and overall health,” says Abram Bailey, an audiologist and expert on consumer technology in hearing care. “Over the years, numerous academic studies have linked hearing loss to dementia, anxiety, poor balance, increased social isolation and low self esteem. Hearing loss can also have a direct impact on earning potential and employability. Hearing well is crucial to maintaining an active, social and financially productive lifestyle. Do your best to limit your exposure to excessively loud sounds, get your hearing checked if you haven’t already, and if you aren’t hearing your best, ensure that you get the hearing help you need.”
Trade Limits for Rewards
“My patients often ask me what limits they should place around screen time to protect their eyes,” says Jennifer Lyerly, a Raleigh, North Carolina-based optometrist who specializes in contact lenses and myopia management. “The more successful approach is to start thinking less about limits and more about what activities are good for your eyes, body and mental health. Getting outside, being active—those are things that serve your entire wellness and also help reduce daily eye issues like dryness and eye fatigue. Instead of focusing on a negative association like setting limits, reward yourself with an outdoor walk or exercise break where you have no screen in sight every single day.”
A New View of Fitness
“Aging isn’t the end of being fit—it’s part of an evolution,” says Rachel Tavel, a doctor of physical therapy and certified strength and conditioning specialist in New York City. “Your health and fitness levels are not constant. They are moving targets that require constant reassessment in order to match you and bring you to the next level. This doesn’t end with aging—it only changes.”
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Embrace the Power of Telehealth
“Modern medicine has made remarkable strides in extending lifespan, but we’ve fallen short in keeping people healthy in those ‘bonus’ years,” says Joseph Kvedar, M.D., an international physician thought leader. “Fortunately, digital health technologies can enhance what I believe are the three biggest predictors of longevity: having a sense of purpose, maintaining social connections and engaging in physical activity. There are a myriad of consumer-friendly smart technologies that can help to keep us moving, connected and productive. At the same time, our health care system—in large part due to the unprecedented challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic—has embraced telehealth and virtual care technologies to shift care away from the hospital and doctor’s office into patients’ homes and their daily lives. Tools like virtual video visits, remote monitoring to gather health data and e-consults with specialists are helping connect patients with their providers effectively and keep people healthy at home. We are in the midst of a major transformation, moving from an in-person-only model of care delivery to a hybrid of virtual and in-person care. And we’re not looking back!”
Maintain Mental Stimulation
“‘You can’t help getting older,’ quipped comedian George Burns, ‘but you don’t have to get old,’” shares Phillip Stieg, M.D., a board-certified neurosurgeon with expertise in cerebrovascular disorders, brain tumors and skull base surgery. “I believe that’s the secret to aging well—maintaining the same activities, interests and relationships the younger you enjoyed, keeping your sense of humor and staying cognitively stimulated. A rich, varied mix of learning, processing and problem solving will keep your brain healthy and working better across all domains. Mental stimulation of all kinds preserves brain cells and can even generate new cells and connections, so keep your brain active every day. It certainly worked for George Burns, who lived to be 100—telling jokes right up until the end.”
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Don’t Fear Assistive Technologies
“Hearing health matters and can keep you involved in conversations with friends and family,” says Lindsey Jorgensen, an audiologist and associate professor at the University of South Dakota. “Get your hearing checked and, if you need it, seek the care of a hearing health provider for assistive technologies.”
Exercise Your Brain
“Just as your body needs exercise and movement to stay healthy, so does your brain,” says Abigail Friend, a board-certified audiologist in Burien, Washington. “I’m often asked, ‘Do I need to wear my hearing aids since I live alone?’ I explain that hearing loss over time can affect cognition in terms of decreased alertness and slower recall and thought processing speed. It can also modify your behavior, resulting in social withdrawal, isolation and depression. Ears are tools collecting sounds to feed your brain for more activity. So I encourage people to wear their hearing aids as much as they can. Listen to the television, the radio, an audiobook or music. All auditory input is beneficial for improving and maintaining cognition and comprehension.”
Take a Balanced Approach to Health
“Beyond avoiding excessive negative behavior, there are positive ways to mitigate the aging process and manage your immune system: getting adequate sleep, maintaining a healthy biome, exercises and sustaining sexual health,” says Robert Lahita, the director of the Institute for Autoimmune and Rheumatic Disease at St. Joseph’s Health in Paterson, New Jersey.
Invest In Your Body
“The process of aging can be a comfortable or uncomfortable experience,” says Darryl Glover, an optometrist, global speaker, key opinion leader, diversity champion, consultant, podcast host and author. “The ability to age comfortably depends on how you invest in your body. Staying physically active, maintaining a well-balanced diet and being mentally alert will foster a comfortable healthy aging experience.”
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Keep Doing Things That Work For You
“This year I enrolled in Medicare and became a grandfather—I’m officially a senior citizen!” says John Glaser, an executive-in-residence at the Harvard Medical School Executive Education. “How do I ensure the next 65 years are as healthy, rewarding and happy as my first 65 years? By continuing to do the things that got me here—take care of my body, develop and maintain relationships that matter, continue to learn and be intellectually challenged, contribute to the world around me and wake up every morning looking forward to the day ahead.”
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