by LAWRENCE SCHLITT, M.D.; Scripps Clinic, Del Mar

Resolutions for a Healthier You at Any Age

adv_scripps_lawrenceCheck out these effective strategies for boosting your brain and body so you stay stronger and smarter longer. While growing older affects nearly every part of you, aging well doesn’t have to be an oxymoron.

Eat a balanced diet that emphasizes whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables and limits sugar, saturated fat, and alcohol. The National Institutes on Aging recommends 1.5 to 2.5 cups of fruit, two to 3.5 cups of vegetables, five to six ounces of grains, five to seven ounces of protein, three cups of fat-free or low-fat milk or the equivalent, and five to eight teaspoons of oil daily for individuals over 50.

Keep moving. Regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart pumping, strengthens both your body and your brain. As we age, the hippocampus – the brain region that plays a vital role in verbal memory and learning – shrinks, leading to memory impairment. The good news is that cardio exercise appears to boost the size of the hippocampus. Standard recommendations advise 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week, which could be walking, swimming, or tennis. If raking leaves or cleaning house makes you break out in a light sweat, that counts as moderate activity. However, be careful not to overstress your body and joints and consult your doctor before starting a new exercise program.

Take dance lessons. A 21-year study of individuals 75 and older found that frequent dancing was one of the best ways to keep your brain healthy and help prevent Alzheimer’s, dementia, and memory loss. Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the 2003 study was funded by the National Institute on Aging.

Have music in your life. Playing an instrument can help strengthen memory, verbal fluency, problem-solving abilities, and how you process information, while listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory, according to researchers at John Hopkins.

Learn new skills. The activities that have the most impact on your brain health are those that stretch you, requiring you to work beyond what is easy. Try learning a new language, studying a new area of interest such as art history or botany, or taking up a hobby such as knitting or chess.

Forget multitasking. Doing one thing at a time, not everything at once, strengthens higher-order reasoning and the ability to understand and apply new information.

Get enough sleep. Not sleeping enough may lead to a higher risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes as well as impaired memory. The ideal amount varies per person, but make sure you feel well-rested in the morning.

Establish a relationship with your primary care provider. Whether you see an internal medicine or family medicine doctor, it’s important to have a primary care physician who can help you stay healthy with preventive measures and regain health during an illness.

Lawrence Schlitt, M.D., is a family medicine physician at Scripps Clinic, Del Mar. Dr. Schlitt provides compassionate care, emphasizing the whole person and a happy, healthy lifestyle. Dr. Schlitt has expertise in preventive care and treating allergies. Outside of the office, he enjoys the San Diego sunshine with activities such as running, hiking, and gardening.

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