Planning for Healthy Aging

Author:  Lauren Grieco   Editor: Shuhua Bloom

Date: 10/04/2021 

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 1900, the average life expectancy of Americans was 49 years old, while in 2013 the average life expectancy was 79 years old1. This number, however, has not changed vastly since 2013. Furthermore, nearly 61% of Americans that are 65 years and older are living with multiple chronic diseases1.

With life expectancy longer, many Americans may want to know how to plan for successful and healthy aging. Ongoing research has identified ways to improve health and function as we get older.

  1. Get Moving: According to recent scientific literature, people who exercise regularly not only live longer, they also live better and more independently2.

    1. Regular exercise and physical activity can reduce risk of developing diseases and disabilities that often occur with aging such as arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.
    2. It is never too late to start exercising for longevity! Studies have found evidence that suggests that people who begin exercise training in later life, for instance in their 60s and 70s, can also experience improved heart function, reducing risk of chronic disease3.
    3. Exercises can also be useful to target a variety of aspects of aging. For example, yoga can be useful to aid in improving balance, preventing falls later in life, while strength exercises can reduce the risk of osteoporosis through muscle building.
    4. Low-cost options for incorporating physical activity: neighborhood walks, walking up and down the stairs, yoga/stretching, riding your bike, and Zumba.
  2. Healthy Diet: Food and dietary patterns are a huge determinant of healthy and successful aging.

    1. One study investigated the relationship between dietary patterns and BMI and waist circumference. "Healthy" eaters had the highest intake of foods like high-fiber cereal, low-fat dairy, fruit, nonwhite bread, whole grains, beans and legumes, and vegetables, and low intake of red and processed meat, fast food, and soda4. Those in the healthy eating group had the smallest raises in BMI and waist circumference, while those in unhealthy groups had significant increases in both4
    2. Studies have also been investigating the connection between vitamin and mineral intake with health. Not eating a varied diet with all food groups can lead to micronutrient deficiencies.  Low concentrations of vitamin E have been associated with a decline in physical function among older adults5. Women deficient in vitamin D were more likely to experience severe back pain6. While older adults with lower levels of vitamin D had poorer results on two physical performance tests7
    3. Furthermore, current scientific evidence suggests that higher adherence to the Mediterranean, DASH, or MIND diets is associated with less cognitive decline and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, where the strongest associations are observed for the MIND diet8.
  1. The MIND Diet was developed at Rush University Medical Center to aid in cognitive decline and dementia. It promotes dietary pattern changes rather than specific foods. This diet emphasizes natural plant-based foods and promotes 10 “brain healthy foods”: green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine. While recommending limiting 5 “unhealthy groups”: red meats, butter, cheese, pastries, and sweets, and fried or fast food.
  1. Meaningful Activities: People who are involved in joyful hobbies and social & leisure activities may be at lower risk for some health problems.

    1. For example, one study following participants up to 21 years linked leisure activities like reading, playing board games, playing musical instruments, and dancing with a lower risk of dementia9.
    2. Another study showed older adults who participated any social activities or social groups lived longer than people who did not partake in these activities10. It is recommended that older adults join a club or group that coincides with interests to increase happiness and lower the risk of depression.
    3. Activity ideas include learning a new language, cooking, chess, gardening, baking, painting, or joining a book club.

 Main Takeaways

While Americans are living longer, it is important to consider steps to take to improve health outcomes as you age. Initiating a healthy lifestyle can be started at any age and can have remarkable changes on our lives.

Healthy dietary patterns, meaningful activities, and exercises can all be ways to enhance successful aging. 


  1. Living Longer. Living Healthier? Tips for Better Aging Infographic. National Institute on Aging. Accessed September 8, 2021.
  2. Exercise and aging: Can you walk away from Father Time. Harvard Health. Published March 9, 2014. Accessed September 8, 2021.
  3. Talbot LA, Morrell CH, Metter EJ, Fleg JL. Comparison of cardiorespiratory fitness versus leisure time physical activity as predictors of coronary events in men aged < or = 65 years and > 65 years. Am J Cardiol. 2002;89(10):1187-1192. doi:10.1016/s0002-9149(02)02302-0
  4. Iwao S, Iwao N, Muller DC, Elahi D, Shimokata H, Andres R. Does waist circumference add to the predictive power of the body mass index for coronary risk? Obes Res. 2001;9(11):685-695. doi:10.1038/oby.2001.93
  5. D’Adamo CR, Shardell MD, Hicks GE, et al. Serum vitamin E concentrations among highly functioning hip fracture patients are higher than in nonfracture controls. Nutr Res N Y N. 2011;31(3):205-214. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2011.03.005
  6. Post-menopause vitamin D deficiency associated with low back pain. Accessed September 8, 2021.
  7. What Do We Know About Healthy Aging? National Institute on Aging. Accessed September 8, 2021.
  8. van den Brink AC, Brouwer-Brolsma EM, Berendsen AAM, van de Rest O. The Mediterranean, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), and Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) Diets Are Associated with Less Cognitive Decline and a Lower Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease-A Review. Adv Nutr Bethesda Md. 2019;10(6):1040-1065. doi:10.1093/advances/nmz054
  9. Verghese J, Lipton RB, Katz MJ, et al. Leisure activities and the risk of dementia in the elderly. N Engl J Med. 2003;348(25):2508-2516. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa022252
  10. Morrow-Howell N, Hinterlong J, Rozario PA, Tang F. Effects of volunteering on the well-being of older adults. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2003;58(3):S137-145. doi:10.1093/geronb/58.3.s137


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