20 Unexpected Habits to Avoid Aging
Science has uncovered some easy and convincing additions.
Everybody wants to stay young. Even those of us who don't really care about a few additional eye wrinkles or gray hairs would like to remain as vital and healthy as possible for the duration. And although the basic advice for healthy aging remains solid—yes, eat healthy; yes, exercise regularly—science has uncovered some easy and convincing additions to the formula. You can do all of them in just minutes a day. (A few seconds, once a year, is all it takes to significantly decrease your risk of one common age-related illness.) According to the latest science, there are 20 unexpected habits to help you avoid aging.
Get Your Vaccinations
Routine vaccinations can protect against diseases that cause systemic inflammation—inflammation throughout the body, which has been linked to diseases like cancer and heart disease—and inflammation in the brain, which has been associated with Alzheimer's disease and dementia. According to researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Centre at Houston and Massachusetts General Hospital, the risk of new-onset Alzheimer's was reduced by 25% with shingles vaccination and 27% with pneumococcal vaccination. The flu vaccine has been associated with a 40% reduced Alzheimer's risk.
Read More Novels
One early indicator of age-related memory issues is giving up on fiction books, says neuroscientist Dr. Richard Restak, a neurologist and author of 20 books about the mind. "People, when they begin to have memory difficulties, tend to switch to reading nonfiction," he recently told the New York Times. Novels challenge the memory centers in the brain—you have to keep track of who the characters are and what's happened to them—which can exercise the organ and keep it sharp.
Sniff Essential Oils
When 43 adults with no cognition problems were exposed to the smell of an essential oil for two hours every night for six months, they experienced a 226% improvement in memory compared with a group who received a small amount of diffused scent. Experts say exercising our sense of smell—which is closely associated with memory and cognition—may keep the brain healthy.
Sit This Way Once a Day
In the new book Built to Move, Kelly and Juliet Starrett advocate sitting on the floor with your legs crossed as one of the ten most important healthy habits you can adopt. "This type of activity is critical to mobility—the harmonious convergence of all the elements in your body that allow you to move freely and effortlessly," they say. "Pay attention to mobility and you'll be able to fend off the limitations of aging." Why? Our bodies are meant to sit on the ground instead of in front of a computer screen, they say, and when you sit criss-cross applesauce, you have to get back up again, which improves mobility.
Take a Multivitamin
A Harvard study of 3,500 people over age 60 published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that taking a multivitamin for one year was associated with improved memory and cognition—the equivalent of reducing age-related memory loss by three years.
Do These Two Exercises
High blood pressure is one of the menaces of aging, associated with a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. A new study published in the July issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that simple isometric exercises, which involve contracting a set of muscles without moving, are the most effective at reducing blood pressure. Those exercises include wall squats and planks.
Experts like CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta have long recommended berries for their beneficial effect on brain health. A 2022 study from Rush University found that the compound pelargonidin is linked with fewer neurofibrillary tau tangles in the brain, abnormal build-ups of a protein that are a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. The researchers said that the protection may come from the anti-inflammatory effect of pelargonidin, and out of all berries, strawberries are the best source of that compound.
Play This Game
Neurologist Dr. Restak recommends games like bridge and chess for maintaining the memory, but his favorite is 20 Questions—someone thinks of a person, place or thing, and a questioner asks 20 questions with a yes-or-no answer. This strengthens the brain, he says, because the questioner has to remember all the previous answers to arrive at the correct one.
Prunes may have one reputation—yes, keeping you regular—but a study published in the October 2022 issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating five or six prunes a day helped postmenopausal women preserve bone mineral density in their hips, possibly resulting in fewer bone breaks. The reason isn't clear, but prunes, like all fruits and vegetables (especially darker ones) contain natural plant chemicals that benefit health.
Avoid Gas Exposure
A study in Indoor Air Journal found that exposure to ultrafine particles—which are found in cooking fumes from gas and can penetrate the body—during cooking causes changes to brain activity which is similar to what happens in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. To reduce your risk, increase ventilation during cooking.
A recent study at the University of Toronto found that older and middle-aged people who participated in volunteer work and recreational activities were likelier to maintain excellent health and less likely to develop physical, cognitive, mental, or emotional problems. The researchers credit the brain-exercising, mood-boosting benefits of regular social interaction.
A new study published in JAMA Ophthalmology reiterated that vision problems are linked to dementia. The researchers found that people with "moderate to severe" distance vision issues were 72% more likely to develop dementia than people with no vision issues. It's believed that sight problems reduce stimulation to the brain.
Exercise for Just 10 Minutes
It doesn't take a lot of exercise to make a real difference in your health. Every little bit helps protect against diseases that become more common with age, including heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and dementia. Recent studies have found that just a 10-minute run can boost your brain function and improve your mood, only 20 minutes of daily exercise can prevent heart disease (even at age 70), and walking 10,000 steps a day could cut your risk of developing dementia by 50%.
Avoid Processed Meat
Processed meat has been a staple of the American diet for so long, it's been easy to tune out several recent studies that have found a connection between processed meats and disease. But the data is stark: One Harvard study found that eating one serving a day of processed meats like bacon, sausage, and deli meats was associated with a 42% higher risk of heart disease and a 19% increased risk of diabetes. Another study by the World Health Organization found that each 3.5-ounce serving of processed meat consumed daily brought a 17% increased risk of colon cancer. It's a good idea to swap those meats for fish and plant-based sources of protein, or white meats like chicken and turkey (the kind which aren't sliced luncheon meats).
Limit Your Binge-Watching
The 2018 UK Biobank Study found that people who watched more than four hours of TV a day were 24% more likely to develop dementia. Meanwhile, those who used computers interactively for more than an hour a day were 15% less likely to develop dementia. The reason, experts believe? Watching TV is a passive activity, while using the computer exercises and strengthens your brain.
Treat Hearing Loss
According to a UK study, having untreated hearing loss was associated with a 42 percent increase in dementia risk compared to people who had no hearing difficulty.
Eat More One-Ingredient Foods
Confused or frustrated by nutrition advice? You can improve your health by choosing more foods that have just one ingredient. Think: Ground turkey, fish, broccoli, kale, beans, berries … the list goes on.
Protect Your Gut
Experts say that even small amounts of inflammation in the body can impact the brain, which is already subject to decline as we age. But a new review in the journal Gut Microbiome suggest we can protect the brain by boosting gut health. Our gut microbiome consists of 30 trillion microbes that communicate with the brain through various pathways, including hormones, nerves, and the immune system. You can keep it healthier by exercising, consuming probiotics, prebiotics (a.k.a. fiber), and eating a healthy diet, like the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on lean protein, fruits and vegetables.
Let Your Mind Wander
Mind-wandering tends to decrease with age. So does brain health. Being more creative can strengthen your brain, the Washington Post points out, and you can do that through traveling, learning new skills like musical instruments, or just letting your mind idle to places unrelated to specific tasks. This flexes brain regions that facilitate the imagination and keeps them in good shape.