Aging has been a big focus over the past few years, with research advancing in that area along with a growing number of people looking for more insight on how to live longer, healthier lives.
People have learned that aging doesn’t necessarily mean slowing down, Dr. Barbara Bawer, a family medicine physician at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. “As our population ages, and medical advancement as well as technology advancement allows all of us to live longer, we want those longer years not to just pass us by in a nursing home,” she says. “Instead, we want those years to have a purpose and we want to use them to do the things that we want done.”
This year a slew of research has uncovered advancements in how to lower your risk of developing chronic conditions, which foods to eat to boost brain health and even how to slow the pace of aging. We also found some interesting facts about how older adults navigate certain situations better than their younger counterparts. Here’s what we discovered.
What have we learned about aging in 2023?
These are some of the biggest research advancements to come out this year:
Healthy habits can prolong your life. Research presented at the American Society for Nutrition’s Nutrition 2023 conference found that adopting eight healthy lifestyle habits by middle age can help a person live longer compared to people who don’t follow several or any of them. These habits are being physically active, not smoking, managing stress, having a good diet, not regularly binge drinking, being free from opioid addiction, having good sleep hygiene and having positive social relationships.
Talking with friends and joining clubs helps you adapt to aging’s challenges. High life satisfaction — such as feeling that your life is meaningful and having hope — when you’re older helps you better adapt to the challenges of aging. A November 2023 study involving more than 8,000 participants looked at life satisfaction in older adults and found that for those who are 65 to 74 years old, the types of social interactions that significantly boosted life satisfaction were meeting children and doing volunteer activities. For those 75 and older, those included talking with friends or children, utilizing senior citizen community centers and being part of a hobby club.
It’s never too late to start strength training. A small study published in October looked at whether resistance training benefited those 85 years and above as much as it did healthy older adults ages 65 to 75. The researchers found that after 12 weeks of resistance training three times a week, both groups saw increases in muscle mass, strength and physical performance.
Sex in older adults has a positive impact on the brain. A study published in the Journal of Sex Research found that for adults 62 to 74 years old, quality sex with a partner — defined as “feelings of physical pleasure and emotional satisfaction” whether or not actual intercourse or orgasm happens — was related to better cognitive functioning, while for those 75 to 90 years old (yes, 90), having sex more often (one or more times per week) was associated with improved cognitive functioning. That may be because sex increases blood flow and can help you feel more connected emotionally. “Even adults that have low libido can still enjoy high sexual quality, and the broad definition of sex in the study could mean that it’s not just intercourse that needs to occur for us to see these cognitive benefits,” study co-author Shannon Shen told Everyday Health.
Older adults may be less distracted by negative things than younger adults. A study from Washington University in St. Louis recruited 175 adults ages 18 to 35 and 175 adults over 60 and asked them to do a simple online task, like hitting a spacebar every time the name of an animal appeared on the screen. During the task, they occasionally saw a prompt asking them if they were thinking about their performance or something else, as well as if they were thinking about something negative, positive or neutral. Younger adults were more likely to say they were thinking about something other than the task, and they tended to be focused on negative thoughts. Older adults were less likely to be distracted by negative thoughts and ultimately ended up performing better than their younger counterparts on the test.
Renting may age you. A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, which analyzed data from 1,420 adults in the U.K., determined that renters had faster biological aging than those who owned their homes. The researchers also determined that renting was linked to faster biological aging even more than being unemployed and being a former smoker. “Our results suggest that challenging housing circumstances negatively affect health through faster biological aging,” the researchers concluded. However, they noted that the effects are reversible.
Good hydration is linked to healthy aging — and even a longer life. A National Institutes of Health study published in eBioMedicine analyzed health data from 11,255 adults over a 25-year period and found that those with higher serum sodium levels — which go up when fluid intake goes down — were more likely to develop chronic conditions and show signs of advanced biological aging than those with serum sodium levels in a medium range. The researchers also learned that adults who were less hydrated were more likely to die at a younger age than their well-hydrated counterparts. How do you make sure you’re getting enough water? The National Council on Aging recommends taking one-third of your body weight and drinking that number of fluid ounces. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, try to drink 50 ounces of water daily. That said, it’s best to check with your primary care physician, who can recommend the amount that’s right for you.
Cutting down on calories can slow aging. A randomized controlled trial of 220 healthy men and women had study participants either reduce their calorie intake by 25% or follow a normal diet for two years. The first-of-its-kind study, which was published in Nature Aging, discovered that people in the reduced-calorie-intake group had an up to 3% slower pace of aging. This had a similar effect to stopping smoking, the researchers said.
The Mediterranean diet may boost your brain health. An autopsy study of 581 people published in the journal Neurology found that people who followed a MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet or Mediterranean diet high in leafy green vegetables were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those who didn’t have many greens in their diet.
Swapping out mayo for olive oil may reduce your risk of dementia. A Harvard University study of dietary and health data from 60,582 women and 31,801 men without cardiovascular disease and cancer at the start found that having more than 7 grams a day of olive oil was linked with a 25% lowered risk of dying of dementia compared to people who never or rarely had olive oil. People that swapped 1 teaspoon of margarine and mayonnaise with the same olive oil daily had an up to 14% lowered risk of dying of dementia.
What doctors recommend to stay healthy as you age
“Aging is one of the greatest risk factors for most top 10 causes of death — including cardiovascular disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease — but scientists are learning that aging is about more than the number of years since you were born,” Dr. William Hu, associate professor and chief of cognitive neurology at the Rutgers Institute for Health, tells Yahoo Life. “Aging is a health ‘trait’ itself, and some people age better than others after accounting for differences in education, wealth and genetic factors.”
While advancements and new information are being discovered about healthy aging, doctors generally recommend sticking with known healthy lifestyle factors for now. “There is no magic formula for healthy aging,” Bawer says. Hu agrees, stressing that healthy aging is usually the result of several different factors. “It’s not necessarily one or two things successful agers do that help them age well,” he says.
However, there are a few things doctors recommend doing to set yourself up for success down the road. “We do know that nourishing our bodies with healthy, pesticide-free foods is important,” Bawer says. “Processed foods should have little to no room in our diets.”
Hu also recommends that people “eat your fruits and vegetables, sleep deep and long enough at night, and go to your annual physicals.” Regular exercise can help as well, Bawer says. “Walking daily and stretching to keep joints lubricated, muscles and bones strong, and to get blood flow through our body can do wonders for our overall health,” she says.
Having a strong sense of purpose is important too, Dr. Scott Kaiser, geriatrician and director of geriatric cognitive health for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life. “It makes sense, intuitively, that having a strong sense of purpose — having a reason to get up in the morning, knowing that people are depending upon you, feeling that you are making important contributions and possibly even making a difference in this world — could contribute to healthy aging,” he says. “Many scientific studies clearly support this notion.”