Looking for ways to grow old gracefully? Over the past year, Well’s columnists have reported on how to keep your mind and body healthy over time. Here are some of their top insights from the most popular stories published in 2021.
1. For successful aging, recognize one’s issues and adapt accordingly.
So said Jane Brody, our Personal Health columnist, after she turned 80 this spring. Inspired by Steven Petrow’s book, “Stupid Things I Won’t Do When I Get Old,” Ms. Brody took an inventory of her own life and decided what she no longer needed to do (color her hair; talk about aches and pains to anyone who will listen) and what she is unwilling to give up (walking her dog in the woods). “Sooner or later, we all must recognize what is no longer possible and find alternatives,” Ms. Brody wrote. In her case, that has meant giving up ice skating, but still taking 10-mile bike rides.
2. The more your gut microbiome changes, the better.
You may be able to predict your likelihood of living a long life by analyzing the trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi that inhabit your intestinal tract, Anahad O’Connor reported, citing a promising study.
The findings suggest that a gut microbiome that continually transforms as you get older is a sign of healthy aging. “People who had the most changes in their microbial compositions tended to have better health and longer life spans,” Mr. O’Connor wrote. “They had higher vitamin D levels and lower levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood. They needed fewer medications, and they had better physical health, with faster walking speeds and greater mobility.”
3. ‘Cognitive Super-Agers’ may hold clues to how we can keep our brains in shape.
Ms. Brody reported on a study out of the Netherlands that focused on “cognitive super-agers” — people who approach the end of the human life span with brains that function as if they were 30 years younger. By studying centenarians, researchers hope to identify reliable characteristics and develop treatments that would result in healthy cognitive aging for most of us. Meanwhile, Ms. Brody reported, there is much we can do now to keep our brains in tiptop condition. These centenarians tend to maintain good vision and hearing, and past research has revealed lifestyle factors that contribute to resilience such as obtaining a high level of quality education; holding occupations that deal with complex facts and data; consuming a Mediterranean-style diet; engaging in leisure activities; socializing with other people; and exercising regularly, Ms. Brody wrote.
4. The sweet spot for longevity lies around 7,000 steps a day (or 30 minutes of exercise).
To increase our chances for a long life, we probably should take at least 7,000 steps a day or engage in sports such as tennis, cycling, swimming, jogging or badminton for more than 2.5 hours per week, Gretchen Reynolds reported, based on two large studies.
Accumulate and measure your activities “in whatever way works for you,” a professor who led one of the studies told Ms. Reynolds. “Step counting may work well for someone who does not have the time to fit in a longer bout of exercise. But if a single bout of exercise fits best with your lifestyle and motivations, that is great as well. The idea is just to move more.”
5. Older couples are thriving while ‘living apart together.’
Older people are increasingly partnering and re-partnering in various forms, Francine Russo wrote, but for women in particular, there’s a fear “that a romantic attachment in later life will shortly lead to full-time caregiving.” One solution may be living apart together (L.A.T.), meaning you can maintain a long-term committed romantic relationship without sharing, or intending to share, a home.
“I have friends who say they never want to meet anybody unless they’re 10 or 15 years younger, because they see it as having to move in and be the sole caretaker,” one 81-year-old woman practicing “living apart together” told Ms. Russo. “I wasn’t about to do that. I think I have the best of two worlds.”
6. Dr. Fauci has a few aging tips, too.
Who better to share tips for aging well than an 81-year-old who has dedicated his career to public health? Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, who has led the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for 37 years spoke to Ms. Brody when she joined the octogenarian’s club this year about staying fit and focused. His tips:
Take care of yourself, get some reasonable sleep, don’t get overcome by stress, a good diet. Enjoy life, but don’t do things in excess. Exercise is really important. I think that the fact that I’ve been a marathon and 10K runner for the last multiple decades has been very important in my staying fit, looking fit and feeling fit.