6 Daily Habits for Your Healthiest Self Ever
By Sacha Cohen
It’s amazing how little habits can add up. One day you’re a couch potato, the next you could be training for your first 10K. But since it can be overwhelming to try to do all the things, we wondered which habits would deliver the biggest bang for the buck as we age. Here’s what the experts had to say.
- Move more
Exercise for women over 40 is crucial. “As women head into perimenopause and menopause, they can lose muscle mass, gain abdominal fat and experience decreased metabolism and estrogen levels, which can be frustrating and disconcerting,” says certified personal trainer and wellness and nutrition consultant Mahri Relin. Regular exercise can help. Mimi Secor, a nurse practitioner and author, says the benefits of regular exercise can include everything from better cardiovascular health to improved cognitive function and sleep to weight management.
For substantial health benefits she recommends at least 150–300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity or 75–150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. This should be interspersed with strength training of moderate or greater intensity and that involves all major muscle groups at least twice a week. “Strength training helps build muscle mass, which can increase your metabolism and simultaneously slow bone density loss that can lead to osteoporosis,” explains Relin.
- Stay hydrated
It’s a simple daily habit that’s easy to forget: Drink water regularly! Dehydration can impact the body and the brain in as little as two hours, explains Krystal L. Culler, founder of the Virtual Brain Health Center. The brain is about 75 percent water, and when it becomes dehydrated its ability to function can be impacted — leading to loss of focus, attention, memory and mental clarity, not to mention low mood, headaches, fatigue and sleep issues. “Keeping our brains properly fueled and hydrated is critical for our overall health and wellness, including our mood,” says Culler. She recommends drinking around eight 8 ounce glasses of water a day — but the amount will vary depending on how active you are, what medications you are taking and other health conditions. Carrying a reusable water bottle with you while you’re out and about, adding fresh fruit to water, and drinking caffeine-free herbal tea are other good ways to ensure you stay hydrated throughout the day.
- Tweak your diet
Changing your daily eating habits doesn’t need to be drastic; even small incremental changes can have a big impact as we age. If you haven’t already cut back on processed foods that contain pro-inflammatory omega-6 oils, refined grains and added sugars, now is the time. “These are some of the foods most responsible for weight gain and insulin resistance,” says Jill Brown, a fitness and nutrition coach. Integrative Nutrition health coach Lianna Nielsen agrees that cutting back on sugar and foods that behave like sugar — such as simple processed carbs — is the one diet change that would make the most impact for women age 40-plus. “Sugar causes inflammation, which is the root cause of all illness, so reducing it also reduces our risk for developing a number of different diseases, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes,” she says.
Since our bones can become weaker as we get older, adding more calcium-rich foods — such as cheese and yogurt, canned salmon with bones, fortified almond milk, broccoli, chia seeds and almonds — to our diets is critical, says dietician/nutritionist Bonnie Taub-Dix. And since heart disease is a leading killer of women, she’s a big proponent of making sure you’re eating heart-healthy fats like olive oils, nuts and avocados.
- Connect with friends, family and acquaintances
Multiple studies show that people with close social ties live longer, and that social isolation is connected to a wide variety of health issues, including depression, heart disease, substance abuse and cancer. That’s why licensed psychologist and certified elite personal trainer Renee Exelbert says that for your overall well-being it is essential to put time and effort into building social connections and relationships. That can be as simple as calling or texting a friend or family member daily or having a regular ZOOM happy hour with your girlfriends. “Friendships boost our confidence, reduce our stress and help us interact with the world and grow,” says Exelbert.
- Get your z’s
All of the experts we talked to ranked a good night’s sleep high on their list of the most important daily habits for overall well-being and disease prevention. Sleep wellness coach Kali Patrick says that the quality of the sleep that we get during midlife can have a long-term influence on cognitive function. “Improving our sleep doesn't just make us feel and function better during our busy days and help reduce the likelihood of longer-term physical and mental health issues like heart disease, stroke, diabetes/obesity and anxiety/depression, it also helps to keep our mind sharp in our later years.” Patrick recommends that women get seven to nine hours of sleep each night, and that in addition to good sleep hygiene (quiet and dark environment, regular schedule, meal timing, etc.) and addressing underlying health issues like sleep apnea, women should also consider things like burnout, which can contribute to trouble sleeping. “The health risks of burnout are wide-ranging and numerous, [including] cognitive and sleep disturbances,” she says.
What’s one thing you can do every day that is scientifically proven to decrease physical signs of aging, keep the mind sharp and increase longevity? Meditate! “Meditation offers a great way to detangle from life’s internal and external stressors so you can feel more centered and relaxed,” says Kelly Page, a certified health coach and meditation teacher. If you’re new to the practice, Paul Harrison, a meditation teacher and the founder of The Daily Meditation (thedailymeditation.com), suggests starting with anapanasati (mindful breathing). His step-by-step guide to the practice can be found here. And apps like Headspace and Ten Percent Happier make it easy to incorporate a regular meditation routine into your day with a wide variety of practices and teachers.