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Five ways to age gracefully

In recent years, an increasing amount of scientific evidence has supported the idea that people can do quite a lot on their own to lengthen their life span and to enhance the quality of life as they age. Here are five steps to take every day that can promote healthy aging and boost longevity:

1. Eat healthy foods to help prevent diseases such as heart disease, cancer and stroke. In addition, maintain a healthy weight. To maintain a healthy weight, maintain strength and help prevent disease, eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and foods low in fat and cholesterol.

2. Exercise regularly to achieve better physical and mental health. There are numerous benefits of exercise. Regular, vigorous exercise—at least 30 minutes, three to five times a week—improves mood and reduces depression; aids weight loss; increases strength, flexibility and balance; strengthens bones; and improves aerobic capacity (the ability of the heart, lungs and blood vessels to deliver adequate oxygen to muscles). Some studies suggest that exercise helps circulation to the brain, improving mental acuity.

3. Perform mentally stimulating activities to help preserve memory. An ongoing study by the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago among others has provided evidence that continuing mentally stimulating activities throughout life may help maintain memory. These activities include reading, playing cards, doing crossword puzzles, and going to museums. Other mentally challenging activities include learning to play an instrument, changing careers or starting one, trying a new hobby, and volunteering. Although studies have shown an association between certain mentally stimulating activities and a reduced risk for Alzheimer's disease (and/or cognitive decline), the National Institutes of Health says that researchers still aren't sure whether these factors can actually prevent the disease.

4. Get preventive health care tests and screenings to catch disease early. Have screenings and other preventive health care tests that are recommended for your age group or disease risk category. Be proactive with doctors and pharmacists by bringing a list of questions or concerns to every visit and not hesitating to speak up or ask questions.

5. Maintain a positive attitude and cultivate relationships to be happier and live longer. Write down all the good things in life. Focus on being satisfied with life as it is. A Finnish study showed that men who were satisfied with their lives tended to live longer. Another study showed that people with high "pessimism scores" had a 19 percent higher risk for premature death than those who were rated as more optimistic. A positive attitude, adaptability, strong social contacts, and religious and cultural convictions all contribute to happiness as people age. 

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