Tag Archive for: healthy aging

exercise and aging

exercise and aging

Most people know the basics of staying healthy—at least in theory. Eat nutritious foods. Exercise regularly. Sleep enough. But putting these healthy habits into practice is where there’s room for improvement. This is natural. Nobody is perfect, after all, and change can be difficult, especially after years of forming certain lifestyle habits.

Here’s the good news: supporting health at any age is possible no matter how long you’ve been putting off healthy lifestyle changes. It’s never too late to start living your best life.

Many people—especially those in middle age and later—think they’ve passed a point of no return on their health journey. That is, they think it is too late to see the health benefits of certain lifestyle changes. But studies show you can enjoy the benefits of healthy lifestyle changes at any age.

In other words, it’s never too late to start caring about your health and learning how to take care of your body. The first step is learning about the supporting science, and then applying health tips for all ages to support physical and mental health throughout your life.

Neuroplasticity: Habits, Change, and the Aging Brain

Humans are creatures of habit. Daily life is built around routines—meals, work, sleep, and hobbies. And, as you’re probably aware, these habits can be hard to break or change.

There’s a neurological reason for this. As you repeat certain behaviors or activities, the neurons in your brain rewire and adjust the way they fire to code that behavior as a habit. So the behavior literally becomes wired into your brain.

Naturally, these wired habits are difficult to break—difficult, not impossible. Your ability to change habits has, in part, to do with neuroplasticity, which is simply your brain’s ability to change.

From infancy and childhood (even into early adulthood), the brain is incredibly plastic. This means it changes and develops easily. As you age, this process slows so much that scientists used to think neuroplasticity disappeared completely around age 25. In other words, they thought the brain’s wiring was fully set by your mid-twenties.

Recent studies, however, have shown this isn’t the case. Your brain can form new connections, create new neurons, and change its structure at any age. The process might look different as you age, but it is still possible.

So yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks. And, more importantly, you can form new habits to support health at any age.

Out With the Bad: The Benefits of Dropping Unhealthy Habits Today

When people confront lifelong habits—whether it’s smoking, drinking too much, or eating too many processed food—they often ask the same question: how much of a difference could it really make?

The answer is simple. Dropping unhealthy habits as soon as possible can have a huge positive impact on your health.

Take smoking for instance. For a pack-a-day smoker of 20 years, each additional day spent smoking might seem like drops in the river. But the health benefits of quitting smoking, such as decreased risk of heart disease, can be seen after just one day.

Remember, if your goal is to replace unhealthy habits in your lifestyle, you have to start somewhere. Each day that you stick to your goals, you work towards rewiring your brain. So even if you’re not seeing immediate health benefits, you are working to create new neural pathways that will help you maintain a healthier lifestyle going forward.

Making the Change: How to Take Care of Your Body as You Age

The habits you set in early adulthood are factors that will shape your health profile later in life. Depending on your lifestyle, your risk for serious ailments will change. But those statistics aren’t set in stone.

Adults in their sixties, seventies, and beyond can still see the benefits of improving their diet, physical fitness, and mental health. Together, these positive lifestyle changes can set the stage for a happy and healthy life that extends well into old age. Whether you’re a teen, early adult, or pushing past middle age, look at the following tips for supporting health at any age:

  • Incorporate exercise into your routine: Whether it’s a daily walk, weight training, or high-intensity cardio, it’s important to stay active no matter your age. In young adults, high levels of physical activity improve cardiovascular health, respiratory health, and can help you maintain a high level of fitness later in life.
    If you’re middle aged or older, physical activity is just as important, if not more so. Increased levels of physical activity can help support you overall cardiovascular health, and more. And for older adults, physical activity helps keep muscles strong, helping maintain mobility and ensuring you can continue performing day-to-day tasks.
  • Eat nutritious food: Your diet affects nearly every aspect of your life. Food is fuel, and you want to make sure you’re giving the body the nutrients it needs to run effectively throughout life. During childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, your diet provides your body with the fuel it needs to grow and develop.
    As you age, your diet can help you maintain a healthy weight—which looks a little different for everyone—and can help support total body health throughout your life.
    Additionally, healthy eating can just make you feel better. It’s hard to quantify, but people who eat nutritious foods often report feeling more satisfied and energized throughout the day. And this is a benefit you can take advantage of at all ages.
  • Keep your brain engaged: Scenic walks, reading, or learning a new skill are a few activities that can help keep your brain engaged throughout life. The brain loves a challenge—so why not give it one?
    By striving to learn throughout life, you can keep your brain active. This promotes neuroplasticity and your brain’s ability to continue to learn and grow into old age. Staying mentally engaged and challenged can also help optimize mental health throughout life.

Stay Positive with a Growth Mindset to Stay Healthy as Your Age

No matter your age, caring about your health involves adopting a growth mindset. It means believing that your health and lifestyle can change for the better. It’ll just take time and effort.

Remember, these changes don’t have to occur all at once. Start small and work towards your larger goals. It’s natural to slip up, but it’s up to you how you respond to your mistakes. So what are you waiting for? Take the first step towards health—no matter how small.

old vs young

old vs young

Everybody gets older—it’s just a fact of life. At different ages, however, aging can have different connotations. Throughout infancy, childhood, and adolescence, aging means growth—both physical and emotional.

But what does aging entail once you’re an adult? Early adulthood is typically when your body is in peak physical form. Naturally, this doesn’t last forever. So, as you move from early adulthood into middle age and on, you’ll likely notice gradual changes in how your body feels and what it can do.

Unfortunately, there’s no stopping these changes. But there are theories of aging that try to answer that difficult question: why do people age?

The answers you’ll read below can help provide background knowledge you can use to set yourself up to age as comfortably as possible. And a great place to start is the what, why, and how of aging. What should you expect as you age? Why do these changes occur? And how can you deal with them as they come?

Why Do People Age?

Aging is an incredibly complex process that scientists still do not fully understand. As such, there’s no easy answer as to why humans age. Here’s what is known: the cells in the body wear out over time. Their functionality decreases and their structure deteriorates. Scientists attribute this decline to a combination of factors sorted into two categories: intrinsic and extrinsic.

Although it rarely comes up in conversation, the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic aging is something most people are already aware of—they just don’t realize it. A middle-aged smoker might remark that they “have the lungs of an 80-year-old.” People would understand that statement because most are already aware that external—or extrinsic—factors can influence the aging process.

This leads right into two more key terms related to aging: biological age and chronological age.

  • Chronological Age: This is the number you give when someone asks how old you are. In other words, chronological age is the amount of time that has elapsed from your birth to the present. There’s no speeding or slowing the progression of chronological age.
  • Biological Age: Aging occurs as the cells in the body are damaged and deteriorate. This process is inevitable and, in relatively healthy individuals, occurs at roughly the same rate. So if you look at the cells of a healthy, 30-year-old woman, her biological age is probably about 30. If an individual has been exposed to extrinsic factors of aging—say they’re a heavy smoker—their cells will “age” more rapidly. And their biological age might be closer to 50 while their chronological age is 30.

Think back to that first question: why do people age? You now know aging is the gradual breakdown or deterioration of the cells in the body. This process happens naturally but can be sped up through a variety of external factors.

That’s a pretty simple concept, but this explanation does bring up another question, though. Why do the cells in the body naturally deteriorate? It’s not a process that benefits individuals. Most detrimental processes are weeded out through thousands of years of natural selection. So why haven’t humans evolved to have endlessly healthy cells? This is where the different theories of aging come in.

Explaining the Theories of Aging

There’s no scientific consensus around how or why the cells in the human body gradually and inevitably deteriorate. There are factors known to speed the aging process up, but there aren’t any proven methods for slowing the aging process beyond its natural rate.

This leaves a big question: why?

Scientists’ answers to this enigma fall into one of three categories: program, damage, or combined theories of aging. As you read about each theory of aging, remember that they offer possible explanations for humans’ limited lifespan, but no conclusive answer.

  • Program Theories of Aging: Scientists in this school of thought believe aging is not an accident. They think humans have evolved to age and eventually die. That makes the whole process a deliberate, programmed part of human genetics.
    From an evolutionary standpoint, this might feel a little bit backwards. Why would human evolution progress in a way that led to a fixed lifespan? The answer is altruism—not deliberate selflessness, but the development of evolutionary traits that benefit the species, not the individual.
    There are finite resources in the world. If humans lived forever, there would be fierce competition for those resources. One explanation for aging is that humans have evolved to die once they reach a post-reproductive age, leaving less competition for the younger generations.
  • Damage Theories of Aging: As mentioned above, it’s widely accepted that certain environmental factors can speed the aging process. Damage theories of aging follow a similar line of logic. These theories of aging pin humans’ eventual death on the gradual accumulation of damage to the cells, not a predetermined or preprogrammed genetic feature. The source of this cellular damage, however, is up for debate.
    One common theory is that natural processes of the body subject cells to small amounts of oxidative stress. That is, some body processes create byproducts that damage cells. Metabolism, for instance, creates reactive oxygen species (ROS) that cause tissue and cell damage over time.
  • Combined Theories of Aging: As the name suggests, combined theories of aging draw from program and damage approaches to create a comprehensive explanation.
    During the 1970s, B.L. Strehler, a scientist who studied old age, introduced four postulates (or assumptions) about aging. First, aging is universal and occurs in all species. Second, aging is intrinsic. Third, aging occurs incrementally. And, finally, factors are only part of the aging process if they hold no evolutionary advantage.
    Most modern combined theories of aging are based on these four postulates. They tend to focus on the specific ways cells deteriorate. (Is it the cell membrane? Or does aging have to do with the ability of cells to generate electricity?) But, again, despite the theories, there is no consensus on the central question: why do people age.

What to Expect as You Move Through the Stages of the Aging

A deep dive into the science of aging, though interesting, can sometimes shift the discussion too far from the effects of aging. Your cells deteriorate each day—that’s what aging is. But what impact does that have on your lived experience?

The effects of aging are perhaps best summed up by a common phrase. When describing an older relative or friend, you might say they are “slowing down.” And there’s a lot of truth in that statement. The aging process causes the body to operate less effectively and efficiently than before. This affects various body systems and processes. Whether it’s bouncing back from an injury, building muscle, or even moving around, everything gradually slows down.

The aging process is often described in five chronological stages or phases:

  • Independence: During this period, most individuals may notice their body slowing down a bit, but everyday tasks are still manageable. This period is mostly a continuation of regular adult life, but it is a good time to start thinking about future plans and needs.
  • Interdependence: This is the stage of life when everyday tasks begin to grow more difficult. Adults in the interdependence stage of old age are often able to live independently, but may require additional help with cooking, driving, and similar tasks. In most instances, a full-time caretaker isn’t necessary.
  • Dependency: As the name suggests, the dependency stage is when adults begin to lose the ability to live on their own. This stage comes at a different time for everyone. Physical and mental health play the biggest role in determining when adults reach the dependency stage. This can be an incredibly difficult and frustrating time, as the transition to having a full-time caretaker (a family member or professional) can be a jarring, unwelcome change.
  • Crisis management: This stage is when an individual requires more care (whether it’s medical or day-to-day assistance) than family members and other loved ones can provide. At this point in life, many individuals may need to relocate to a full-time care facility.
  • End of life: The end result of aging is, naturally, death. This stage looks very different for everyone depending on their needs. Many individuals will reside in a hospital, care facility, or hospice center, while others may live with relatives. The focus should be on providing an individual as much comfort, love, and care as possible during this final stage of life.

How to Deal With Aging

If there’s one fact that you’ll need to get comfortable with, it’s that you’re going to age. There’s nothing you can do to stop it. You can, however, take steps to make aging as comfortable as possible.

To do this, go back to the basics of a healthy lifestyle:

These lifestyle habits will help you continue to maintain normal levels of oxidative stress on your cells. And, in turn, you’ll help keep your biological age in line with your chronological age.

Additionally, consider ways to support your cellular health. Since aging is the deterioration of your cells, taking care of your cells is just about the best way to optimize aging as much as possible.

Beyond practicing healthy lifestyle habits, take the time to be mindful of the present. Each stage of life has its joys and setbacks. Take them as they come and enjoy wherever you happen to find yourself in the aging process!

aging

aging

You’re not getting any younger—though you probably don’t need to be reminded of that fact. Aging can be exciting, scary, sad, and just about every feeling in between. Needless to say, moving through the stages of life is a complex process—emotionally and physically.

As you age, you pass from infancy, adolescence, emerging adulthood, and eventually to middle age and beyond. These stages of life bring their own sets of challenges and rewards. But what exactly sets them apart? What is adolescence? What is adulthood? When do those transitions between stages happen? And when does adulthood become middle age?

Keep reading for the answers to these questions and more. By the end, you’ll have broken down adolescence, adulthood, and middle age. And you’ll be able to explain the characteristics and defining features of the stages of life.

What is Adolescence: It’s More Than Just the Teenage Years

Most people think of adolescents and teenagers as more or less the same group. And while there is a lot of overlap, there are differences. The teenage years begin at 13 and end at 19. Adolescence, on the other hand, starts somewhere around age 10 and continues until your early twenties.

This broadness is necessary because adolescence refers to the transition from childhood to adulthood—physically and mentally. This is a time of drastic physical, emotional, and social development. Because the adolescent stage of life spans over a decade, it is often broken into three phases: early, middle, and late adolescence. And each phase is characterized by its own set of changes and development:

Early adolescence (ages 10-13): This phase of adolescence is responsible for those oh-so-hated middle school years. Growth spurts typically begin during this time (especially for girls), as do other physical changes—like the growth of body hair and development of primary and secondary sex characteristics. These sudden, often drastic, changes can lead pre-teens to feel awkward or uncomfortable in their bodies.
While these physical changes are the scientific markers of early adolescence, there are also many mental changes and developments common in this stage of life. During early adolescence, preteens and teens often begin to develop a stronger sense of self. This often includes testing the limits of their independence and pushing for more privacy and self-determination.

In other words, during early adolescence, most individuals want to make choices for themselves. It could be what they wear, eat, or how their room looks. As early adolescents begin to form opinions, they often exhibit black-and-white thinking.

Middle adolescence (ages 14-17): There’s no clear line between early, middle, and late adolescence because everybody develops on a different timeline. But some developmental patterns hold true generally. Girls, for example, often hit their growth spurts in early adolescence, while many boys don’t have theirs until middle adolescence. And so much of middle adolescence, from a physical-development standpoint, can be described as “more of the same.”

During middle adolescence, teens experience rapid cognitive development. Though the brain won’t be fully developed for several more years, certain brain functions—such as logical reasoning—reach maturity by age 16. This means teens are just as capable of logical reasoning as adults. (Whether their ability to think logically translates into rational behavior or not is another story.)

Middle adolescence is also a time when many teens begin to explore romantic relationships. This often takes the form of dating. And teens may also begin to question and explore their sexuality to create and understand their own sexual identity.

All of these changes go hand-in-hand with teens’ desire for independence that typically grows stronger with age. And for teens in the United States, middle adolescence often brings the keys (pun intended) to that ultimate form of independence: a driver’s license.

Late adolescence (ages 18-21): If you’re surprised to see 21 included under adolescence, don’t worry—you’re probably not the only one! Teens legally become adults at age 18, so people tend to think this is when adolescence ends. In terms of development and growth, however, humans don’t reach adulthood until sometime in their twenties.

By late adolescence, most of your physical growth is out of the way, so the development that occurs during this stage is mostly cognitive. Teens are infamous for taking risks, but as they age, they improve at thinking ahead. This is all thanks to brain development.

The prefrontal cortex, which is the last part of the brain to develop, has just about reached its adult form by late adolescence. And the prefrontal cortex is responsible for decision making, among other key operations. (It’s important to note that the brain is still only mostly developed. It won’t reach full maturity until age 25 or 26.)

In this final stage of adolescence, the beliefs, identity, and values that began to develop in earlier years also become far more stable. They may change with experience, of course, but as you transition into adulthood these aspects of your identity are often what keep you rooted.

What is Adulthood and How to Tell When Adolescence Officially Ends

Kids and teens want more than anything to be a grown up. This raises a question without an easy answer: what exactly is a grown up? Ask any adult and they probably won’t give you a straight answer. Legally, anyone older than 18 is an adult in the U.S. But, as mentioned above, this cutoff doesn’t make much sense from a developmental standpoint.

So where can we draw the line between the adolescent and adulthood stages of life?

By age 22, the body is almost entirely done growing. Your bones (except for your collarbone, which won’t fully mature until your early-to-mid thirties) are the size they’ll be for the rest of your adult life. Your wisdom teeth have come in. And your brain is finishing up its final prefrontal cortex development.

From this time until middle age, your body operates at its peak physical performance. This doesn’t mean you’ll be in the best shape of your life. But it does mean your heart, lungs, muscles, and other organs will be operating at their most efficient and effective levels.

With these physical developments out of the way, adulthood brings a whole new set of developmental challenges: as a young adult, you will develop the social, emotional, and lifestyle habits that shape the rest of your life. No pressure, right?

Don’t worry, these changes don’t happen overnight. You’re not an adolescent one day and a full-fledged adult the next. It’s a gradual process. For this reason, many scientists have defined a new intermediary stage of life development: early or emerging adulthood.

What is emerging adulthood: Emerging adulthood is a term some researchers use to describe the transitional phase between adolescence and adulthood. It is not a developmental stage, per se, but rather a period of social and emotional exploration and growth. Emerging adulthood is a time when many young adults begin to explore various jobs, establish their first serious romantic relationships, and navigate the new set of challenges “adulthood” brings. (These challenges include living independently, finding a career, and, in some cases, becoming a parent or spouse.)

It is nearly impossible to pin down exact age boundaries for emerging adulthood because this stage varies widely from person to person. Some may settle into adulthood by 25, while others are still struggling to establish their adult identity well into their late twenties. Which is to say, describing adulthood isn’t an exact science.

Consider the question posed at the start of this section again: what exactly is a grown up? Or, in other words, what is adulthood? At this point, you’ve been given two ways to answer this question. You can approach it from a developmental standpoint or from a social and emotional standpoint.

The first provides a much more clear-cut answer: adulthood begins around age 22, when the physical developments that characterize adolescence are complete. But, as outlined above, this approach doesn’t always give a satisfying answer. It seems to only capture part of the picture. Most of all, it doesn’t pin down what adulthood means.

To capture the full picture of adulthood, you also need to consider social factors. Is having a job part of adulthood? Living independently? Having stable romantic relationships? You’ll have to answer those questions for yourself.

So what is adulthood? Sometimes the best answer might be “I know it when I see it.”

Middle Age: It’s Not All Downhill From Here

Emerging adulthood may be a vague, loosely defined stage of life. But middle age has clearer boundaries. It begins at 40 and ends at 65—give or take a few years on either end.

During this period, most people’s lives have stabilized in comparison to their twenties and thirties. By middle age, you’ll likely have settled into a career or career field, become comfortable with your beliefs and values, and are maintaining long-term, stable friendships and relationships. If early adulthood is a time of exploration and discovery, middle age is a time of settling in.

As you approach and move through middle age, you might find yourself frequently thinking, “I’m not as young as I used to be”—especially while exercising. People tend to hit peak physical performance in early adulthood. From there on out, the wear and tear on your body will become more apparent. It’s a natural part of aging.

This manifests itself in several ways. You might find yourself bouncing back from injuries much more slowly or getting winded faster. Additionally, risk for certain health conditions becomes much higher in middle age. Screening for these conditions can help detect them early—and early detection is a crucial part of treatment. After the age of 40, you should start screening for high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. You may also screen for breast and cervical cancer if you are a woman, and prostate cancer if you are a man.

This might sound like a drag, but life is not all downhill from here! Studies show that happiness and life satisfaction bottoms out somewhere between ages 45 and 50—right as you are hitting middle age. From there on out, the older you get, the happier and more satisfied you will probably be.

Take Care of Your Health at Every Stage of Life

Every stage of life comes with unique challenges and rewards. So whether you’re a teen eager to grow up or an adult wishing you could turn back the clock, remember to focus on the present. Take care of your health no matter your age. It’s never too early or too late to make your lifestyle a little bit healthier. And take time to appreciate the joys each stage of life has to offer!

puzzle solving

puzzle solving

Aging is inevitable. Worrying about your brain health as the years start adding up doesn’t have to be.

It is true that getting older impacts your brain. Aging has some minor impact on memory as your brain and body change. But you have the power to protect your brain health as the years add up. The solution: developing healthy behaviors now to keep yourself mentally sharp and cementing good brain habits for the future.

Brain Health Behavior 1: Target the Right Food for Brain Health

When people hear “healthy nutrition,” fats are the last macronutrient many might think about. However, the right kind of fats are critical for your brain health! In fact, more than half your brain is made up of fat.

Healthy fats (those coming from plants and certain fish) are vital for the structure and function of your brain and its cells. The best source of these essential fats are omega-3 fatty acids found in foods like nuts, seeds, and fatty, oily fish—like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines.

In addition to the right fats, a brain-healthy diet also includes plenty green leafy vegetables (like spinach), veggies like broccoli, and berries.

A simple trick for supporting brain health is swapping foods like bread or mashed potatoes for healthier alternatives. A side of green vegetables or mashed cauliflower are good options. Also switch out your snacks by reaching for nuts and seeds instead of chips and cookies. Another tip when meal planning is to aim for two or three servings of fish for healthy proteins and the fats you read about above.

Brain Health Behavior 2: Exercise!

Your brain uses up more energy than any other organ in the body. To get that energy in the right place, your heart supplies your brain with nutrients and oxygen through lots of blood.

Protecting your heart and blood vessels is one key way you can make sure your brain has the energy it needs. And exercise is one healthy behavior proven to maintain a healthy heart and blood vessels. When you exercise, your body pumps more blood throughout the body, including to the brain.

When you exercise, vary the type of physical activity and your routine from day to day. A combination of different types of exercises can help keep you interested and mentally stimulated.

For example, you could do aerobic exercises like jump rope, swimming, or walking one day. Then resistance training exercises—like weightlifting—are tackled another day. You can even switch it up within the same routine. Whatever gets your body moving and keeps your mind engaged!

Brain Health Behavior 3: Seek Quality Sleep

One of the best ways to support your brain health as you age is tucking in for six to eight hours of uninterrupted quality sleep every night. This healthy slumber gives your brain enough time to process the experiences of your day and perform natural repair functions.

Think of it like required daily maintenance for a sensitive and powerful machine. If you skip out on maintenance, you risk damaging the machine’s parts. Eventually, that means having a device that doesn’t work as well as it should.

Regularly skimping on quality sleep can have serious consequences later in life. One study found that people who consistently slept six hours or less every night were at a 30% higher chance of developing cognitive issues.

If you find yourself having trouble with sleep, your environment might be the culprit. Put away phones and other screens an hour or two before bed. The light from these devices can make it difficult for you to fall asleep.

Other factors in your environment can impact your ability to get some shut eye: the temperature, ambient light, sounds, or pets. You should also avoid using your bed for activities that don’t need to happen in a bed (like working from home), so your brain won’t associate being in bed with performing other tasks.

Your behaviors before bed can also affect your sleep cycle. Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeinated beverages in the evening and stick as close as possible to the same sleep-wake schedule every day.

Brain Health Behavior 4: Stimulate Your Mind Every Day

Your brain is always growing and adapting to every experience you go through. To keep your brain healthy, you must encourage it to continue learning and growing.

There are many activities that can be counted as brain-health exercises to stimulate your mind and keep your brain healthy and adaptable. For example, try something new! Pick up some knitting needles, a paint brush, a new food recipe, a musical instrument, or a pen and paper. It doesn’t matter if you’re any good at the skill; it only matters that you do it and let yourself enjoy it.

Brain Health Behavior 5: Spend Time in Nature

Urban life is incredibly busy. There’s traffic, other people, loud sounds, and myriad of sources of information for your brain to process nonstop.

While mental stimulation can be great, your brain needs breaks to process and relax. Besides adequate sleep, one of the best ways to give your brain a chance to breathe and optimize your mental performance is to spend time in nature. Whether you take a hike or just take time to smell the flowers around the neighborhood, nature can help maintain brain health.

If all you have is 10 minutes a day to take a walk, find somewhere to immerse yourself in nature. This could be a park or a pathway by your work or home. On days you can’t make it outside, listening to nature sounds can also optimize your mental function and stress responses.

Brain Health Behavior 6: Manage Stress in Healthy Ways

Stress is normal in life. A little bit keeps you alive and protected from potential threats.

However, too much stress can have many negative effects on your health—including your brain health. That’s why you need to find healthy coping techniques to manage stress in your life.

Have multiple coping techniques in your arsenal in case you need them. Since everyone’s situation is different, it’ll take trial and error to find the right techniques that work for you.

Some healthy coping techniques for stress are the same healthy behaviors to support your brain health! For example, activities and skills you participate in to stimulate your mind can be great ways to relieve stress, and spending time in nature can give your mind time to reset and relax away from stressors.

You can also practice mindfulness techniques. Meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, or guided meditations are great options. Whatever techniques you choose, practice the techniques often, so you can stay on top stress management and make sure your coping methods of choice are available when you need them.

Healthy Behavior 7: Maintain Your Relationships

Humans are social creatures by nature. Societies are built on the foundation of communities—groups of people working together to survive and thrive.

With the need for other people so ingrained into human existence, it isn’t a surprise that relationships with others became important for your health. As social beings, human brains are programmed to thrive from activities that stimulate the mind—including being social.

Maintaining strong relationships with your friends, family, coworkers, or others around you supports brain health as you age. Regular social activities are an excellent method to stimulate your mind, and the support from relationships can help you find relief in times of stress.

To help maintain your relationships, set time every day to connect with others. This could be chatting briefly with someone at the grocery store or scheduling a time every day to eat a meal with your friends or family.

Healthy Aging Begins Now

Regardless of your age, healthy aging deserves your attention today. Healthy habits take time to develop and choosing to support your brain health now will prepare you to maintain its normal functioning as you age. You’re never too old—and it’s never too late—to take charge of your health!

Good nutrition is the backbone of any healthy lifestyle. Without satisfying necessary caloric and nutritional needs, your body can’t keep you thriving. This includes everything from basic functions—like breaking down and removing waste and protecting itself against toxins—to growth, development, and maintaining energy levels. But what exactly is “good nutrition”?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. As your body grows, changes, and develops, so do your nutritional needs. Though the basics of nutrition stay the same throughout life, your nutritional needs will vary depending on your physical activity levels, lifestyle habits, and age. This article will focus on that last one: nutrition by age.

As your body changes from infancy to adulthood—and everything in between—it requires slightly different nutrients to optimize growth, development, and function. And some of these nutrients might not be what you’d expect! So take a closer look at some of the surprising nutritional needs for each age group.

Newborn Nutrition: 0-12 Months

Whether you decide to feed your newborn breastmilk, formula, or a combination of the two, your baby’s nutritional needs should be a top priority. In their first year of life, most babies more than double their weight. That’s a lot of growth—not to mention the brain development that occurs during this time period. All these changes in babies’ bodies require the proper fuel.

From birth until about six months, it’s recommended to feed your baby exclusively breast milk or newborn formula. This will help them acquire the fats, proteins, and other nutrients they need. If your infant is breastfeeding, their nutrients come from the person feeding them. For this reason, it’s important for that individual to stay on top of their own nutrition and supplement their diet with the nutrients their baby needs. So what exactly are those nutrients?

You’re probably familiar with the more common staples of infant nutrition—calcium to support bone strength and growth, for example—but let’s take a look at some of the less talked about nutritional needs of infants.

  • Folate: The less-known vitamins and minerals are an often-overlooked aspect of nutrition. This is the case with folate, aka vitamin B9, which plays a vital role in cell division. And that’s one of the key processes behind infant growth and development.
    To ensure your infant has appropriate amounts of folate in their diet, check their formula for the levels of vitamin B9. Or, if you’re breastfeeding your child, eat plenty of folate-rich foods, such as leafy greens and legumes.
  • Zinc: No single nutrient is more important than the rest. That being said, if you were asked to name a nutrient as MVP of your diet, zinc would be a strong contender. The mineral helps maintain a healthy immune system, supports cellular growth and repair, and helps optimize DNA creation—all of which are important at any stage of life, but are especially vital for infants.
    Babies born prematurely often have zinc deficiencies, which is a problem because they need zinc to catch up on their growth. When breastfeeding, be sure to stock up on zinc rich foods—nuts are a great, calorie-dense option!

Early Childhood: From Toddlers to Preteens

Growth and development don’t stop after infancy. From the terrible twos up through adolescence, the body continues to undergo rapid changes. It’s a formative time, and not just for an individual’s personality. Proper nutrition during these periods of change set the stage for a healthy adulthood. So what are some key nutritional needs for children and preteens?

  • Fats: Pop nutrition has given fats a bad reputation. But not all fats are bad. In fact, some fats are a crucial part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. This is especially true when it comes to children’s nutrition.
    When people talk about fat in food, they typically mean: saturated fats or trans fats. Children should eat saturated fats, or fats that come from meat, dairy, and eggs, in moderation. And trans fats, which are created when some foods are processed, should be avoided as much as possible.
    But what about the good fats—the ones that can provide children with energy, support overall health, and help them process other nutrients? These fats are found in foods like olives, nuts, and seafood. And these beneficial forms should make up most of the fat in a child’s diet.
  • Sodium: When it comes to sodium, the problem most children face is not too little of it in their diet, but far too much. Fast food is a frequent meal in many households. And understandably so: it’s quick, affordable, and picky eaters may actually eat it. But these foods also contain lots of sodium.
    The recommended daily value for sodium changes with age. Young children—up until age four—only need about 1,500 mg of sodium per day, while preteens should take in up to 2,200 mg. According to a 2011 survey, 90% of children in the U.S. exceeded the recommended daily value for sodium, with average daily intake coming in at a whopping 3,256 mg per day. That’s more than 1,000 mg higher than the recommended value.
    So what’s the big deal? In moderation, sodium is a vital part of a healthy diet. It helps nerves function, plays a role in muscle function, and helps the body maintain proper fluid balances. Too much sodium, however, can lead to blood pressure issues.

Adolescence: Nutrition During the Teenage Years

Parenting teenagers can be a challenge (to say the least). It’s a period marked by mental, emotional, and physical changes—all of which can be difficult to handle individually. Put these changes together, and you have the perfect storm. If there’s one thing teenagers need, though, it’s the space to exercise and explore their independence. And this might include choosing more of the foods they eat.

That being said, good nutrition should still be a priority. Adolescence is, after all, a period of change. And when the body changes, it requires fuel. Teens are likely familiar with the basics of their nutritional needs but might need some additional guidance when it comes to specific nutrients. The list below outlines a few of the unsung heroes of teen nutrition.

  • Iron: You’ve maybe heard that iron-deficiency can lead to anemia—a condition that can lead to extreme fatigue. But maintaining energy levels isn’t all iron is good for. High iron intake is also crucial during periods of rapid growth—teenage growth spurts, for instance.
    Monitoring your iron intake as a teen is especially important if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. Meat, poultry, and fish are some of the most common sources of iron—if you don’t eat any of these foods, you’ll need to be extra diligent about eating other high-iron foods, such as beans, broccoli, and spinach.
  • Sleep: This one is, admittedly, not a nutrient. But it is an often overlooked element of teen health. When it comes to adolescent growth and development, a well-balanced diet is only one piece of the puzzle—and sleep is the other. Sleep can help your immune system stay strong, helps support your brain and body to grow and develop, and can optimize mood and emotion regulation. As a teenager, you should sleep 8-10 hours a night. It might seem like a lot, but it’s worth it!
    Getting enough sleep isn’t simply a matter of getting in bed at a reasonable time. A variety of other factors affect sleep including ambient noise, blue light exposure, and even diet. While there is no single nutrient that will solve your sleep problems, a well-balanced diet has been shown to support quality sleep. In this case, well balanced means supplying your body with enough magnesium, calcium, and vitamins A, C, D, E, and K. (Not sure where to find these nutrients? Take a look at this vitamin guide and essential mineral overview for a quick crash course!)

Nutrition Later in Life

If there’s one guarantee in life, it’s that you’re not getting any younger. And as you age, you might notice your body experiencing a little wear and tear. To a certain extent, this is inevitable. With the right diet and healthy lifestyle choices, however, you can help keep your body running smoothly well past 60.

They say that prevention is the best medicine—and by paying attention to your nutritional needs as you age, you can help keep yourself feeling good. You’ve probably heard that calcium is crucial for maintaining bone strength later in life, but that’s not all is needed at this stage of life. So let’s take a look at some of the less talked about nutrients.

  • Magnesium: Calcium gets all the credit when it comes to supporting bone strength, but magnesium also plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy, strong bones. Additionally, it helps both the heart and immune system continue to function properly.
    As you get older, your body absorbs magnesium less efficiently. This means you need more of this important in your diet to actually get the necessary amount. What’s more, many medications also affect magnesium absorption—so be sure to ask your doctor about any side effects!
  • Water: Everybody needs to drink water. That never changes because healthy hydration is an important aspect of nutrition and a healthy life. However, some studies indicate that your body requires more water as you age. The effects of dehydration can also lead to more serious health consequences for older individuals. Fortunately, the remedy for dehydration is simple: just drink more water.
    To ensure you are staying properly hydrated, look at your urine. It might not be the most pleasant part of your day, but it’s a simple way to check your hydration levels. If your urine is dark and cloudy or bright yellow, you likely aren’t drinking enough water. (There is an exception to remember with urine color. Even well hydrated individuals taking high dosages of vitamin C and B vitamins can have very bright yellow urine.) Typically, your urine should be somewhere between pale yellow to clear.

Nutrition by Age

As you age, your body grows, develops, and changes in countless ways. This probably isn’t news to you. Navigating these changes can be tough but properly satisfying your body’s nutritional needs at each stage of life can help optimize the aging process. And no matter your age, it’s never too late to start caring about nutrition. So, with what your read above as a guide, take charge of your health one nutrient at a time!

family with children

family with children

Childhood and adolescence are among the most important stages of any person’s life. And while this probably isn’t news to you, it bears repeating. The amount of growth and development the body experiences during these periods of time are astounding. Simply put, the body changes during childhood and adolescence—a lot.

During childhood and adolescence, it can even seem like the body is constantly in flux. The changes come so rapidly that it may be difficult to monitor your child’s health—both physical and mental. Whether you’re a parent searching for facts and tips about your child’s health or a teen looking to read up on your health, you’ve come to the right place! After all, what better place to start than the basics?

The list below breaks down some of the most important (and interesting) facts about childhood and adolescent health.

1. A fast metabolism doesn’t mean you can forget about nutrition:

Adults often bemoan the fact that metabolism slows with age. That is, the body becomes less quick and efficient at breaking food down and turning it into energy the older it gets. So while children and teens can—and often do—scarf down four bowls of pasta without immediate consequences, that same amount of food might have lasting effects on an adult (and their waistline).

This fact leads many people to believe children, especially teenagers, can eat just about anything while maintaining their health. Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly true. Children and teenagers can eat a lot of food, but that’s because the body is doing a lot of growing. That means it requires a lot of energy. And to provide it with the energy it needs, good nutrition is key.

The fundamentals of good nutrition stay the same from childhood to adulthood: you should strive to eat a well-balanced diet that includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, plant-based fats, and quality, lean protein.

2. Teens and children should steer clear of adult beverages—and not just alcohol:

It goes without saying, children and teens shouldn’t drink alcohol. While the brain is still developing, alcohol consumption can have lasting, negative consequences. That being said, alcoholic beverages aren’t the only drinks to keep away from teens.

As of 2014, the CDC reported that 73 percent of children consume caffeine daily. While children under the age of 12 should avoid consuming caffeine altogether, teens can drink small amounts of caffeine without impacting their health. Here’s the problem: the amount of caffeine teens take in depends on what they’re drinking. And energy drinks are popular among teenagers.

Teens 14-17 years old are advised to consume no more than 100 milligrams (mg) of caffeine each day—roughly one strong cup of coffee. Some energy drinks contain triple that amount of caffeine in one can. And many teens are drinking multiple energy drinks a day. You don’t have to be good at math to know that is way, way over the recommended limit.

So why does this matter? Children and teens are physically smaller than adults, so they feel the effects of caffeine much more strongly than, say, most people working office jobs. What’s more, teens’ brains are still developing and maturing. Caffeine can also disrupt teenagers’ sleep cycles—and sleep is a crucial time for brain development. In extreme cases, excessive caffeine intake can even put teens’ hearts at risk.

3. Sleep is a vital aspect of teen health and wellness:

Ask nearly anyone how much sleep you should get, and they’ll likely give you the same answer: eight hours. And while eight hours is a good guideline for adults, the recommended amount of sleep for healthy teenagers is between eight and 10 hours.

Between the demands of school, work, friendships, and other relationships, it can be hard for teenagers to prioritize sleep. But here’s why it’s important: Sleep plays an important role in pretty much every neurological process and function—memory, risk assessment, processing sensory input, you name it. And as a teen, your brain is still developing and making neural connections. Sleeping enough is crucial to allow those connections to be made.

4. Sunscreen is no joke:

While sunburns may seem like no big deal in the moment, they can have lasting impacts on your health. Excessive sun exposure—whether it’s frequent sunburns, extreme sunburns, or even too much tanning—can lead to premature aging of the skin. This means seeing wrinkles younger in life, and, in some cases, increased risk for skin issues.

This doesn’t mean staying out of the sun entirely. You can still go to the beach, swimming pool, or take a long walk on a sunny day—just be sure to wear sunscreen. And not just any sunscreen. The higher the SPF rating, the better.

As a guideline, 15 SPF is appropriate for daily wear, but for extended periods of sun exposure, you should aim to wear 30 SPF sunscreen or higher. And don’t forget to reapply every two hours, as needed!

5. Take care of your ears:

No, seriously. Ear health may seem like a strange topic to talk about, but it’s no joke. And it’s one of the most frequently overlooked aspects of adolescent health. With the proliferation of affordable smartphones, earbuds, mp3 players, and headphones, virtually everyone can listen to music anywhere.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But here’s the problem: teens and children (and even adults) often don’t understand the risks of listening to loud music for prolonged periods of time. And, as a result, many teens listen to music at dangerously high volumes. Blasting music through your headphones or earbuds will damage the cells in your cochlea, increasing your risk for hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). So take care of your ears while you’re young—future you will be grateful!

6. Teens should exercise regularly:

When it comes to adult health, consistent exercise is one of the most oft-cited aspects of a healthy lifestyle. Similarly, exercise is a vital element of teen health.

You’ve probably come across a variety of suggestions for how much exercise teens should do: 30 minutes daily, 30 minutes six times a week, 60 minutes three times a week—you get the idea. If you average out these various suggestions, here’s the bottom line: teens should get somewhere between 180 and 210 minutes of exercise each week. This could be swimming, cycling, going to dance practice, walking the dog—it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are revving your heart rate up.

While regular exercise will help keep your body healthy, the benefits aren’t purely physical. Regular exercise can help teens with mood regulation, alleviate stress, and get better sleep. All good important aspects of adolescent health.

7. Dental health is health, too:

As a teen, it’s easy to feel invincible. Your body bounces back from most injuries and your brain hasn’t fully developed its risk-assessment abilities. This combo can lead teens to make some, well, rash decisions. It can be hard to see the big picture.

When it comes to dental health, however, it’s all about the big picture. Once your baby teeth fall out, you have one set to last the rest of your life— so it’s important to take care of them. Ask adults what they wish they’d done differently in their teens and twenties, and many will give the same answer: they wish they’d taken better care of their teeth.

Dental health doesn’t have to be complicated, but it requires consistency. Be sure to brush and floss at least every night and you’ll keep your oral health thriving for the years to come.

8. It’s never too early to prioritize mental health:

One of the most common misconceptions about mental health is that only adults suffer from these kinds of issues. While early adulthood is a very common time for many mental health challenges to emerge, anyone, no matter their age, can experience change in mental health. In fact, one in about five teens has a diagnosed mental health disorder.

So what does this mean for you? Whether you experience mental health challenges or not, it’s never too early to prioritize your mental health. For teens, this might mean taking a break from social media, seeing a therapist, and, in some cases, taking medication prescribed by your healthcare provider. It’s all about finding what works for you and not waiting until adulthood hits to address any issues.