Getting older doesn't have to mean becoming frail and disabled. You can have a great quality of life well into your 80s and beyond thanks to what we now know about keeping yourself healthy—anti aging, if you will. (For example, check out these five incredible old women who are awesome at life
.) The push for more exercise throughout your life can actually have benefits later on. One recent Canadian study
showed that octogenarian athletes had 30 percent more motor units in their leg muscle tissue—resembling the muscles of people decades younger on a cellular level—than older people who were sedentary. So, we now realize that a decline in muscular health as we age is not inevitable. "We know the benefit of fitness at every age," says New Jersey-based dietitian Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of Belly Fat Diet For Dummies.
Better joint replacementsRoom98/Shutterstock
Joint replacements as we age are increasingly common, due in part to more older people seeking to maintain an active lifestyle. (Do these eight things for healthy joints and cartilage
.) A University of Iowa study
found that total knee replacement surgeries have more than doubled in the past 20 years. And thanks to better materials, surgical techniques, and recovery protocols, the rate of success is high. According to the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons
, 90 percent of joint replacements will still be working well after 20 years. "Better, more durable implant materials as well as the ability to achieve ideal implant alignment
combine to improve the function and extend the service life of both hip and knee replacements," says Dr. Andrew Glassman, MD, chair of the Department of Orthopaedics and chief of adult reconstructive surgery at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
A new attitude toward growing olderasife/Shutterstock
The old adage "age is just a number" turns out to be true: A better attitude toward getting older can actually help your physical health. (Read more myths about old age, debunked
.) A Yale study
found that older people with more positive self-perceptions of growing old measured up to 23 years earlier than those with less positive self-perceptions. As society as a whole starts recognizing this, a new and better attitude will actually help us extend not only our lifespan but our "health span," the amount of time we're healthy. "It's common sense that if you think about aging as being in crisis and decline, that is what will show up," says Anthony Cirillo, FACHE, ABC, president of the healthcare consulting firm The Aging Experience
. "Likewise, if you look at it as another chapter in your life, a quality chapter that brings new experiences and fulfillment, that is what you will attract."
Improved cartilage solutionsJose-Luis-Calvo/Shutterstock
Even better than joint replacement are improvements in ways to repair the body's own cartilage. (Discover these proven knee pain treatments
.) "Multiple advancements in cartilage restoration are available now in the U.S., and others are in clinical trials with the anticipation of being available in the future," says David Flanigan, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. One technique, he says, involves harvesting and growing the patient's own cartilage cells to create a scaffold, then implanting it for new cartilage tissue to grow around. Another uses grafts from donors, which are now able to be kept viable longer, allowing them time to reach the recipient. Plus, "these advanced procedures often allow surgeons to replace the focal damaged cartilage through smaller incisions than the past that can improve patient recovery," Dr. Flanigan says. "All of these procedures are allowing patients to regain function and quality of life, and hopefully delaying the arthritic process within the knee."
More plant-based foodAS-Food-studio/Shutterstock
Just as our knowledge of the benefits of physical activity has increased, so have we learned more about nutrition. (We now know about the things that happen to your body when you don't eat enough fruits and veggies
.) "The two most important things that determine healthy aging are the lifelong diet and exercise programs that people choose to engage in," says Pinchas Cohen, MD, Dean of the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. "A diet richer in fruits and vegetables and lower in animal products and processed foods is critical." One Harvard study
showed that women in their 50s and 60s who ate more plant foods, whole grains, and fish, and fewer red and processed meats, were 40 percent more likely to live past 70 without chronic illness. "A diet rich in pulses—including lentils, chickpeas, beans and dry peas—has been linked to reduced cholesterol and a lower risk of heart disease, certain cancers
, and obesity," says Palinski-Wade. As our diets shift to more plant-based foods, we'll live better longer.
Greater understanding of which foods are bad for usmarla-dawn-studio/Shutterstock
As we continue to examine how foods affect our body, we're realizing that certain foods, like fat and eggs, might not be as bad as we thought. (Try these five healthy fats you should eat
.) "We now know eggs are not off limits—a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition
shows that up to one egg per day is associated with a 12 percent reduction in the risk of stroke, the fifth leading cause of death in the United States," Palinski-Wade says. Also, not all fats are created equal. "We now know trans fats and added sugars in the diet can be more detrimental to our health than saturated fats," she adds. In fact, sugar may be the real culprit behind negative health outcomes as we age. "Sugar and starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, rice and corn, are good to avoid, particularly for people who are prone to diabetes," Dr. Cohen says.
More effective exercisewavebreakmedia/Shutterstock
Along with exercising more
, we're starting to learn the types of exercise that are most beneficial for our health. (Read about the crucial health tweaks to make by your 50s
.) "There is still debate about this, but both aerobic and weightlifting exercises have been shown to be important and should both be utilized," Dr. Cohen says. "Adding yoga or other activities for maintaining balance, such as tai chi, is also important and should be started early in life." Palinski-Wade agrees that along with simply moving more, the benefits of strength training for bone health are clear. "A focus on strength training to increase muscle strength, balance, and fight against bone loss boosts not only cardiovascular health but fights against osteoporosis and fall risk as we age," she says.
Making cells young againsumroeng-chinnapan/Shutterstock
Exciting research in cell decline might actually lead to a fountain of youth for future seniors. (Find out how your skin ages through every decade of your life
.) University of California—Berkeley bioengineer Irina Conboy, PhD, has pioneered this research. "We have shown
for the first time that mammalian tissue aging is rapidly reversible through a youthful modification of blood circulation," she says. It's not young blood itself, but rather changing old blood to make it more like new blood that could theoretically reverse the decline. In addition, the discovery of what Dr. Conboy calls "youthful re-calibration of key cell signaling networks" to repair older tissues is leading to new drugs
that could be on the market soon. "We expect a fast path toward FDA approval to treat a class of age-imposed tissue degenerative and metabolic diseases," she says.
Greater understanding of inflammationdidesign021/Shutterstock
Scientists are also learning about the role of inflammation in causing different diseases, and how that's connected to tissue decline. (Discover six ways to fight inflammation
.) "We believe that Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, metabolic decline, flare of cancers, and other age-associated diseases are not entirely separate pathologies, but have a common cause
: abandonment of tissue maintenance and repair," Dr. Conboy says. In a vicious cycle, "excessive inflammation inhibits regenerative responses of tissue stem cells, and tissue remains un-repaired and damaged, which causes more inflammation." In her research
youthfully recalibrating old cells, she's also found that inflammation is reduced. A greater understanding of the role of inflammation in disease, plus discoveries like Dr. Conboy's, could lead to ways to treat age-related disease.
More sharing of health dataVitaM/Shutterstock
Although you still probably have to fill out those paper forms every time you go to the doctor, the way medical records are gathered, stored, and shared are changing. Electronic health records let patient info be stored in the cloud for easier access. According to a recent survey
, 77 percent of respondents are interested in sharing their health data, especially if it helps them get better care. Electronic health records also benefit doctors—one study
found that ER medical professionals said accessing health info like medication list, allergies, and medical histories through an electronic exchange was helpful in treating patients. "When health providers break out of the silo mentality of care, good things happen," Cirillo says.