9 Healthy Habits Your 80-Year-Old Self Will Thank You For Having Today

What you do today can affect your health for decades. Here, how to feel and look your best in ripe old age.

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Make time for book club

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Spending too much time alone can hurt your long-term health. Put time toward building and expanding your social networks, whether it’s joining a group activity or catching up with an old friend. A University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study found friendships formed early in life can protect your health in your older years. In fact, they discovered that social isolation is more harmful for hypertension than diabetes. Related research links loneliness to a weakened immune system and higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and depression. Lonely people have a 14 percent greater risk of dying than the average person (making isolation twice as dangerous as obesity). According to experts, it is just as important to build social networks as it is to eat healthy and be active.

Rub on SPF

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You already know sunscreen prevents sunburn and cancer. It also keeps 80-year-old you looking years, if not decades, younger. Australian researchers studied more than 900 participants for four years. Some were told to use sunscreen daily and given instructions on proper use, such as re-applying every few hours. Others were not given any directions (it was deemed unethical to ask them not to use it). Researchers tracked participants’ skin changes with microtopography, in which silicone impressions are made on the back participants’ hands. People who used sunscreen were 24 percent less likely to show increased signs of aging.

Guzzle a bottle of water

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Drink to your 80-year-old self. A study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found increased water intake is linked to a decreased likelihood of bladder cancer (urinating frequently may prevent the buildup of carcinogens in the bladder). The American Cancer Society recommends drinking 8 cups of water a day.

Meanwhile, swear off soda. It’s not just about calories: A University of California San Francisco study found sugary drinks may make cells age faster. People who drank more soda had shorter telomeres (protective units of DNA) in white blood cells, linked to age-related chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. It’s estimated that drinking a 20-ounce bottle of soda daily equates to 4.6 years of aging—comparable to the effects of smoking or being inactive.

Take a minute to floss daily

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Caring for your gums now can prevent complications later. Poor oral health has been linked with conditions such as endocarditis (an infection of the inner lining of your heart), cardiovascular disease, and prostatis, the inflammation of the prostate that can make urination difficult. In a study published in the journal Dentistry, researchers studied 27 men with moderate to severe gum disease and prostate inflammation. The men had high levels of prostate specific antigens (PSA), potential markers of inflammation and cancer. They were treated for gum disease, and four to eight weeks later, nearly 80 percent of the men showed decreased PSA levels—even though they didn’t receive prostate care. Researchers say periodontal care could become a standard part of treating prostate disease, similar to how cardiac patients are often encouraged to visit a dentist before heart procedures. Maintain your oral health now: Floss daily, brush twice daily, and regularly visit the dentist for check-ups.

Pour a bowl of cereal

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A favorite childhood meal may make you healthier as a senior. When Harvard scientists tracked more than 367,000 older adults for an average of 14 years, they found that those who ate the most cereal fiber had a 19 percent lower risk of death from any cause than those who ate the least. In particular, people who ate the most cereal fiber were 15 percent less likely to die from cancer and 34 percent less likely to die from diabetes. Cereal fiber is found in breakfast cereal, as well as in whole wheat bread, barley, and bran. Though the study didn’t prove causation, whole grains have been linked with improved health, perhaps due to fiber’s anti-inflammatory and protective properties. Just one daily serving of a high-fiber cereal, such as Fiber One or Kashi GoLean, can make you healthier.

Don’t forget the milk

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Milk gives your fiber-filled breakfast even more age-fighting superpowers. In an Arthritis Care & Research study, researchers performed annual knee X-rays on 2,148 patients with knee osteoarthritis to measure the disease’s progression for four years. Increased milk consumption was associated with slower progression of the disease in women (but not men; calcium may affect bone health in women differently). The women who drank the most milk—7 or more glasses per week—showed smaller decreases in joint space than women who drank the least. Joint space width decreases as osteoarthritis progresses and cartilage is lost.

Jog for 5 minutes

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It doesn’t need to be a marathon (or a sprint). Just five minutes of light jogging keeps your body running strong into old age. A Journal of the American College of Cardiology study found jogging 5 to 10 minutes every day reduces the risk of death from heart disease by 58 percent and overall mortality risk by 28 percent. Even participants who ran slower than than 6 miles per hour, just once or twice a week, saw clear benefits.

Have a handful of nuts

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Pack a snack of pecans, toss chopped walnuts into yogurt, or swap cream cheese for nut butter on your morning toast. A New England Journal of Medicine study of 120,000 participants found that people who ate nuts daily had a 20 percent lower mortality risk than those who avoided nuts, and were less likely to die of heart disease, cancer, and respiratory disease. Nuts lower LDL (“bad” cholesterol), raise HDL (“good” cholesterol), and lower blood pressure. The protective properties may come from their fiber, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and phytochemicals.

Go ahead and smile

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Want to live far past 80? Look on the bright side. In a study published in the journal Aging, researchers tracked the personality traits of nearly 250 centenarians. Most had a positive life outlook and were generally easygoing, optimistic, and expressed their emotions openly rather than bottling them up. The centenarians also considered laughter an important part of life. Treat yourself to comedy show tickets or read a good joke. Laughing has multiple long-term benefits, including an improved immune system and reduced physical pain (laughter helps the body produce its own natural painkillers).

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