Why Moderation Is Key to Healthy Aging

Several recently published studies on aging all seem to lead to the same conclusion: for healthy aging, moderation is crucial. Whether it concerns weight management, physical activity or alcohol and tobacco use, health experts urge people to consider their limitations and changing needs as they approach their senior years.

Weight Management and Calorie Restriction

One such study, led by researchers at the National Institute on Aging, found that gradual calorie restriction in midlife could help lower the risk of many diseases later on. The findings confirm what has previously been shown only in animal studies, namely that reducing caloric intake could have a positive impact on aging and longevity.

Don't Overdo Exercise

Similarly, experts recommend age-appropriate behavior when it comes to exercise. While physical activity is crucial for healthy aging – as it is for good health in general – there are limits to what many people can endure as they age. Of course, much depends on a person's fitness level, but certain precautions such as starting slow and dealing with pain and fear should be observed regardless.

The good news is that even smaller doses of regular exercise can produce significant benefits, not only for the aging body but, equally as important, for the mind. As studies have shown, even less strenuous activities such as walking, bicycling or swimming can help improve heart health as well as cognitive abilities. But for seniors, trying harder may not necessarily lead to better results.

Alcohol and Tobacco

It has often been suggested that drinking alcohol, particularly red wine, may be beneficial for the heart. These claims are not beyond dispute and the jury is still out on what alcohol actually does for people's well-being other than make them feel good. What is well established about alcohol, however, is that consuming large amounts of it is dangerous and can have enormously detrimental consequences in multiple ways, including how we age.

As it gets older, the human body becomes increasingly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol and is less able to handle its toxicity. That is why the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends seniors limit themselves to no more than one serving of an alcoholic beverage per day.

It goes without saying that avoidance or cessation of tobacco use is a good idea at any time, but, again, it becomes a more pressing matter at an advanced age.

See Value, Not Deprivation

Another topic that is often not considered is the psychological component in all this. If those guidelines and recommendations are perceived only as restraint or deprivation, they will be hard to adhere to. Old habits, as the saying goes, die hard. As we grow older, we all experience losses and are forced to let go. For this, it is of great importance to see the larger picture and appreciate the immeasurable value of good health, without which nothing else matters.

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Timi Gustafson
Timi Gustafson, RD, LDN, FAND, is a clinical dietitian and author of the book, The Healthy Diner: How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun, which is available on her blog, Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.. Follow Timi on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.