Take responsibility for your health and happiness.

Growing older affects every part of your body, from your hair to your heart. Although you can’t control your age, you can slow the declines associated with aging by making smart choices along the way. Here are some things you can do to help you age well. 

1. Diet. Small changes in body weight can have a big impact on health. If you are overweight, losing just five percent of your body weight can reduce your risk for diabetes and heart disease and improve your metabolic body functions. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains and low in sugar can help reduce levels of inflammation in the body and provide essential nutrients to keep your mind sharp and your body healthy. Don’t rely on supplements to meet your nutritional needs; save your money, and use it for healthy foods or new sneakers. Watch how much you eat, too, because overeating may lead to a shortened lifespan. 

2. Exercise. The benefits of exercise are numerous. The older we get, the more muscle we lose. Strength training can help prevent this muscle loss and increase your strength and stamina. Exercise produces endorphins that improve our mood and energy levels. Increased blood flow from exercise nourishes skin cells and helps to remove waste from our cells. Bone loss starts occurring around age 40, but weight-bearing exercise can help strengthen your bones and slow this process. Start with whatever exercise you enjoy and will do regularly.

3. Get enough sleep. Sleeping poorly will show as visible signs of aging on your face. During sleep, your body releases a growth hormone that helps restore collagen and elastin, the essential building blocks of healthy skin. Sleep deprivation can lead to higher rates of obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. Chronic lack of sleep adversely affects your brain function and speeds up aging. Aim for at least seven hours of sleep each night, and even squeeze in a nap if you didn’t sleep well.

4. Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water helps keep your skin moist and your nails and hair looking healthy. Most healthy adults should aim for half their body weight in fluid ounces daily. So if you weigh 150 pounds, you should be drinking about 75 ounces of fluid daily.

5. Keep social. Friends and relatives can help you live longer. People with a satisfying social network have less mental decline, fewer chronic health problems, less depression, are less likely to have dementia, sleep better and tend to have stronger disease-fighting immune systems. Find social activities that get you out of the house. 

6. Check your attitude. You are what you think you are. Keep a positive attitude, and you’ll be more likely to recover from an illness or disability than those who see aging as synonymous with helplessness or uselessness. Try to live every day fully in the present, moving on from past mistakes and regrets. Learn to laugh more. Laughter relaxes your muscles and releases those feel-good hormones. Plus, happier, smiling people look younger.

7. Quit smoking. Smoking significantly speeds up the aging process. The chemicals in cigarettes damage skin fiber and collagen, reducing the skin’s elasticity and promoting wrinkles.

8. Use sunscreen. Protect your skin from the sun. Too much time in the sun can cause wrinkles and discolorations, not to mention cancer. Regular moisturizing will help improve the smoothness and elasticity of your skin. 

9. See your dentist. Over time our teeth discolor due to wine, coffee, tea or smoking stains. A visit to your dentist will have your teeth whiter and looking great. 

10. Update your style. A new hairstyle can make you look and feel younger. Get rid of severely outdated clothes or clothes that no longer fit well. 

Take responsibility for your health and happiness. Decide on one small positive change you can take today. You’ll feel better and age better, too.

Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.