Protect Your Health as You Grow Older
You can take steps to stay healthy and active as you get older. It’s important to:
- Keep your body and mind active
- Choose healthy foods
- Talk to your doctor about any health concerns you have
- Take steps to prevent falls
- Stay safe while driving
Remember, it’s never too late to make healthy changes in your life.
These steps can help you live a healthier life.
Keep your body active.
Staying active as you get older is one of the best things you can do for your health. Regular physical activity can help you:
- Reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, osteoporosis, and some cancers
- Improve your balance and prevent falls
- Stay independent and live on your own longer
- Improve your mood and sleep
- Reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression
- Improve your ability to think, learn, and make decisions
Keep in mind that if you haven’t been active in the past, it’s not too late to start! Talk with your doctor if you have questions about what activities might work best for you.
- Get more tips on staying active as you get older
- Find out how to move your way — with activities you really enjoy [PDF - 1.2 MB]
- Read about the benefits of physical activity
Do aerobic activity.
Anything that gets your heart beating faster counts as aerobic activity.
- Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week — and break up the time over the week however you want. Try walking, swimming, or doing yard work.
- If you’re just getting started, go slow and do what you can. Even a 5-minute daily walk has real health benefits. Build up to more activity over time.
Do strength, balance, and stretching activities.
Doing different types of physical activity can make it easier to do everyday activities. That's why it's important to:
- Do muscle-strengthening activities 2 or more days a week
- Do exercises to improve your balance, especially if you're at risk of falling
- Do stretching (flexibility) exercises so you can move more easily
If you're doing physical activity outdoors, follow these safety tips. And if you have a health condition, talk with your doctor about the best activities for you.
Get ideas for eating healthy.
Eating healthy is always important, no matter how old you are. And it’s never too late to make healthy changes to your diet.
Choose a mix of healthy foods you enjoy from each food group, including:
- Whole fruits — like apples, berries, oranges, mango, and bananas
- Vegetables — like broccoli, sweet potatoes, beets, okra, spinach, peppers, and jicama
- Whole grains — like brown rice, millet, oatmeal, bulgur, and whole-wheat bread
- Proteins — like lean meats and chicken, eggs, seafood, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, and tofu
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy — like milk, yogurt, cheese, lactose-free dairy, and fortified plant-based alternatives (such as soy milk or soy yogurt)
- Oils — like vegetable oil, olive oil, and oils in foods like seafood, avocado, and nuts
Use these resources to:
Talk with Your Doctor
Play an active role in your health care.
Your doctor or nurse can help you stay healthy as you get older. Take these steps before and during a visit with your doctor:
- Use our tool to get a list of preventive services recommended for you. Print out the list and take it with you to your next doctor’s appointment.
- Learn about preventive services covered by the Affordable Care Act. Most health insurance plans must cover preventive services like screenings and vaccines at no cost to you.
- Get tips for talking with your doctor or nurse. This can help you get the most out of your medical appointments.
- Tell your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions or concerns about your medicines. Get more tips for using medicines safely.
- If you think you might be depressed, let your doctor know. Depression is treatable — and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Learn more about depression in older adults.
If you have Medicare, be sure to schedule your Medicare wellness visit every year.
If you smoke, quit.
Quitting smoking is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) for free help with quitting. You can also:
If you have a history of heavy smoking and you smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years, ask your doctor about screening for lung cancer.
Take steps to prevent falls.
Older adults are at higher risk for serious injuries from falls. Take these steps to lower your risk of falling:
- Use this checklist to make your home safer [PDF - 3 MB].
- Do exercises to improve your balance.
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review your medicines. Some medicines can make you dizzy or sleepy. Learn more about using medicines safely.
- Get your vision checked every 1 to 2 years. And be sure to get new glasses or contact lenses when your vision changes. Read more about protecting your vision.
- If you're worried that you might have hearing loss, get your hearing checked. Learn more about hearing loss.
- Learn more about lowering your risk of falls.
Make sure you have smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in your home.
Older adults are more likely to be injured or killed in home fires. To stay safe, put smoke alarms on every floor of your home.
Use long-life smoke alarms if possible. These alarms use lithium batteries and last longer than regular smoke alarms. They also have a “hush button” so you can stop them quickly if there’s a false alarm.
If you use regular smoke alarms, replace the batteries at least once a year.
It’s also important to put carbon monoxide detectors in your home. Carbon monoxide is a gas that you can’t see or smell but that can kill you. Carbon monoxide is found in fumes that form when people burn fuel in vehicles, stoves, grills, fireplaces, and furnaces.
Put carbon monoxide detectors on every floor of your home and replace the batteries at least once a year. You can change your smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector batteries when you change your clocks back from daylight saving time in the fall.
Follow these other tips for using smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors:
- Test them once a month by pushing the test button
- Put them on every floor of your home and near places where people sleep
- Don’t forget to put a smoke alarm and a carbon monoxide detector in the basement
- Replace your smoke alarm if it doesn’t work when tested or if it’s more than 10 years old
- Replace your carbon monoxide detector if it doesn’t work when tested or if it’s more than 5 years old
- Dust or vacuum smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors when you change the batteries
Take steps to stay safe while driving.
Getting older doesn’t make you a bad driver. But changes that come with aging can make it harder for you to drive safely. You may have trouble seeing at night or find it harder to react quickly to avoid an accident.
Take steps to stay safe:
- Get your vision and hearing checked regularly
- Always wear your seat belt
- Never use your phone while driving
- Plan your route and drive on streets you know
Keep Your Memory Sharp
Challenge your mind.
Just like physical activity is good for your body, activities that challenge your mind can help keep your brain healthy.
As you get older, it's important to:
- Learn new things — take a class or challenge yourself to read a section of the newspaper that you normally skip
- Connect with other people — try sharing meals with a friend or volunteering at a local school
- Keep moving — joining a hiking club, trying a dance class, or taking up other active hobbies can benefit not only your physical health but also your brain
If you're forgetting things more often than usual and it’s getting in the way of doing everyday activities, talk with your doctor or nurse. Learn more about memory problems.
Get support if you're a caregiver.
A caregiver is someone who helps a family member, friend, or neighbor who is sick or has a disability.
Caregiving can be stressful — that’s why it’s important to make time to care for yourself, too. Learn how to get support if you’re a caregiver.
You can also:
Content last updated November 29, 2023
This information on healthy aging is adapted from materials from the National Institute on Aging.
Stephanie M. Morrison, MPH
Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health