The Basics: Overview
You can take steps to stay healthy and independent as you get older. It’s important to:
- Keep your body and mind active
- Choose healthy foods
- Get enough sleep
- Talk to your doctor about any health concerns
- Take steps to prevent falls
Remember, it’s never too late to make healthy changes in your life.
Take Action: Stay Active
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, and some cancers
- Reduce your risk for Alzheimer's disease
- Improve your balance and prevent falls
- 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! You may need to start slowly and build up over time.
- 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].
- Learn more about the benefits of physical activity.
Do aerobic activity.
Anything that gets your heart beating faster counts as aerobic activity.
- Aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activities every week. Try walking, swimming, or doing yard work – and break up the time over the week however you want.
- If you can't do 2 hours and 30 minutes, do what you can! Even 5 minutes of activity can help improve your health.
Do strength, balance, and stretching activities.
Including a variety of activities in your routine 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.
- Try stretching (flexibility) exercises so you can move more easily.
- Follow these safety tips during physical activity.
If you have a health condition, talk with your doctor about the best activities for you.
Take Action: Eat Healthy
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. Learn about healthy eating patterns.
Try these tips:
- Choose lots of vegetables and fruits.
- Make sure most of your grains are whole grains, like brown rice and whole-wheat bread.
- Choose fat-free milk or low-fat dairy products, like milk and yogurt.
- Choose healthy sources of protein like seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, beans, and nuts.
- Stay away from trans fats, saturated fats, and added sugars.
- Limit the amount of salt you eat. Use this shopping list to find lower-sodium foods.
Take Action: Get Health Care
Play an active role in your health care.
Your doctor or nurse can help you stay healthy as you get older.
- 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.
- Get tips for talking with your doctor or nurse. This can help you play an active role in your health care.
- 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.
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 Action: Home Safety
Take steps to prevent falls.
Older adults are at higher risk for serious injuries from falls. Take steps to lower your risk of falling:
- 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.
- If you're worried that you might have hearing loss, get your hearing checked.
- Use this checklist [PDF - 3 MB] to make your home safer.
Make sure you have smoke alarms 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 every year. Try changing smoke alarm batteries when you change your clock back from daylight saving time in the fall.
Follow these other tips for using smoke alarms:
- Test your smoke alarms once a month by pushing the test button.
- Put smoke alarms on every floor of your home and near places where people sleep.
- Don’t forget to put a smoke alarm in the basement.
- Replace your smoke alarm if it doesn’t work when tested or if it’s more than 10 years old.
- Dust or vacuum smoke alarms when you change the batteries.
Take Action: Driving and Memory
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.
Just like physical activity is good for your body, activities that challenge your mind can help prevent memory loss and 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.
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.
Take Action: Caregiver Support
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. It's important to get support if you're a caregiver – and be sure to make time to care for yourself, too.
Content last updated October 15, 2020
This information on healthy aging is adapted from materials from the National Institute on Aging.
Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health