10 Small Habits That Help You Age Well

04/07/2015 08:00 am ET | Updated Jun 07, 2015

It's easy to feel confused by all the healthy aging advice out there. Wine is good for you. Wine is bad for you. Take calcium supplements. Don't take calcium supplements. At times, it seems like the "experts" really don't know what they're talking about. I can't solve any of these debates. But, I can give you a few simple things that you can do to stay healthy after 50.

Although our bodies are impossibly complex, the path to healthy aging starts with a few simple steps. Whether you want to stop smoking, cut down on drinking, lose weight, train for a 5K race, or eat a healthier diet, you don't have to totally revamp your lifestyle overnight. Instead, you should start small. For example, check out this article on how to accomplish any big goal starting with one minute per day.

As you explore the 10 habits below, don't be afraid to ask for help and support. Find a friend to serve as your "accountability partner." This way, you will have someone to help keep you motivated and on track.

Finally, remember that reaching your health goals takes time. You will encounter temptations and pitfalls along the way. Don't beat yourself up if you fall back into a "bad" habit. Just pick yourself up and start over. Instead of dwelling on your setbacks or failures, reward yourself for you accomplishments.

Here are 10 small habits that can put you on course for healthy aging -- and hopefully, a happier more energetic life:

Make Walking a Daily Ritual

Walking has been found to be one of the most effective forms of exercise for people of all ages and fitness levels. You don't need to walk miles every day. In fact, you can often enjoy better health and reduce your risk of various illnesses just from walking 30 minutes per day. Check out this video from Dr. Mike Evans on why walking is the #1 thing you can do today to improve your health.

If walking doesn't sound like your cup of tea, consider the following options. Could you listen to an audio book while you take a stroll? Do you have a friend who can join you on a daily walk around the park? Would your kids appreciate getting 30 minutes a day back while you take the grandkids to the playground? Could you walk 10 minutes to pick up your groceries instead of taking the bus? There are so many ways to incorporate walking into your daily routine.


Give Yourself Reasons to Smile

Did you know that it feels better to smile than it does to frown? In fact, research shows that smiling helps to release feel good chemicals that improve our mood and our health.

Think about what makes you smile. Do you love looking at photo albums of your family and friends? Are there certain places in your town that make you feel good?

Don't worry about wasting time. Smiling is serious stuff. Take the time every day to do things that make you smile. Your body and your brain will thank you!

Establish Healthy Eating Habits

By the time we reach our 50s, most of us know what we should be eating and what we should avoid. The problem isn't a lack of information. The problem is a lack of control and discipline. Fortunately, you don't have to have an iron will to eat more healthy food. The trick is to control your environment.

First, keep in mind that it is much easier to be disciplined when you are at the store than when you are in your home. Don't buy cookies and then expect yourself to show discipline in only eating one a day. It's much better to avoid buying the cookies in the first place.

Another small, but, incredibly effective, trick is to hide all the big plates in your house. By eating from small plates, you will naturally reduce your portion size without having to resort to willpower.

Finally, look for luxury health foods that you can make yourself. For example, I love sushi, but, there is no way that I would pay for it every day. So, I found a local fish store that sells sashimi quality salmon for much less than I expected to pay. Instead of buying sushi, I make my own from dried seaweed, rice and salmon. Delicious!


Find Fun Activities that Make You Move

By now, you know that I'm a big fan of healthy activities that are actually enjoyable. The same is true for exercise. We all know that it's important to move. The trick is to find activities that we actually love.

For example, if you're a social person, look for opportunities to get active with your friends. Could you find a running partner? How about taking up tennis? Even taking a daily walk in the park with a friend can have a huge impact on your health.

If you prefer to work out alone, there are plenty of fun options. I have a friend who loves to listen to audio books while she uses the elliptical machine at her local gym. There is no way that she would ever use the machine without being distracted. But, with a good mystery on her mind, 30 minutes on the machine is a treat.

Spend Time with Positive People

There's a lot of research to support the idea that social interaction is important for us older adults. Socializing helps us to stay emotionally and physically healthy. So, it's important to make new friends, eliminate toxic connections, and find regular social activities that get you out of the house.

The challenge is that, as we age, we lose some of the connections that we had at other times in our lives. Our children have grown up, eliminating the opportunity to interact with other parents. Many of us have retired and lost touch with our old colleagues. In addition, more baby boomers than ever are getting divorced and losing the strongest social connection of all, marriage.

The good news is that there are still plenty of ways to make new friends, if we are willing to step out of our comfort zone and engage with the world.

Probably the easiest way to meet new people is to join clubs or organizations based around our passions. In other words, focus on sharing what you love with the world and the friendships will follow.

Learn to Meditate

Ten minutes of meditation per day can help you to feel calmer and more centered. There is also a growing pool of evidence that meditation may bring a variety of health benefits including lower blood pressure.

Many people are intimated by the idea of meditation because of the way that it is presented in movies and on TV. While meditation can be spiritual, it doesn't have to be. More than anything, it is an opportunity for us to close our minds to the outside world and get to know our own minds a bit better. In a world filled with buzzing phones, blinking chat windows and negative news stories, nothing could be more refreshing.


Forgive Yourself and Others

After 50 years or more on this planet, you almost certainly have regrets. This is normal. The problem comes when our dark thoughts about the past prevent us from living fully in the present and planning for the future.

Try to live every day fully in the present. Move on from mistakes and missteps. Dwelling on negative events from the past can cause stress and other painful emotions; it's better to be able to move forward confidently and maintain a steady, peaceful equilibrium.

One technique that I use is to write down my regrets and then lock them away. Something about this simple ritual helps me to move on. It may do the same for you.

It is equally important to learn to forgive others. This is not a matter of fairness. Sometimes others truly do deserve our anger. But, until we truly forgive them for the wrong that they have done to us, we will not be able to move on with our lives. In effect, we let them hurt us twice -- once when they act against us and a second time when we give their actions power over our thoughts.

Spend Time in Nature

Humans came from nature and much of our psychology is connected in one way or another to the world around us. So, take the time to explore the world. Go for long walks. Stop to examine the flowers along the way. Enjoy fresh food from local farmers. Bring plants into your home and garden.

You will be amazed by how much more positive and happy you feel when your environment is filled with nature and not just things.

Learn to Laugh More

There's a reason why there's an old saying that "laughter is the best medicine." According to several studies, laughter relaxes your muscles, releases feel good chemicals and may even help to protect your heart.

When do you laugh the most? Are there certain friends that have you in fits of laughter? Do you enjoy comedies or humorous TV shows? Look for ways to build laughter into your daily routine. Your body, brain and heart will thank you for it!


Find Simple Ways to Manage Your Stress

Stress harms your body in more way than one. Physically, stress can cause headaches, muscle pain and sleep problems. Emotionally, stress can contribute to depression and other psychological disorders. Stress also has a big impact on our behavior and may cause us to adopt unhealthy lifestyle choices such as smoking and drinking.

There are two ways to deal with stress. The first is to eliminate the stressors in our life. The second is to adopt behaviors that help us to deal with stress better. Let's look at each of these in turn.

Don't let stress operate on a subconscious level. Write down a list of all of the stressful things that are going on in your life right now. You won't be able to deal with all of these problems at once. Instead, think of one practical step that you can take today to deal with one of your stressors. Force yourself to perform one new action every day. Not only will this help you to eliminate your problems, but, it will also give you a sense of control.

No matter how many problems you eliminate, you will always have stress in your life. So, it's important to adopt behaviors that help you to deal with stress. Many of the healthy aging tips in this article will help you to do exactly that. The next time that you are feeling out of control, go for a walk, call a friend or watch a funny movie. You will be amazed how much lighter the world feels after a good long laugh.

Now it's Your Turn!

Take responsibility for your health and happiness. Decide on one small action that you can take today. Will it be to make walking a daily ritual? Or, will you commit to spending more time in nature? Will you start a comedy movie night with your friends? Or, do you want to learn how to meditate? The choice is yours to make and the action is yours to take.

What are your goals for healthy aging? Who are your role models for people who stayed particularly healthy and active as they got older? What healthy aging tips did they offer to you? Please leave a comment below.

Here are a few more Boomerly articles to inspire you to get more from life after 50:

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

8 Items That Slow The Aging Process