5 Key Habits Make Your Next Milestone Birthday the Best Ever

I'm not old.  I clearly remember seeing Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, but I could easily live another 15 or 20 years – even 30 more years if I live as long as my grandmother.

I didn't sleep well last night because of Restless Legs Syndrome, so this morning I felt stiff and sluggish, with a headache that begged for coffee.  Cleaning my bifocals before sitting down to the computer, I noticed my slightly arthritic right wrist was already aching.

I'm not old, but if I feel this way now, how will I feel when I'm older?

I don't want to live forever, but I'd like to stay healthy and active for as long as possible.  I might have something to contribute to others, rather than being a drain, if I remain vigorous into old age. 

Grandfather and grandchild

Today is the best time to start.

Even if you're in your 30's or 40's, it's not too early to make the best of your health.  Instead of settling for an expanding waistline, more aches and pains, and less vitality, you can choose now to be a super-ager.

The good news is that DNA doesn't have to dictate your destiny.  Just because high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and back problems run in my family doesn't mean I have to exhibit all of those things.  Genetic makeup is only part of the picture – lifestyle choices can offset those inherited tendencies to a great degree.

5 habits that support successful aging

1.  Move.

I've never been an athlete, but that doesn't mean I should choose a sedentary lifestyle.

"Sitting is the new smoking."  Have you seen those ads and headlines?  All of us do more of it than ever.  Most of us have jobs that require little or no physical exertion, and we go home and sit some more to watch TV, play video games, and scroll, click, and swipe on our phones.

All of this leads to obesity, metabolic syndrome (diabetes and heart disease), even cancerEven if you exercise every day, sitting around too much is harmful to your health.  Spending time at the gym doesn't erase the effects of a mostly sedentary life.

You don't have to complete a grueling workout.  Stand and stretch every hour, take a brisk walk around the block, use the stairs instead of the elevator.  Enroll in a dance class or get back to riding your bicycle.  The important thing is consistency, not sweat.

fantastic healthy veggies
2.  Eat food, not crap.

I struggle with my weight, and I've tried many diets, only to lose and regain the same 30 or 40 pounds several times.  But this isn't about fad diets or deprivation.  It's about real, nutritious food in moderate portions.  

You know this, but do you do it?

Make sure you eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and plant-based fats such as olives, avocados, and nuts.  Reduce the amount of sugar, salt, alcohol, and animal fats you consume, and stay away from artificial, factory-produced ingredients.

Related article:  Just Eat an Apple

3.  Sleep.

My morning started badly because I slept badly.  No surprise there.  Sleep is essential to physical, mental, and emotional health.  It's when our bodies repair themselves and our brains make long-term memories.  Inadequate sleep messes with our moods, metabolism, and immune responses.  

Sleep medications are not a long-term solution, but a lavender pillow spray* can lower blood pressure and heart rate while calming anxiety for better sleep.  

Before turning to other pharmaceuticals, consider ways to create and nurture good sleep habits.

* This blog is reader-supported.  When you buy through my links, I may earn a small commission.

Related article:  The Beauties of Sleep

4.  Cope.

I love the rugged northern California coast.  Crashing ocean waves, soaring redwood trees, and rolling wildflower- and vineyard-covered hills are all gorgeous and calming.  But after a while I want to do something.

Are you the same?  Humans need a certain amount of solitary relaxation, but our minds are active with plans and dreams, and we feel purpose and hope as we carry them out.

Of course we encounter difficulties along the way.  Normal life includes stress – problems, challenges, and new ideas to explore and develop.  And dealing with stress allows us to build skills, confidence, and resilience.  But continuous high levels of stress will undermine every other good thing we do for our health. The key is in how we handle it.

To deal more profitably with stress, stay physically active, eat well, and get enough sleep.  Additional behaviors that can help:

  • learn to say no
  • pray or meditate
  • practice gratitude
  • set limits on media consumption
  • listen to music you enjoy (or even better, play it yourself)
  • spend time with a friend
  • get immersed in a hobby or a good book
  • do something kind for someone else

healthy older woman
5.  Keep learning.

Whenever "modern times" seem too fast-paced and bewildering, I remind myself I'm going to live at least half my life in the 21st century.  Without forgetting my roots, I need to adapt.

It's a clich̩ that older people become "set in their ways," unable or unwilling to try new things or test their opinions, but the clich̩ exists for a reason Рmuch too often it's true.

Don't be that person who never tries a new cuisine, never reads an author they haven't encountered before, or never gets outside the echo chamber of opinions that reinforce their own long-held beliefs.

Here are other simple activities to keep your brain flexible and adaptive:

  • take a new route home
  • watch a foreign-language film
  • learn to play that video game with your child
  • use your non-dominant hand
  • tune in to a different news source
  • be mindful and use all of your senses
  • socialize with people of all ages
  • keep using a dictionary, pencil and paper, or map instead of relying on spell check or your phone's calculator or GPS

Related article:  How to Enjoy Life and Gain Energy by Paying Attention

How to make the habits work for you

You'll have more success if you don't try to change everything at once.  Choose one area and start where you are, making gradual improvements at your own pace.

Becoming a super-ager isn't like flipping a switch, so don't expect a quick fix.  Think of it like investing in the stock market.  The market can be volatile, and if you want to make a fast buck you might lose everything.  But if you invest for the long haul, history shows you can expect good growth over time.

So starting today, do something that will give you a real reason to celebrate your next milestone birthday.  Make one small upgrade to your way of life, keep it up for 30 days, and then repeat the process.  

This time next year, I might feel younger than I did this morning!

One last requirement

"for all mankind"
I see my 9-year-old self, cross-legged on the floor next to my younger brother, watching a grainy picture on our black and white TV as Neil Armstrong places his foot on the moon.  

And today, we're both older than our grandmother was then.

We all age, but we don't have to get old.

A meta-study published by Harvard Medical School found that people who have positive expectations for their future tend to be healthier, happier and more resilient.  So don't dismiss a positive outlook as some sort of New Age wackiness.  We need to believe we still have potential in order to make a commitment to healthy aging.

Instead of lamenting what we can no longer do, let's focus on everything we might still be able to do.  As 81-year-old author James P. Owen says, 

We're all works in progress.  
Our later years can be a time of 
personal growth and self-discovery – 
a time when we build on decades of life experience 
to become an even better version of ourselves.

Updated October 2023


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