Photo of man working on hobby project

Enjoying hobby projects will help keep your mind alert.

Getting older used to mean slowing down. But today's growing population of mature adults is increasingly staying active and living life to its fullest.

But what exactly does it take to live a long, healthy life? Is it a good diet or the right genetic make up? Could it just be good luck? With the nation's population age 65 and older expected to double in size within the next 25 years, more people than ever will be asking such questions.

Living a long, vigorous life undoubtedly results from a variety of factors. Many experts say only about 30 percent of longevity is genetic, which means that remaining healthy is largely within your control.

"People generally underestimate how much we truly control the quality of our life in later years," said Anca Knoepfler, an internist with the UC Davis Medical Group office in Davis. "Whether we're going to retain our health and energy does depend on lifestyle and the health-care choices we make when we're younger. But what I tell my older patients is that as you age it becomes even more important to maintain those good habits or adopt them right now as never before. It is never too late!"

Knoepfler emphasizes that how people live their lives is vitally important for living well. She likes to offer her patients five simple tips for remaining healthy and happy as they get older:

  • Keep Moving: The single most important thing you can do is to exercise. Thirty minutes of daily activity significantly reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and osteoporosis. Activities such as walking, swimming, biking, dancing or vigorous gardening can remain enjoyable in the later years and are easier on aging joints.
  • Keep Thinking: Exercising the body isn't enough. You also have to exercise your mind. Because the brain is like muscles in your body, you have to use it or lose it. Brainteasers, puzzles or learning new skills can be fun and can exercise the mind. Studies have shown that staying vigorously and mentally active reduces the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
  • Eat Right: Almost as important as exercise are healthy eating habits. A nutritious, low-calorie diet with lots of fruits and veggies is essential. As they say, 'five a day helps longevity stay!'
  • Visit Your Doctor: Making and keeping that yearly doctor's appointment is also a key to staying healthy. Checking blood pressure, screening for diabetes, heart disease, cancer, cutting out any unhealthy habits such as smoking and continuing regular immunizations, like flu and pneumonia shots, are simple ways that you and your doctor can work together to maintain your health.
  • Stay Social: Nurture relationships with family and friends. Exercise with friends. Do something that stimulates your mind with friends or family.

"When people retire, they risk losing that sense of purpose," adds Knoepfler. "Depression is a real danger among seniors and social relationships are a key way to fight depression and stay mentally alive and healthy."

Knoepfler says that if you do something you love with others, something that gives meaning to your life, you've got a great chance of living better and longer.

And by following Knoepfler's tips for healthy aging, anyone has a great chance of truly living life to its fullest, no matter how old they are.