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The Doctors: Keep going strong as you age
The Doctors: Keep going strong as you age: The Doctors discuss some good habits to keep us going strong as we age.
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We may live longer than ever, thanks to medical advances, but weíre not living healthier. Obesity is at extraordinarily high levels, about 9% of Americans have diabetes, and roughly one in three adults have high blood pressure.

But you can make changes to live better. Starting today, adopt these four gold-plated habits: Eat fruits and vegetables, get regular exercise, donít smoke, and keep alcohol consumption moderate. British researchers followed 5,000 men and women for 16 years and found that those four healthy habits in midlife best improve your chances of successful aging. Here are seven more new strategies.

Drive 1 less mile every day.

That little move could be as effective as cutting calories, suggests a new study in the journal Preventive Medicine. Researchers at the University of Illinois found that if Americans subtracted 1 mile of daily driving, the national average BMI would drop by 0.21 points after six years (if you spend less time in the car, youíre more likely to be physically active, researchers explain). But if Americans consumed 100 fewer calories a day, theyíd lower BMI by 0.16 over three years. The takeaway: Be just as conscious about when you choose to drive as you are about what you choose to eat. Small changes to driving and diet habits can lead to significant improvements.

Drink black tea.

It may help protect against type 2 diabetes. More research is needed to confirm the link, but a recent international study showed rates of type 2 were lower in countries that consumed lots of black tea. (Ireland tops the list at more than 4.4 pounds of black tea a year per person.) Drinking it with no milk or sugar also seems to reduce risk factors for heart disease, including lowering blood sugar numbers and triglycerides and increasing antioxidant levels, another study suggests. Need more reasons? Black tea helps keep you alert, and thereís some evidence it may reduce risk of Parkinsonís, kidney stones and ovarian cancer in women.

Play cards.

Or challenge friends to a favorite board game, read a magazine or write letters ó any of these pastimes may help aging brains stay healthy, preliminary research shows. Previous studies showed mentally challenging tasks can help keep memory sharp. This new study out of Chicago suggests the same activities may also preserve the brainís structure. Scientists used MRI scans of 152 seniors to see how playing games or reading, for example, affected white matter in the brain, which is made of nerve fibers to transmit information. They found a strong association between mind-stimulating activities and structural integrity of the brainís white matter.

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Move (even a little) more.

Nearly one-third of adults report no aerobic activity, and more than one-quarter of Americans lead sedentary lives, studies say. Hereís the crazy part: Exercising for a measly 10 minutes a day at a moderate level (so you can talk, but not sing) could add 1.8 years to your life, National Cancer Institute research shows. Two 10-minute sessions a day ó a total of 20 minutes ó increased life expectancy by 3.4 years. Slight effort, big benefits: Regular exercise can help control weight, prevent chronic disease, boost mood and energy, improve your sex life and help you sleep.

Eat brown rice.

Itís an easy way to eat more whole grains, and cut down on nutrient-stripped refined products. You also could use whole-wheat pasta or bread instead of white, mix whole-wheat or oat flour with white flour when baking, use rolled oats as breading for baked chicken or fish, and replace salad croutons with whole grain cereal. As part of a healthy diet, whole grains may reduce risk of type 2 diabetes, prevent constipation and maintain weight control. They help protect against cardiovascular disease, the No. 1 killer in the USA. Get at least three servings of whole grains a day.

Keep your home well-lit.

Change burned-out bulbs, place a lamp in armís reach of your bed, keep nightlights on in your bedroom and bathroom, and install light switches at both the top and bottom of stairs. These modifications help cut the risk of falls at home ó which is especially important for seniors. One in three adults age 65 and older fall every year, leading to hip fractures, head injuries and an increased risk of early death; more than half of all falls happen at home. Other home safety tips: Clear clutter and electric cords from walkways, tack down carpets and rugs, secure handrails on stairs, and place non-skid mats in the tub.

Tell your doc about supplements.

About one in seven Americans regularly take supplements (other than vitamins and minerals), a survey by the Harvard School of Public Health shows. But only 30% of supplement-takers say the supplements were recommended to them by a doctor or nurse. About the same number havenít even told their doctors they are taking supplements. Thatís not the best idea, because some supplements interact with prescription medications and lead to complications. For example, omega-3 supplements ó the most popular in the survey ó could interact with drugs that affect blood clotting, and the same is true for ginseng. People who have asthma may be more likely to have allergic reactions when taking the herb echinacea. To be safe, talk to your physician before taking any herbal remedies.

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The Doctors

The Doctors is an Emmy-winning daytime TV show with pediatrician Jim Sears, OB-GYN Lisa Masterson, ER physician Travis Stork and plastic surgeon Andrew Ordon. Check for local listings.