39 Habits To Start Now That Will Keep Your Health Strong After 40

Your current behaviors seriously count down the line.

health tips after 40
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Keeping yourself healthy is a marathon, not a sprint. And the odds are pretty high that the healthy habits you lay down now will have a big impact on your overall health and physical ability down the road. But it’s one thing to want to be healthy and another thing entirely to actually do the things that will set you up to be strong and feelin' great in the future. With that in mind, we’re breaking down 39 habits you should start, like, yesterday to help keep your health in tip-top shape when you’re 40 — and way beyond.

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Get your anaerobic exercise on

Aerobic exercises — which are generally low- to moderate-intensity exercises like jogging and cycling — are great, of course. But adding anaerobic exercises to the mix is great for your long-term health. A refresher: Anaerobic exercise is any type performed at a high enough intensity that your bod can’t provide the energy it requires to complete the activity with your oxygen intake alone (think: HIIT training or CrossFit).

“Science shows that this method of training can be extremely beneficial for power development, building muscle mass, and fat burning,” Andy Coggan, the director of fitness at Gold’s Gym, previously told WH.

Gaining muscle and burning fat not only makes it easier on your joints as you age, but you’ll also build stronger joints and bones due to the increased impact on your body, Coggan says.

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Eat often

Eating frequently keeps your metabolism stoked and energy up, and it helps you avoid becoming so hungry that you overeat when you finally do get your hands on a snack or sit down for a meal.

According to research, having three meals and two snacks seems to be best for both losing weight and maintaining it. Getting accustomed to a healthy eating schedule now will set you up for success and good nutrition even as you age and life gets in the way.

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Have your carbs with protein or fat

When you eat carbs by themselves, your body converts them into glucose (aka sugar) faster than it would if you were eating something else at the same time that slows digestion, like protein or fat, Liza DeFazio, RD, MS, previously told WH.

High glucose levels cause a spike in insulin and then a crash in your blood sugar, which makes you feel hungry, she explains—and then you overeat. This is a smart rule of thumb to remember when you're crafting meals all throughout your life and to make it easier to manage and maintain your weight as you age.

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Do your best to reduce your stress levels (but for REAL this time)

Pretty much everyone could stand to stress less (at any age), and being able to actually ace this can help your health over time, says Heather Bartos, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn and founder of Badass Women, Badass Health. The stress hormone cortisol is “terrible for your heart and your waistline,” she notes.

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Don’t be scared of fat

How much fat you eat doesn't really have an impact on your weight or your risk for disease. Instead, it’s the type of fat and the total calories you take in that matter, DeFazio says.

You want to avoid trans fats, but your body needs polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and saturated fats on some level to keep your body healthy and working well as you age.

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Take mental time-outs

Forcing yourself to take a mental break when you feel overloaded can help with stress relief — a crucial part of being healthy and staying sharp for the long haul. Mental time-outs are like a mental “cleanse,” says clinical psychologist John Mayer, PhD. Go for walks during the day, or go read a book for a few minutes to get away from your computer and email.

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Don't skip breakfast if possible

Some people just aren’t into breakfast, and that’s okay. But DeFazio says you should keep in mind that taking a pass on this meal means that you’re probably going to end up eating more calories overall because you’re so freaking hungry by the time you actually do eat. While it’s important to eat something in the a.m., a carb-fat or carb-protein combo is really best for all-day energy and productivity (things you want to develop sooner rather than later!).

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Don't eat while you're doing other things

You’ve probably eaten at some point while doing something like watching TV, answering work emails, or reading. But DeFazio says this isn’t a great habit—and it's one that so many people in their 20s, 30s, and beyond fail to break early.

When you don't concentrate on your food as you're eating it, it doesn't quite register in your body and can lead to overeating. That’s why she recommends taking 15 minutes to sit down, eat your meal, and focus on your food. Hey, that's also giving yourself a little mental time-out — two birds with one stone.

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Aim to eat a pound of produce daily

That's what the World Health Organization recommends. Don't worry: While that sounds like a lot, it’s not as extreme as you’d think.

A large apple, for instance, can easily be one-third of a pound, and things like tomato sauce and beans count as well. Studies show that people who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables weigh less, and that can have big implications for your long-term health.

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Get into a strength-training routine

Regular strength training helps preserve muscle mass as you age, says Doug Sklar, a certified personal trainer and founder of New York City fitness training studio PhilanthroFIT.

“Strength training improves the strength of your muscles and the density of your bones, thus reducing the risk of osteoporosis,” he says. Strength training also plays a “vital role” in maintaining your weight and helping to save off injuries, he says.

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Go meatless once a week

Most of the people in the Mediterranean eat a diet of mostly plant-based foods but still have dairy, meat, poultry, or fish. Several studies have shown that people who eat this way have lower risks of chronic diseases and early mortality.

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Lay off the sugar

Added sugar has been linked to weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer cancer, DeFazio says. The average person eats 22 teaspoons, or 88 grams, of sugar a day, but the American Heart Association recommends a maximum daily intake of just five teaspoons for women and six teaspoons for men, she points out. Cutting way back on your sugar intake can mean big benefits for your health.

And it's better to start curbing your sugar habit now, as you can get hooked on the stuff the more you become accustomed to eating a lot of it regularly.

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Try not to obsess over your weight

Your weight can only tell you so much about your health. “Overall health is total picture with many factors,” says women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, MD. “Your weight is just one of these factors, but you can very healthy if you don't have any risk factors for disease.”

Focusing on healthy habits like exercising, eating a nutritious diet, and cutting back on alcohol will do a lot more for your health overall than stressing over your weight specifically on any given day, she says. Appreciating your body and all it does for you goes a long way in cutting stress levels down, too, and all of these things add up to way better health 40 and over.

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Get. Plenty. Of. Sleep.

You know, you know — you should get more sleep. But this is actually pretty crucial. “Sleep is incredibly important to overall health and often overlooked,” Dr. Wider says. “Poor sleep puts you at risk for emotional and physical conditions in the short term and in the future." Studies have linked poor sleep to heart disease, obesity, depression, and anxiety, among other things, she adds.

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Start stocking your pantry with intention

When you have good foods in easy reach, that’s what you’ll eat. “Stocking your pantry with healthy foods makes it easier to make the right choices with less effort,” says Beth Warren, RDN, founder of Beth Warren Nutrition and author of Secrets of a Kosher Girl. The longer you wait to practice little nutrition habit like these, the tougher it is to recalibrate your behavior down the road.

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Get comfortable speaking up with your gyno

“It's always important to stay on top of any issue that may arise,” Dr. Wider says. Things like periods and gynecological symptoms may change as you get older, and you need to be able to have open, candid conversations with your doctor about that if and when issues arise.

That includes things that impact your sex life, too. Sexual health is a key part of your overall health, so if you have any gynecological issue getting in the way of a healthy sex life, address [it] immediately,” Dr. Wider says.

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See your eye doc regularly

This is important even if your vision seems sharp AF. “Some eye conditions present with few or no symptoms initially, therefore a comprehensive eye exam can aid in early detection,” says Kelsy Steele, OD, a clinical instructor in the College of Optometry at Ohio State University.

While eye exams can pick up on eye health issues, they can also detect conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and multiple sclerosis, Steele says — and those are health issues you want to address as early as possible and have under control in adulthood.

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Wear sunglasses on the reg

It’s not just to help keep you from squinting: Your eyes and the tissue around your eyes can get damaged from UV exposure, so it’s best to wear high-quality sunglasses (and hats, if you can) when you’re outside, Steele says. Start today, before it's too late and eye degeneration has already occurred.

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Get annual physicals

Not only are these appointments a great time to check in with your doctor about anything that’s bothering you in the health department, they're also a time when you can be screened for heart disease risk factors, which are crucial to know as you enter your 40s and 50s.

“Early intervention is crucial as many of these risks like diabetes, hypertension, and smoking cessation can be treated and reversed,” says Jennifer Haythe, MD, director of cardio-obstetrics and an internist at NYPH/Columbia and co-director of the Women’s Center for Cardiovascular Health at Columbia.

Keep forgetting to schedule an appointment? Dr. Bartos recommends always scheduling it during your birth month so you don’t forget.

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Stretch it out

Sure, taking the time to stretch after a workout can be a total pain in the you-know-what, but it’s worth it now...and later. “It helps maintain and even improve your flexibility,” says Sklar. Following a consistent stretching routine can also help with posture and minimizing or preventing lower back pain as you get older, Sklar adds.

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Make your workouts a consistent part of your day

Scheduling your workout in your calendar as if it's like any other appointment or meeting makes it less likely you’ll skip it. “If it is a regular part of your daily routine, it becomes something you don't really have to think about too much. You already know when you're getting your workout in,” Sklar says. “If it's not scheduled, it becomes much easier to avoid.” And as you get older, you probably aren't going to gain any additional free time, let's be real. Get this habit nailed down, STAT.

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Get the HPV shot

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is linked to cervical cancer and other forms of cancer. Newer studies have shown that the HPV vaccine, which helps protect against several forms of HPV that can cause cancer, can help for women who get it up to age 45, Dr. Wider says. So, talk to your doctor to see if this is right for you.

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Invest in gear that supports your healthy habits

Not only does wearing good gear make you feel like a total gym badass, it can help you perform better and have more effective workouts. “Having appropriate workout clothing will make you more comfortable during exercise,” Sklar says. “The more comfortable you are, the more likely you are to do it."

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Get up on your feet

Sitting for hours on end sets you up for poor posture and lower back pain later in life. So, “trying to do 10,000 steps in a day gives you a specific, tangible goal to work towards,” Sklar says. “At the end of the day, you either accomplished it or you didn't.”

That said, you don’t need to invest in a fitness tracker to make this happen — it can be more of a general goal to keep moving.

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Get active *outside* of the gym

Crushed it during your workout? Yay! But that doesn’t mean you should spend the rest of the day on your butt. “Being active outside the gym is a great way to put your training to good use,” Sklar says. Whether it is being productive with physically demanding household chores or going on a hike with your friends or family instead of catching up over the phone, being active outside the gym is a great way to keep your muscles and joints working properly habits leading to a healthier life later on.

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Stand up tall

Standing up straight looks good, but it can also help stave off lower back pain and allow your body to work and move with the right alignment long term, Sklar says. And that can decrease your risk of injuries over time, too, so you can keep crushing those tough workouts forever.

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Give yoga a chance

Yoga can help you Zen out in the moment, but it can also help to improve your flexibility, mobility, posture, and body alignment, which are all wildly important factors for long-term health, Sklar points out. And, of course, yoga can help with stress relief, which is never a bad thing, given that stress is a huge health marker in your 40s and onward.

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Add more "me time" in the mix

Back to the stress subject: Yeah, it’s easier said than done, but you ultimately have to take care of you even when family and other obligations take over. That’s why Bartos recommends doing your absolute best to take at least 15 minutes a day for yourself. It doesn’t have to be anything major — even a quick bath counts where you can put on your favorite chill-out music and zone out.

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Swap soda for fizzy water

Can’t live without your regularly bubbly fix? Try sipping club soda with a splash of lemon or lime juice instead. “It’s always a good idea to eliminate large sources of added sugar in the diet,” Warren says. “This can be a great way to satisfy the needs for something fizzy without the risks to your blood sugar and waistline.” Drinking a daily afternoon La Croix is a way better idea than a diet cola day in day out.

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Add greens to every meal

Eating plenty of plant-based foods will help boost your vitamins and antioxidants to help keep you healthy for life, Warren says. Try tossing some spinach into your eggs in the morning or adding broccoli to your pasta sauce. Little tweaks that subtly tie in veggies to your meal like this can go a long way toward upping your overall produce intake.

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