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Practice Practice Pointer

Healthier ageing

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 12 March 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e1214
  1. Phyo Kyaw Myint, clinical senior lecturer in ageing and stroke medicine12,
  2. Ailsa A Welch, senior lecturer in nutritional epidemiology1
  1. 1Norwich Medical School, University of East Anglia, Norwich Research Park, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK
  2. 2Academic Department of Medicine for the Elderly, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, Norwich NR4 7UY
  1. Correspondence to: P K Myint Phyo.K.Myint{at}

The authors explore the healthy behaviours we need to adopt for maintaining physical independence and social and mental wellbeing far into old age

Summary points

  • Ageing affects people in different ways, with a wide variation in age related physical and mental functioning

  • Healthier ageing is achievable through modifying some lifestyle factors—such as stopping smoking, being more physically active, and eating a balanced diet

  • For healthier ageing, eat mainly nutrient dense foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals and low in fats and sugar

  • Balancing energy intake and expenditure is important for maintaining healthy weight

  • Preventing chronic diseases may promote healthier ageing through better physical and mental health

Ageing is associated with a gradual decline in physical functioning with or without mental frailty. The ageing process is intrinsically complex, being driven by multiple causal mechanisms.1 2 Genome instability, telomere damage, mitochondrial dysfunction, and inflammation are established mechanisms of ageing.w1 w2 Age related changes in body composition include a relative increase in fat tissue and a gradual decline in muscle mass. Not everyone ages in the same way, however, and the term biological age is loosely used to indicate how well someone has aged in terms of the degree of decline in their physical functioning and their ability to meet physiological demands.3 4

Ageing is determined by complex interactions between biological, environmental, socioeconomic, and cultural factors,w3 some of which are beyond the control of individuals. Factors that may contribute to the ageing process, such as poor nutrition,w4 physical inactivity, smoking, and psychosocial characteristics (such as stress),w5 may be modifiable. These factors are associated with the development of chronic diseases that are, in themselves, associated with physical and mental frailty and could be tackled at an individual level throughout life. Considerable geographic variation in the prevalence of major …

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