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Proven strategies to get the most out of life

The Doctors - | 1/21/2011, 6 a.m.

Stand on one leg.

It's a simple way to help improve your balance and reduce your risk of falls. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of three adults ages 65 and older falls each year, which can cause injuries, such as hip fractures, and can even increase the risk of early death. So try it while you're watching TV: Start with your feet hip-width apart and hands on your hips. Lift one leg up and bend it back at the knee; hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other leg. Tai chi also works for balance: A recent study found that tai chi practitioners in their 60s had better stability than healthy older adults. Plus, it can help reduce pain and stiffness in arthritis patients.

Add berries to your diet.

According to studies presented at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society, fresh or frozen strawberries, blueberries and acai berries may help slow the brain's natural aging process. Scientists found certain compounds in berries (and possibly walnuts) activate the brain's "housekeeper" cells that clean up and recycle toxic proteins, which have been linked to age-related mental decline and memory loss.

Cut your salt.

The recommended limit for older adults is 1500 mg a day -- that's a little bit more than half a teaspoon. The average American consumes more than double that, about 3,400 mg a day. Too much sodium increases blood pressure, which raises your risk of heart disease and stroke. Tips to cut back: Include more fresh foods and fewer processed foods in your diet, substitute herbs and spices for salt to flavor your meals, choose "low sodium" products and limit salt-heavy condiments (like soy sauce and ready-made salad dressing).

Stick to a regular bedtime.

Also, wake up at the same time every morning. That's the best way to keep your biological clock in sync so you get the sleep you need. More than half of older adults experience symptoms of insomnia: They have a harder time falling, and staying, asleep. New research shows chronic sleep loss may lead to metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that together can raise your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes; insomnia has also been linked to depression and obesity. More strategies to rest better: take a hot bath before bed, keep the bedroom dark, and exercise regularly -- particularly aerobic exercise, research shows.

Review your supplements.

Maybe you take a daily ginkgo pill, hoping to improve your memory, or you pop Saint-John's-wort to boost your mood. Usually that's not a problem -- unless you're taking heart medications: Researchers found that these and other popular herbs may increase the potency of prescription heart drugs, make them less effective, or exacerbate side effects. That's a bad combination, particularly for the elderly, says the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Plus, research on supplements is ongoing: A study financed by the National Institute on Aging showed that an essential nutrient in fish oil supplements thought to protect against dementia doesn't actually slow the rate of mental decline in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's. Safest bet: Talk to your doctor before using herbal remedies.

Are you a caregiver? It may feel like a lonely job, but consider this: More than 65 million Americans are right now caring for a chronically ill, disabled or elderly family member or friend -- and chances are many feel the same way you do, worry about the same things that keep you up at night and are just as exhausted. You need support -- just as much as your loved one. For practical information on managing care and drug coverage to emotional advice on dealing with stress, asking for help and finding support groups, visit thefamilycaregiver.org or call 800-896-3650.

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