Preventive measures, such as getting a yearly flu shot and getting screened for breast, cervical and colorectal cancers, are also important for growing old gracefully.
Keeping an eye on other disease indicators, such as high blood pressure and the early stages of diabetes, can also make a difference in terms of the degree of disability people experience later in life, Moore said.
“While you might not actually prevent the disease, you can prevent the disability that would come from not treating the disease promptly enough,” she said.
There are also preventive steps to reduce the severity of arthritis, which is the nation's most common disability, affecting about 46 million adults, about half of them younger than 65. By staying educated about the disease, avoiding further joint injury and keeping physically active, you can ease the effects of arthritis.
“Once you have arthritis, staying physically active can help reduce the pain you get and the symptoms; that's counterintuitive, but well-documented that it does help,” said Charles Helmick, who helps lead the CDC's Arthritis Program.
Stay spiritual or optimistic
Attending religious services and having a generally sunny outlook on life have been linked to longer, healthier lives. For instance, a 2006 study found that regular church attendance can add 1.8 to 3.1 years to your life.
Decreased stress levels, from spiritual activities such as meditation, may be partly responsible for the health benefit, Dyer said.
A slew of studies also suggest that optimistic people live longer and are less likely to develop certain chronic conditions such as heart disease.
For example, a 2004 study of about 1,000 men and women found that those who described themselves as optimistic had a 55 percent lower risk of dying over the course of the nine-year study, and a 23 percent lower risk of death from heart failure, than pessimists did.
“I've been practicing geriatric medicine for almost 20 years, and I've noticed that my patients who sort of make the best of everything, when there's lemons they make lemonade … they seem to live longer and happier lives,” Dyer said. “I think if you're more optimistic, you're more positive, you're going to do better, you're going to feel better.”
Volunteer to help others
In a study this month, University of Michigan researchers followed a random sample of 10,317 Wisconsin high school students from their graduation in 1957 until the present. In 2004, the participants reported how often they had volunteered within the past 10 years. They also explained their reasons for volunteering.
Some of the participants' motives stemmed from a desire to help others — while others had more self-oriented reasons for volunteering, such as “volunteering is a good escape from my own troubles.”
Researchers compared the participants' responses with their health information, and determined how many of the respondents were still alive in 2008.
The findings showed that those who volunteered out of a desire to help others had lower mortality rates than people who volunteered for selfish reasons or did not volunteer at all.
Of the 2,384 non-volunteers, 4.3 percent were deceased in 2008, and people who said they volunteered for their own personal satisfaction had nearly the same mortality rate, at 4 percent.
However, only 1.6 percent of volunteers whose motivations were more focused on others had died
For middle-age women, having one alcoholic drink a day may improve health and pave the way to a long life, a new study shows.
Research this month from the Harvard School of Public Health included a look at the Nurses' Health Study, which has been ongoing since 1976 and involves 121,700 women nurses. Researchers examined the health status of the 13,984 women in the study who lived to be 70 or older.
The results showed that women who had an occasional drink, up to one per day, of any alcoholic beverage during middle age had better overall health when they grew older than women who did not drink at all, those who consumed more than two drinks a day, and those who had four drinks or more at one time.
The researchers defined good overall health as having no major chronic diseases such as heart disease or diabetes and no major cognitive and physical impairment or mental health limitations. The study authors said such health leads to “successful aging.”