SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – There is no escaping the aging process, but there are many things you can do to stay fit and healthy longer.

Topping the list is regular exercise, followed by stopping bad habits such as smoking.

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These are among the topics that will be discussed Thursday March 22 at the fifth annual “Art of Aging Gracefully” Resource Fair, sponsored by The University of California, San Francisco Medical Center at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. The event is free and open to the public.

“When we talk about aging gracefully and about trying to reduce the risks of diseases, some of what we get is inevitable,” said Dr. Rebecca Conant, an Internist and Geriatrician at UCSF. “Your genetics cannot be changed, and some people have accidents or other illnesses that are unavoidable.” But she’s quick to point out that there are things you can do to improve process of growing old.

Exercise – at any age – is Number One in importance.

“Studies (of) elders in their 80’s and 90’s have shown that with strength training they can actually get stronger and improve function,” said Conant.

Exercise strengthens bones and reduces the risk of falls. And people who exercise, whether walking 30 minutes a day or practicing tai-chi, stay more active in the community, which helps avoid social isolation – another factor in staying healthy

“People who stay connected with their communities, who have relationships that keep them active and involved, do better over time,” said Conant.

Physical activity is important, but so is mental activity.

“The data show that the more you can keep your brain active the better,” said Conant. She adds that the particular activity doesn’t matter as much as the amount of effort and engagement. “Whether that’s doing puzzles like sudoku or learning a new language or instrument, or taking up a new hobby,it’s never too late to start.”

If you have bad habits, consider stopping them. Stopping smoking is beneficial at any age, as is limiting the amount of alcohol that you drink, and reducing exposure to the sun’s harmful rays by using sunscreen when you go out.

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Conant said it is also important to stop driving when your doctor tells you to do so.

“When your family takes away the keys, there’s probably a reason,” she said.

Peggy Fraga, who turns 80 in August and lives in a floating home in the Alameda Marina, embodies a healthy approach to aging.

She stays active walking the docks, tending the community garden, and spending time with friends and family. “We have seven children, 17 grandchildren, and five great grandchildren, if you want to know the numbers,” said Fraga. “I love it. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

She also writes poems about real things, like this one:

“Oh, soak up my blood, you tiny bandaid,
To my torn flesh you’ve clung and stayed.
Your pals and helpers await in the can,
While your adhesive sticks to my hand.”

And Fraga doesn’t shy away from challenges, new or old.

“I just want to let people know that you should get out there and just grab it, do the best you can, and remember, nobody’s keeping score, so don’t worry about it, okay?” she said.

Words of wisdom at any age.

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