Many of us have been conditioned to believe that life ends, or at least begins to quickly erode, at around 75 to 80 years. Only the lucky hang on to their health into their 80’s. So as the years advance we just accept that we’ll succumb to poor health, lack of vitality and wasting away until death. How sad it is that many aging (and younger!) Canadians believe this to be true. Sad indeed, especially since more research in nutrition and longevity suggests that we humans can conceivably live to 120 years with healthful lifestyle and dietary practices. The beneficial effects of a healthy lifestyle and diet can even add years to those who are already older. Understanding the aging process and having a positive attitude towards aging will help us not only live healthier and longer, but also help us enjoy this period of life to its fullest. Those who are experiencing healthy aging will agree that it can be the best time in one’s life. Aging involves more than our body. It is a process that affects our mind and soul as well -essentially our entire person is involved in aging. Aging can be compared to the ripening of fruit: as the fruit ripens it changes in texture, flavour and appearance. We consider fruit to be at its best when ripe. Our attitude towards aging needs to change if we expect to age successfully; like the ripened fruit we need to see ourselves at our best during this time.
The dominant theory of aging - the concept of free-radical oxidative damage to the body - was first proposed by Denham Harman, MD, of the University of Nebraska in 1956. The idea here is that aging results from the cumulative damage to the body produced by free radicals. These molecules can damage DNA, leading to mutations and diseases. They are formed by metabolic processes in mitochondria, the “power plants” inside cells, and can gradually harm mitochondrial functioning and energy production through the body. They cause cross-linking of proteins, chemical reactions that interfere with normal enzyme activity. This is what causes skin to wrinkle for example. There is no way to prevent the formation of free radicals, because every breath we take and every morsel of food we eat feeds the natural mitochondrial production of energy and free radicals as a byproduct. Because of the constant threat of free radicals, we are encouraged to eat food rich in a ntioxidants and take antioxidant supplements. An essential first step in making the lifestyle changes essential to extending your health span is understanding what centenarians from different parts of the world do to live a healthy, active life. In his book “The Blue Zones”, Dan Buettner found the secrets of these people and Dr. Elaine Denbe also interviewed many people and found a similar thread.
- Be active in your daily activities, i.e. don’t work necessarily towards a marathon but make low intensity physical activity part of your daily work routine such as gardening, walking or riding your bike to the supermarket.
- Cut your calories by 20% meaning don’t eat until you are full but until you are no longer hungry. Use smaller dinner plates, bowls and glasses. Eat slowly and focus on your food, not watching TV or reading a book during this time.
- Avoid processed foods - cook everything from scratch. Eat at least 4 servings of fruits and 6 servings of vegetables per day plus beans, legumes and nuts.
- Find your purpose in life.
- Continue learning - you are never too old to learn. An active mind keeps you young. Learn something new – for example, either learn a new language or learn to play a musical instrument.
- Reduce your stress levels – 2 good methods are meditating and taking yoga lessons.
- Be part of a spiritual community.
- Make family (and/or friends) a priority.
- Your muscle mass – The goal is not simply to maintain a healthy weight, but to maintain a good ratio between muscle mass and fat. People with a higher ratio of muscle to fat have a higher metabolism, so they don’t have to worry as much about gaining weight – the muscle tissue burns more calories. You can prevent the muscle loss that accelerates after age 45 by using your muscles more. You can increase your strength by pushing your muscles to their capacity through exercise, no matter what your age.
- Your strength – As you age, if you are inactive, you lose strength. But we now know that age does not decrease the ability of muscles to benefit and get bigger from strength training such as weight training. The fact is that you can regain muscle mass and strength no matter how old you are or what shape you’re in now.
- Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) – This is the rate of your metabolism when you are at rest. Your BMR declines with age and you burn fewer calories when your body is not in motion. From about age 20 onward, every decade reduces the number of calories needed to maintain a constant weight by about 100 calories per day. But you can turn back the clock by exercising to increase your muscle mass which requires more calories than fat.
- Your body fat percentage – Even if your weight hasn’t gone up that much as you’ve gotten older, you’ve probably gained fat. As muscles shrink, fat tissue accumulates. Since muscle tissue weighs more than fat, the number on the scale can be deceiving. Instead of concentrating on the number on the scale, it’s best to focus on gaining muscle and losing fat. You should also watch your waistline – studies have shown that the distribution of weight may be an even better predictor of risk of chronic disease and mortality than weight alone. It’s healthier to be shaped like a pear than an apple – that is, it’s better for weight to be below the waist than around it.
- Your aerobic capacity – How much oxygen can your body process within a given time? That’s your aerobic capacity. You need healthy lungs, a strong heart and an effective vascular system. This is another biomarker that naturally declines with age. While both young and older people benefit from regular aerobic exercise, benefits in older people come almost entirely from the muscles’ ability to use oxygen (oxidative capacity). This is another reason for maintaining and building muscle strength as we age.
- Your body’s blood-sugar tolerance – Glucose tolerance is your body’s ability to control blood sugar (glucose). A diet low in fat and high in raw vegetables and whole grains, as well as regular exercise can result in adequate amounts of insulin. Strength training is especially important to maintain or re-establish your body’s glucose tolerance and lower your risk of diabetes. Strength training both lowers body fat and increases muscles’ insulin sensitivity.
- Your cholesterol /HDL ratio – You are probably aware that the goal is to raise HDL and lower LDL cholesterol. For middle aged and older men and women, the total cholesterol/HDL ratio should be 4.5 or lower. To boost your HDL cholesterol, you need aerobic exercise and also to reduce your body fat.
- Your blood pressure – An increase in blood pressure does not occur inevitably with age. You can help prevent hypertension by reducing the salt in your diet, and by engaging in regular vigorous exercise.
- Your bone density – On average, we lose 1% of our bone mass per year. When this loss reaches the point where our fracture risk is substantially higher, it’s called “osteoporosis,” which can affect both men and women. But this is not an inevitable consequence of aging. A brisk daily walk can be critical to preventing osteoporosis.
- Your body’s ability to regulate its internal temperature - Your body has a built-in thermostat, which causes you to sweat when you’re hot or to shiver when you’re cold. This ability declines with age, combined with a decreased sensation of thirst which can result in dehydration. People who exercise regularly have a higher total body water content, sweat more when they work out in the heat, and lose fewer electrolytes (potassium chloride, sodium) when whey sweat. However, if you’re older, you should make a point of drinking water even if you don’t feel thirsty (see Newsletter, April 2010).
- Take nap – A short nap – 6 to 20 minutes – can rejuvenate you and improve your memory.
- Get your beauty sleep - 7 or 8 hours is what most of us need each night.
- Don’t worry, be happy – Stress can contribute to problems such as forgetfulness, high blood pressure, headaches and many other chronic conditions that result in aging. Remember, 90% of what we worry about never happens.
- Write down your goals, wants and needs. Writing down goals is much more effective than just thinking about them, to make them happen. It helps clarify what you want and helps you to stay focused.
- Be grateful – write down 5 things for which you’re grateful at the end of each day. It helps you go to sleep in a positive frame of mind. And you can pick up where you left off the next day.
- Antioxidants can play an important role in dealing with oxidation, boosting the immune system and helping to prevent several chronic diseases associated with aging (see Newsletter, November 2009). Zambroza is an excellent source of antioxidants.
- Green tea helps keep cells young, that is, people who drank an average of 3 cups of green tea per day had longer telomeres – DNA sequences at the end of chromosomes that shorten with aging – than people averaging a quarter cup or less per day.
- Omega3s in fish (EPA and DHA) have also been shown to result in ‘younger’ cells with longer telomeres.
- Super Trio Pak – We all know that we need a vitamin and mineral supplement, an essential fatty acid as well as antioxidants. The product called Super Trio from Nature’s Sunshine contains all 3,
- The Super Omega 3 contains approximately 1,000 mg fish oil with both EPA and DHA.
- The antioxidant capsules have green tea, mangosteen, pericarp extract, turmeric root, quercetin, resveratrol, apple extract, acai berry extract, selenium.
- The super supplemental vitamins and minerals are iron-free and have 12 essential vitamins, 10 important minerals, plus two carotenoid antioxidants: lutein and lycopene and extra B vitamins for stress.
- Exercise – 50 year old marathoners have been shown to have telomeres barely distinguishable from those of 20 year old marathoners. Exercise has also been linked with better brain functioning at older ages. But you don’t have to run marathons to stay young – researchers say even being a little more fit improves longevity.
- Social butterflies appear to age more gracefully – being socially active is an important part of staying more mobile, and avoiding physical and mental declines that might be attributed to aging.
- Pick activities you enjoy. You’ll look forward to them
- Reward yourself with something right after you exercise such as a favourite TV program, time to read the paper, or soak in a luxurious bath
- Set realistic goals, and set yourself up for success
- Make it convenient. You’re more likely to stick with an exercise plan that’s easy, accessible and hassle-free
The suggestions and recommendations in this newsletter are not intended to be prescriptive or diagnostic. The information is accurate and up to date to our knowledge, but we are not responsible for any errors in our sources of information.
- Living longer lives, proven steps to aging with grace. Sunshine Today, March 2000, page 4.
- Ober, C, Sinatra S, Zucker M. Earthing. Laguna Beach, CA: Basic Health Publications, Inc., 2010.
- Buettner D. The blue zones: lessons for living longer from the people who’ve lived the longest. Washington: National Geographic Society, 2008.
- 10 Determinants of aging you can control. Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter 2006;24(3):S1-S4.
- Silver, J. 101 Secrets to Aging Backwards. 2010, http://www.agingbackwards.com.
- What’s so special about green tea? Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter 2010;27(12):4-5.
- Omega-3s in fish may help slow biological aging. Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter 2010;28(2):1-2.
- Deep down, exercise helps keep you young. Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter 2010;28(2):4-5.
- Exercise improves your odds of healthy aging, bones and brain. . Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter 2010;28(2):4-5.
- Even being a little more fit improves longevity. Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter 2009;27(10):2.
- Social butterflies appear to age more gracefully. Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter 2009;27(7):1-2.
These newsletters will help you make better choices for better health. The choices that you make today can either have a positive or negative impact on your overall health. Begin by choosing better. It is a step toward longevity.
Ramilas Healing Arts Clinic