Each person ages at a different rate. We’ve all seen people who looked surprisingly youthful at an older age. How fast we age has something to do with genetics, but lifestyle is a big factor too. According to a new field called epigenetics, even if you have genes that predispose to aging more rapidly, lifestyle can reduce expression of these genes – so what you do or don’t do matters. Need some tips for staying healthy as you age?
It should come as no surprise that exercise tops the list of healthy aging tips. After the age of thirty, you begin to slowly lose muscle and bone density. Loss of bone puts you at risk for osteoporosis while loss of muscle reduces strength and functional capacity. This makes it more difficult to do the things you enjoy and increases the risk of falls. Lean body mass also helps to offset the slow-down in metabolism that occurs with age, leading to weight gain since it’s more metabolically active. Exercise is vital, especially as you age, and you need both aerobic and resistance training to boost cardiovascular health and maintain strength and lean body mass.
The good news? You don’t need a fancy gym to get the benefits of exercise. Invest in a pair of resistance bands and use them to do resistance exercises at home. Most resistance bands come with an instruction book showing you the exercises you can do and how to do them. If you need more instruction, you can find free YouTube videos with complete workouts online.
Combine resistance training with some form of aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes every other day, whether it be a brisk walk, jog or 30 minutes of dancing. Choose something you enjoy. Thirty minutes a day isn’t much to invest in your health, is it?
Exercise Your Brain Too
Want to keep your mind sharp? Physical exercise like brisk walking and jogging stimulates the growth of new nerve cells and new nerve cell connections – but so does mental exercise. When you ask your brain to work hard mentally you sharpen existing brain cell connections and forge new ones. This helps to preserve cognitive function. Games like Sudoku and games and exercise that challenge you to think are good for brain health so is reading because it forces you to recognize, interpret and process the content. For a healthy brain, stay mentally and physically active.
Eat a Mediterranean Diet
Numerous studies show the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of common health problems related to aging such as type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease. There’s even some evidence it reduces the risk for cognitive decline. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods – whole grains, fruits, vegetables, olive oil, nuts and seafood as the primary protein source. At the same time, it deemphasizes red meat, dairy products high in saturated fat and processed foods. This type of diet is rich in fiber and antioxidant-rich fruits and whole grains and heart-healthy sources of fat from olive oil and nuts. Grab a Mediterranean cookbook and learn how to incorporate more Mediterranean-style recipes into your diet.
This is also where probiotics come in. The proper selection of probiotics can have a positive impact on your internal ecosystem; known as the microbiota, and help you have a long and healthful life. Taking care of your digestive system is vital – 70-80% of the immune system is found there, the second brain is found there and that is why you want to optimize the balance of your microbiota internal for long health and longevity. Good stress such as excursive may diminish the levels of your probiotic beneficial bacteria. Supplementing your diet with probiotics is a great way of doing this, as is consuming a diet rich in probiotic functional foods.
Maintain Strong Social Ties
People who remain happy and healthy into old age have strong social ties – friends and family – and they remain connected with the outside world. Isolation can lead to depression and is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Stay active and connected by volunteering in your community doing something you enjoy and believe in. Embrace new ideas and make new friends by taking classes at your local college or university. Join a club devoted to an activity you enjoy whether it be chess, dancing or a book club. Reach out to other people and have fun at the same time!
The Bottom Line?
There’s aging and then there’s healthy aging. You may be sixty in chronological years but only 45 from a physical and mental standpoint – and that’s what counts.