14 Lifestyle Choices to Slow Aging

Four seniors stretching in a park

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Good genes are one thing, but you can also help game the system and age gracefully with these healthy lifestyle choices.

In the year 2000, the United States was home to 35 million people who were 65 and older; in 2016, that number was 49.2 million. That the baby boomers are growing older is no surprise. "They began turning 65 in 2011 and will continue to do so for many years to come," said Peter Borsella, a demographer at the Census Bureau, in a 2017 press release.

Which drives home the point that much of the population is getting on in years (in fact, we all are!). Add to that the fact that we are living longer, and the enormity of costs and resources in providing care starts to loom pretty largely. So here’s an idea, let’s all do what we can to stay as healthy as possible. Besides, who doesn’t want to age slowly and gracefully?

We’ve all known a super-ager or two, those people who maintain a youthful brain and body well into their older years. And while it may seem like we can chalk that up to a lucky win of the genetics lottery, there is actually a lot we can do to slow the aging process and fend off disease. As Casey Seidenberg points out in the Washington Post, “the brain remains alert when it is elastic and rested; energy levels stay high when we balance blood sugar and hormones and maintain muscle mass; and we prevent disease when we preserve gut and immune health.”

So how we do that? The Post lays out a plan and we’ve added a few of our own, in no particular order.

1. Eat omega-3 fatty acids

These nutrients found in foods such as fish and flaxseed are important components of the membranes that surround each cell in your body. They have been shown to boost brain function, decrease inflammation, build and repair cell membranes, and aid with stress management, while also staving off other issues. Find them in fish and other seafood – cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines in particular. Also in nuts and seeds, like flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts, as well as their oils.

2. Drink enough water

You know the drill: Drink 8 glasses of water a day. While there may be some debate about that number, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is:

• About 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids for men
• About 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women

Seidenberg notes that dehydration can cause fatigue, foggy thinking, headaches and constipation, all signs of aging, adding that “a hydrated brain is a healthier brain, and as we get older it becomes more difficult to absorb nutrients in the gut, and a hydrated gut is a healthier gut, too.”

3. Don’t forget your B vitamins

The family of B vitamins is a great supporter for cognitive function and other protective measures as well. While the big three: Folate, B6 and B12 are the golden triplets, all B vitamins are important. The Harvard School of Public health notes, “Most healthy adults get sufficient B12 from their regular diet. However, it's common for older people to have some level of B12 deficiency. This might stem not only from a poor diet or from age-related reduction in stomach acid, which the body needs in order to absorb B12 from food.” Heartburn medication can also block vitamin B absorption. According to Harvard, these are some good food sources:

Folate: Fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, breakfast cereals, and fortified grains and grain products. It’s best to avoid foods that are heavily fortified with folic acid.

Vitamin B12: Animal products (such as fish, poultry, meat, eggs, or dairy); it is also found in fortified breakfast cereals and enriched soy or rice milk.

Vitamin B6: Fortified cereals, beans, poultry, fish, and some vegetables and fruits, especially dark leafy greens, papayas, oranges, and cantaloupe.

4. Keep your brain brawny

The average brain shrinks by approximately five percent every decade after the age of 40; but aerobic exercise significantly helps maintain volume. "When you exercise you produce a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which may help to prevent age-related decline by reducing the deterioration of the brain," says Joseph Firt, author of a study on the subject. In this study, exercise included stationary cycling, walking, and running on a treadmill, two to five times a week, for durations ranging from three to 24 months. Along with improving regular healthy aging, exercise has implications for the prevention of aging-related neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's and dementia.

5. Keep your brain active

Researchers have found that brainy activities stimulate new connections between nerve cells and may even help the brain generate new cells, developing neurological "plasticity" and building up a functional reserve that provides a hedge against future cell loss, explains the Harvard Medical School. They write: "Any mentally stimulating activity should help to build up your brain. Read, take courses, try "mental gymnastics," such as word puzzles or math problems. Experiment with things that require manual dexterity as well as mental effort, such as drawing, painting, and other crafts." Sounds fun for any age.

6. Devour delicious anti-aging foods

Research continues to shine the light on particular foods that appear to have anti-aging potential. Mushrooms, for example, are unusually packed with anti-aging potential. Likewise, blueberries could help fight Alzheimer's disease.

7. Embrace muscle mass

By the time we hit 50, the average adult will lose 15 percent of lean body mass, which is replaced with fat mass – and it’s an unfortunate swap that continues with the years. Sigh. A higher fat mass opens the door for things like diabetes and heart disease. As well, less muscle means one is more likely to falling. The Washington Post's Seidenberg writes that adequate protein throughout the day can help, noting that beans, nuts, seeds, wild fish, chicken and avocado can be key as the body ages. “Weight-bearing exercise and yoga support muscle strength and flexibility,” she adds.

8. Keep your gut happy

Most of the immune system lives beneath the gut lining, so keeping the gut healthy is crucial for keeping the immune system strong to fight disease. Delara Tavikoli, an age management specialist, recommends bone broth “as it is one of the most easily absorbable and nourishing foods, full of collagen, protein and minerals.” For plant-based options, fermented foods are great for gut and immune health. More sauerkraut and kimchi please!

9. Remember your C and E

Vitamins C and E, as well as other antioxidants found in the ol’ rainbow of fruits and vegetables, all work to support the immune system. A good source of vitamin E is nuts and seeds; C is abundant in citrus, peppers, kiwi fruit and more.

10. Remember the virtues of vitamin D

Not only do many people spend less time in the sun as they age, but our ability to synthesize the “sunshine vitamin” through the skin decreases with time as well. D is important for the immune system, fends against cancer, and is good for bone and heart health.

11. Watch the carbs and sugar

Spikes and crashes from sugar and simple carbs cause dips in energy and mood, cravings for sugar and carbohydrates, interrupted sleep and speedier aging, notes Seidenberg. “Imbalanced blood sugar is also a precursor to diabetes, which is linked to many other diseases,” she writes. So, she advises skipping processed foods and sugars and waiting a few hours between meals to allow blood sugar to balance. In general, the more we learn about sugar, the more it seem prudent to consume as little of it as possible on a regular basis.

12. Don’t forsake the healthy fats

As we emerge from the "Fat Is Bad" era, the dawning of a new age is upon us, one in which we can fill our hungry bellies with glorious fat! Not only do healthy fats satisfy hunger so well, but they have a host of other benefits, like building healthy hormones. So, fill up on avocados, salmon, nuts, seeds, olives, olive oil, eggs, et cetera. Just remember that while they are healthy, they are also caloric.

13. Spend time with the trees

This is good for anyone, of any age. Nature does wonders for the brain and spirit. Japanese researchers have found that forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than does spending time in urban areas. Even just a walk in the park or a five-minute nature break can have tremendous results.

14. Feed your hormones with happy thoughts

Dark thoughts and a negative attitude prompt stress hormones, which work against hormone and neurotransmitter health. The fix here? Think happy thoughts. The world record for the longest confirmed human lifespan belongs to French supercentenarian, Jean Calment, who lived for 122 years and 164 days. How did she do it? She ascribed it to a diet rich in olive oil, port wine and two pounds of chocolate every week. Plus, a set of calm nerves, of which she explained, "That's why they call me Calment." So remember that when all else fails, keep calm and carry on.

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