Top 5 Strategies for Healthy Aging and Longevity
With modern medicine, we have gotten pretty good at keeping our bodies alive longer. We have medications we can take to lower our blood pressure, hold off heart disease, reduce the effects of diabetes, help our bodies fight cancer, reduce inflammation, and fight infections, to just name a few. And, these have been life-saving for many so it is always important to have a relationship with your doctor, get regular check ups and ask questions when something doesn’t feel right. What these medications don’t do, however, is help us stay active, healthy, and happy longer. I don’t know about you, but I don’t just want to be kept alive longer. I want to LIVE longer. Up until the day that I die, I want to hike with my grandkids, dance with my husband, laugh with my friends, and do puzzles with my daughter.
While no one can guarantee a life of prolonged health, there are a lot of very smart people striving to understand the causes of the cognitive, physical, and mental declines that inevitably happen as we age. As we gain an understanding of what is happening in our bodies, down to the cellular level, we can devise interventions that curtail the declines associated with aging. While no one is yet living to 150, these experts are clear that there are things we can start doing right now that will positively impact our mental and physical health as we age. I’ll give you a quick overview here, but if you want to dive deeper, check out Dr. Peter Attia’s new book Outlive, The Science and Art of Longevity.
Top 5 Healthy aging Tips
Let’s break it down and focus on five areas of our lives where we can take some control and make choices that will have a positive impact today and in the future.
1. Exercise. If you are only going to choose one thing to do in your efforts toward health and longevity, it should be to add exercise to your daily routine. Studies clearly show that exercise delays death and prevents cognitive and physical decline better than anything else we can do. And, it doesn’t even need to be a lot of exercise at first. Just walking for 15 minutes per day has a profound impact on physical and mental health.
For the best results, however, we should spend half of our time focused on strength and stability, and half of the time focused on aerobic efficiency. So, if I exercise 10 hours per week, five of those hours should be strength training and stability work and the other five should be aerobic work. And, if you really want to amp up the results, add in some sprints or HIIT (high-intensive interval training) work to improve your peak aerobic capacity.
2. Nutrition. This is a difficult topic because, when it comes to finding the optimal way to fuel our bodies, everyone is different. What works for me does not work for my husband, or even for my sister. And, our nutritional needs change throughout our lifespan so what works for me now to feel energized and healthy probably won’t work in five years. With that said, there are some basic guidelines we can follow.
We don’t want to be undernourished (not getting enough nutrients, fat, protein) or overnourished. Unfortunately, we can be both at the same time. If we are eating a lot of highly processed foods that are high in calories and sugar but low in essential nutrients, we are headed toward trouble. This type of diet often leads to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cognitive issues, and cancer.
When we can eat a balanced diet of whole foods (vegetables, non-processed meats, eggs, fruits, nuts, whole grains) most of the time (with a focus on getting plenty of protein to maintain muscle mass), we can increase the likelihood of maintaining our health as we age.
3. Sleep. At every point in our lives, sleep is essential for all systems in our bodies (mental, physical, and cognitive) to operate optimally. However, when it comes to aging, sleep is most beneficial for decreasing cognitive decline. When we get consistent quality sleep, our bodies work to flush out all of the dead and damaged cells in our brains which allows our brains to remain energized and efficient.
Most people need 6.5 to 8 hours of sleep each night in order to see these benefits. If you have trouble sleeping, the first thing you should do is create a consistent routine and calming environment that is conducive to good sleep. Ideally, rooms should be dark and cool. All screens should be shut off 3 hours before bed and all eating stopped at least two hours before bed. Both caffeine and alcohol impact the quality of sleep so limiting both of those will help. Lastly, early morning sunshine and grounding in nature reset our circadian clocks so stepping outside with bare feet first thing in the morning is helpful. If you want more information on sleep, check out an earlier TE blog here.
4. Medications and Supplements. Medications definitely have their place in maintaining our overall health so please don’t stop taking your meds without consulting your doctor! However, let’s start to move beyond the alleviation of symptoms and strive to understand the root cause of the need for the medication. Every medicine we put in our body has side effects. So, if we can reduce the number of medications, we need by addressing the underlying reason for the medication, we minimize the negative impact on our bodies.
Supplements are confusing and controversial. We know that many people are deficient in vital nutrients and that these deficiencies often lead to health problems. However, the literature is mixed on the best way to address these deficiencies. Supplements can help, but there is little regulation on the supplement industry so we don’t always know what we are getting, and we are not really sure how much and how often we should be ingesting supplements. This can be super confusing. So, the way I use supplements is simply as a way to supplement my diet. I focus on eating locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables and grass-fed meats when I can. I know these are richer in nutrients than the foods grown through mono-crop agriculture and the animals processed by the big farms. When I am unable to get these more nutrient-dense foods, or I go a few days without them, I will take the supplements. The nutrients I most closely monitor (and supplement) are magnesium, Vitamin D, Vitamin C, and Omega fatty acids.
Now, if you want to get really serious about longevity, there are some recent studies showing that supplementing with berberine (a chemical found in some plants), resveratrol (a polyphenol found in some foods), and NMN (a bioactive nucleotide that activates the resveratrol) can boost energy levels, regulate glucose levels, and protect the heart and brain from some of the impacts of aging. But wait! Before you run out and buy these supplements, please do your own research and, if you are on medications, please talk with your doctor before you add in a supplement. For more information on this, follow Dr. David Sinclair on his podcast called Lifespan or read his book by the same name.
5. Mental Health. Let’s be honest here, I don’t really want to prolong my life if I am immobile, lonely, and living a life without purpose. Depression is highly correlated with many of the diseases associated with aging. So it seems pretty clear that taking care of our mental health is just as important as taking care of our physical health.
Getting clear about WHY we want to live longer, focusing on and giving energy to our important relationships, the things that bring us joy, and the communities we feel connected with, is always super important, and especially as we age. Older people who feel needed, who are surrounded by people who love them, and who are able to participate in activities they love live healthier and longer lives. So many of us are consumed by work, focused on reaching the day when we have enough money to retire, that we disregard the connections with loved ones and ultimately feel utterly lost without the value-making structure of work. Taking the time now to work on the things that might negatively impact the important relationships in our lives, or that get in the way of us being the best version of ourselves is just as important as getting great sleep and eating well, and it’s most likely much harder!
Toward that end, we can start doing some things today that will allow us to slow down, calm our central nervous systems, and truly engage in the world around us. This can be done in many ways, but a few of the things that are helpful for me (and many others) are mindfulness, practicing gratitude, deep belly breaths throughout the day, meditation, getting out in nature, prioritizing physical touch and hugs, and going to therapy if needed.
This is a lot of information, and there is so much more out there. I know it can feel overwhelming. So, if you want to start making some changes now that will have an impact on your future self, I suggest that you start small. What is one thing you can take from this blog and implement today? Will you step outside each morning to feel the early-morning sunshine on your face and the dewy grass on your feet? Will you choose to snack on nuts instead of potato chips? Will you reach out to a loved one you haven’t spoken to in a while? Will you choose organic apples when you go to the grocery store?
We all need to start where we are, and every choice we make is a step toward wellness or a step toward illness. Let’s do our best to choose wisely!