Lifestyle Strategies for Healthy Aging
Genes play a role in how long you live, but not as big a role as you might think. Lazy habits (sitting too much) and making bad food choices (lots of fatty meat and sugary treats) can increase the extent of damage that occurs when it comes to aging. What renders your genetic blueprint less harmful? Just the opposite: Specific foods and certain activities can turn back the clock on aging. Put these eight lifestyle strategies into play and increase the odds that you’ll live a long and healthy life.
In some medical circles, sitting is considered the new smoking. In fact, two recent studies show that sitting for most of the day ups your risk for health-related fatalities. Feeling smug about hour-long gym workouts? Here’s another newsflash: A single exercise session makes little difference to health and longevity when the rest of your day is sedentary. Speculation is that prolonged time spent sitting negatively impacts cholesterol levels, blood sugar, and blood pressure--setting the stage for chronic diseases.
The Longevity Fix: Fidget more. Walk more. And if you have a sit down job, break at least once an hour to move around.
Pump Some Iron
Stronger bones. Lower blood sugar levels. A better lipid profile that is good for the heart. These are just some of the documented benefits of lifting weights. Also, a recent study found that multiple sets of resistance exercise or high-intensity lifting (higher weight amounts) helped improve blood sugar and insulin sensitivity in prediabetic young adults. Prefer yoga? It has the same kind of impact on blood sugar and lowers LDL, or “bad” cholesterol.
The Longevity Fix: The American College of Sports Medicine suggests resistance training two to three days per week with eight to 10 exercises for major muscle groups.
Downplay Saturated Fat
Scientists discovered that women eating higher amounts of saturated fat—the type of fat found in marbled meats and premium ice creams—had more visible aging of skin (crow’s feet) than women eating less of these fats. If that weren’t enough, a new report from the American Heart Association is one in a long line of studies to confirm excess saturated fat in the diet can create the kind of low-grade inflammation that sets the stage for illnesses that age you, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The Longevity Fix: AHA guidelines call for limiting saturated fat to 7% of calories; 16 grams for a 2000-calorie-per-day diet. And opt for healthy fats, like avocado, peanut butter, olive oil, and nuts.
Pile On the Produce
Participants in a Vanderbilt University study who ate the most fruits and vegetables had a 15% lower risk of dying compared to people who ate less produce. Other studies break it down into produce’s specific disease-fighting benefits from nutrients, antioxidants, and other natural compounds. Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, help fight cancer. Eating black-eyed peas, lentils, and artichokes may decrease the risk of stroke and heart attack. Sweet potatoes and beet greens (good sources of potassium) help lower blood pressure. For best longevity benefits, take a painterly approach, filling your plate with all the colors of the rainbow.
The Longevity Fix:Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables at meals. Need more specifics? Check out the government’s fruit and vegetable calculator.
Fish Twice a Week
Omega-3 fats found in fatty fish like salmon help dampen inflammation, lower triglyceride levels, and slow the growth of artery-clogging fat. Now, a new study suggests a broader health benefit: It all revolves around telomeres, nifty little strands of tandem repeat DNA, whose lengths correlate with longevity. Cardiologists found that heart patients who survive the longest have high levels of omega-3 fats in their white blood cells. Speculation: Omega-3s may protect against cellular aging.
The Longevity Fix: The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty varieties) twice a week. Check out Fish 101 for specifics.
Opt for Whole Grains
Just five years ago, whole grains became all the buzz in medical circles. This had to do with a study suggesting a diet rich in whole grains helps arteries age well. Now, researchers are talking about whole grains strengthening immune function—something that tends to weakens with age. A study underway at the University of Reading is looking at “good” and “bad” bacterial levels in the gut and how they influence different measures of immune function. What they’re dishing up for volunteers: Brown rice instead of white; whole grains instead of refined ones.
The Longevity Fix: Make at least half of the grains you eat whole grains. What about “multigrain”? Be careful, “many grains” are not necessarily whole grains.
Sip Green Tea
Japanese researchers continue to uncover new and better benefits for people who drink this humble liquid. Initial studies link green tea drinking to a reduced mortality risk and lower risk of stroke, dementia, and bone fractures. Tea drinkers also have less psychological distress. And the latest findings: Sipping on the green brew in later years—after the age of 65—keeps people functioning at high levels during daily activities. Antioxidants, including epigalloccatechin gallate, are the suspected protective culprits.
The Longevity Fix: The greatest green tea benefits come from two cups per day.
Ditch Excess Sugar
Too much sugar and refined carbs make blood sugar levels skyrocket. The issue is quantity: Does eating over 600 calories worth of added sugar (the U.S. daily average) sound like a lot? It should. Researchers contend at these high levels, sugar, like alcohol, damages the liver and creates negative changes to metabolism and blood pressure. It’s not a little bit of sugar here and there that’s a problem, but a sweet tooth on steroids that can slowly kill.
The Longevity Fix: Tap fresh fruit to satisfy a sweet tooth. Reserve cakes, pies, and cookies for the occasional splurge.
Recipe for a Long, Healthy Life
When you add up all the evidence, the key factors to a longer lifespan include a commonsense approach to eating and activity. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Choose lean proteins like fish, particularly fatty fish. And ease up on sugar and processed foods. For activity, pursue a mix of resistance exercise and aerobic pursuits like walking around the block.