The search for the Fountain of Youth begins at home
Getting older is a privilege, and taking care of how well we age is our choice. Although DNA and other circumstances play a role in how we age, we can make choices to impact our quality of life as we advance through life. Anti-aging care is a habit, and it starts at home.
A healthy diet can provide us with most of the necessary nutrients for our bodies to function well. Most of us have tried a popular diet at one time or another, but what is the right choice?
“Instead of recommending a certain diet,” shares University of Tennessee Nutrition Lecturer Lee Murphy, “I like to emphasize the five per day rule. This is a simple concept I teach everyone from elementary school kids to adults: eat at least five fruits and vegetables per day.”
Murphy’s advice for a healthy diet is not surprising: eat lots of fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains, lean protein, and unsaturated fat. For those who turn up their noses at vegetables, try to hide them inside dishes you usually cook, like incorporating frozen or fresh kale or spinach in casseroles or even in smoothies.
Don’t dismiss frozen fruits and vegetables. “I’m a public health nutritionist by training, so even if you get your vegetables from a can, I think it’s great. And even if you need to watch for sodium, if that’s the only way you eat vegetables, it’s still better than nothing,” Murphy says.
And speaking of sodium, high levels are bad for cardiovascular health. The DASH diet stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and it is high in fruits and vegetables, alongside nuts, seeds, and fish. According to the Mayo Clinic, “the typical American diet has a whopping 3,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium or more a day.” The standard DASH diet limits sodium to 2,300 mg a day (approx. 1 teaspoon of table salt), while the lower sodium version of the diet sets the limit at 1,500 mg daily.
Our body needs unsaturated fats for proper cellular function, and fish is a great source of that. However, most of us don’t get enough fish in our diet. Murphy recommends a goal of at least two servings per week.
“A healthy nutrition should be the foundation, and only then you should look at supplements,” says Eddie Reymond, who runs Eddie’s Health Shoppe. Just like with your diet, start with a solid foundation: a good multivitamin. “Don’t be fooled by flashy labels,” warns Raymond, but instead make sure you get the main ingredients.
Those main ingredients include vitamin B complex (releasing energy from carbohydrates and fat, breaking down amino acids, and transporting oxygen and energy-containing nutrients), vitamin C (protecting cells against free radicals), vitamin D (for calcium and phosphorus absorption), vitamin E (for vision, reproduction, blood, brain and skin health), and selenium (protecting against cell damage and infections).
As we age, we can also look specifically at collagen (for skin elasticity), N-acetyl cysteine or NAC (for liver health), and Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide or NAD (a coenzyme central to metabolism, which also protects DNA integrity and ensures proper cell function). Raymond mentioned Senolytic activator, Pyrroloquinoline Quinone (PQQ), and Resveratrol as three examples of anti-aging products targeting cellular health and regeneration.
Although many supplements have been proven to have some health benefits, the FDA doesn’t employ the same strict regulations as for drugs, so ask your physician before you start taking supplements.
Physical and mental fitness
In addition to a healthy diet, staying physically and mentally active is crucial to aging well. The adage “use it or lose it” comes to mind.
Exercising doesn’t have to be strenuous to be beneficial, but you do need to move every day. “It can be as easy as taking a daily walk or getting off the couch and sitting back down 8 to 10 times for 3-4 sets,” says Shane Glarrow, co-owner of South Landing Fitness. “Keep it simple and be consistent.” Glarrow, who opened South Landing Fitness with his wife Crissy in 2016, learned from a young age the importance of taking care of his health when he was diagnosed with diabetes. Crissy is a former gymnast and understands the importance of discipline in staying fit.
As we age, our balance might get a bit shaky. That can be prevented or lessened through strength and resistance training. “We like to teach people fundamental movements and patterns which they can use in the gym or at home,” Glarrow points out. “The intent is to provide them with simple exercises that they can commit to, because that’s what’s going to lead to results.”
Richard Dowdy, owner of Fitness Solutions, a former Air National Guard member and fitness equipment provider, also knows this to be true: the most effective exercise is the one you like and that you can do at any time. “Now in my 50s, I notice that if I don’t exercise, I hurt more,” Dowdy says. “If I keep moving, everything feels better—my back, my joints, and even my mood.”
Dowdy says that treadmills are very popular because walking is a simple exercise most everyone can do; as a bonus, many feature workout sceneries, even travel destinations programmed in. “Many of my senior clients prefer recumbent bikes because it’s easy to get them, without having to step across a frame, so they don’t have to worry about falling,” he says. “It’s never too late to start. My friend’s mom is 96 years old, and she just started working out. She hasn’t missed a day in a month, and she’s raving about how good she feels.”
After a good workout, a sauna session can help. There are many options, from traditional steam-based ones, which are great for detoxing, to the infrared versions, which can increase metabolic rates. The caution is to look for low EMF (electromagnetic field exposure), hydrate, and replenish your electrolytes.
Beyond physical fitness, consider your mental agility and peace of mind. Yoga covers both and can be done by anyone at any age. “Even the most inflexible person can breathe,” points out Heather Jagels of Mountain Zen Yoga. Breathing is important for obvious reasons, but also because controlling our breathing can reduce stress, a major aging agent.
Yoga is great for the entire body. There is even face yoga. Our face has muscles and lymph nodes, just like the rest of our body. Jagels explains: “Massaging your face gets the blood circulating through the skin, massaging the lymph nodes creates a drainage system which helps reduce puffiness, and working the muscle tissue helps increase firmness.”
Board-certified family medicine practitioner Raye-Anne Ayo advises looking holistically at how we age and how we live, recommending a traditional Mediterranean diet (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, olive oil, fish, yogurt), which research shows can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions. In addition, she recommends low sugar, moderate alcohol, and no smoking.
Exercising on a regular basis is important. It can be low impact, such as walking; tai chi, which helps with some chronic pain syndromes; or yoga, which helps with stress. Ayo explains: “We aim to decrease cortisol levels and metabolic inflammation through diet, exercise, and stress management. This can really protect your DNA and overall health, and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and even cancer.”
Some low weight-bearing resistance training such as push-ups, wall sits, or lunges are easy on the joints, while the tension will stimulate the bone to regenerate and strengthen. Minimizing muscle loss, which happens with age, keeps your metabolic rate higher, so that it’s easier to burn calories.
Mental acuity and spiritual health play a significant role in our health and longevity. “Learning a new task or hobby, mentally stimulating puzzles, reading books, or just being social and having conversations with a friend can help,” Ayo advises. “Meditation but also having a sense of purpose for one’s life are very important to one’s health,” she added.