5 ways to stay healthy and fit as you get older
Aging is inevitable. It is a process stemming from our genetics, environment, and epigenetics.
Societal views of aging vary worldwide depending on culture and belief systems instilled.
Western cultures tend to be more youth focused and dread the aging process, even going on to avoid the celebration of advanced birthdays. Aging has become, for many, a shameful process to be avoided at all costs, hence the rise of cosmetic procedures such as botox and fillers (1).
However, this isn't the case everywhere. For example, Asian and Greek cultures celebrate the process of aging and value the elderly with the highest respect.
Regardless of the culture you fit into, you can change your perception of aging at any time, and the best way to ensure you can enjoy a long and healthy life is by looking at the way you are living and making the necessary changes.
Yes genetics may play a part in disease risk and influence the aging process however epigenetic factors such as diet and lifestyle play a much larger role.
And though physical changes are inevitable during the aging process, choosing to live well will help you feel your best and support your body during these years, while of course reducing the risk of chronic disease.
"Your Lifestyle Is Your Longevity Switch" - Dr. Joseph Mercola
Inflammatory markers typically rise with age among the population due to a combination of oxidative stress, chronic infections, increased gut permeability and microbiota shifts, obesity, and immune cell dysfunction. Increased inflammation can drive up the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline and cancers (2).
This is also known as “inflammageing” and accelerates the aging process by damaging our own cells and causing tissue degeneration.
We can modify these risks and effects by being proactive and supporting the body as it goes through changes.
Chronic inflammation is promoted by factors such as smoking, unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyle, excess stress, lack of sleep, and obesity.
An anti-inflammatory diet is a good idea to help keep inflammatory levels down and prevent the risk of chronic diseases from occurring.
A mediterranean type diet is often recommended as it focuses on whole plant foods paired with quality meats, wild fish, and healthy fats.
This could look like:
Leafy greens, tomatoes, broccoli, bell peppers, carrots.
Whole grains, beans, legumes.
Berries, oranges, cherries, grapes, lemons.
Olives, walnuts, avocados, almonds.
Wild salmon, sardines, anchovies.
Getting our bodies moving is important at every age, but keeping it up throughout the advanced years has been shown to increase life expectancy and help people age more slowly (3).
Loss of muscle mass and strength are characteristic of aging, known as sarcopenia, however physical activity can help to slow muscle breakdown and preserve muscle mass (4)(5).
Why is muscle important?
Muscle plays an important role in blood glucose control, metabolism, mitochondrial health, bone health, agility, and heart health.
Lacking sufficient muscle strength can promote injuries and hospitalizations while resulting in a decreased quality of life.
It is recommended to incorporate a combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercises on a daily basis to prevent excess muscle loss and keep the body strong as it ages.
Fasting has been used throughout the ages as a therapeutic tool for health and describes an eating strategy that looks at timing meals to ensure a specific window of non-eating.
Though it is nothing new, nowadays many people adopt this style of eating for weight loss results and health benefits.
But why is fasting beneficial?
When the body is fasting it activates the process called, autophagy. Autophagy is the body's clean up process where damaged cells are recycled in order to generate new healthy cells. It's basically renovation of the body.
By activating this process regularly we can decrease inflammation and slow down DNA damage, increasing longevity as well as lowering the risk of chronic disease (6).
There are many types of fasts you can do however the most common is a 12 hour fast, which seems to be the shortest amount of time to experience the beneficial effects and essentially looks like not eating after dinner and until breakfast the next day. This is also known as intermittent fasting. Always check with your healthcare practitioner before attempting fasting to see if it is right for you.
Human connection is an essential part of living a long healthy life as we are social creatures who need to feel connected to other human beings.
It's been shown that people with strong social relationships tend to live longer and healthier lives.
Though social isolation affects all age groups, many elderly individuals may find themselves particularly isolated as they age thus it is essential that they maintain social relationships and engage with others for their own well-being.
Social isolation poses a significant risk to mental and physical health of an individual, even increasing the risk of premature death according to studies (7). Isolation has been been compared to smoking in terms of health risks (8).
Loneliness can be classified as a stressor that increases inflammation and cortisol in the body, causing negative effects on our biology.
Taking the time to invest in our relationships and social circles is an essential part of living a long and happy life.
We all know sleep is important but how does it affect aging?
When we are sleeping our body goes through regeneration and repair processes which are vital for the maintenance of a healthy organism.
Sleep deprivation increases various detrimental conditions in the body including inflammation, cognitive decline, oxidative stress, and mitochondrial decline (9).
Getting enough sleep can help to slow cellular aging, support healthy cognitive function, reduce cognitive decline, improve immunity, reduce inflammation, and improve metabolic and cardiovascular health (10).
Not only does length of sleep matter but also regularity, meaning having a consistent bedtime and wake time can contribute to increased longevity (11).
Though too little sleep is detrimental, too much can also be problematic, with the sweet spot being between 6-8 hours optimally per night (12).
Keep your stress down
When stress becomes chronic and cortisol is continually elevated it damages our cells, increasing inflammation and oxidative stress (13). This means stress can actually speed up the aging process (14).
Chronic stress can worsen not just our physical and mental health but also our quality of life. High stress can promote all sorts of illnesses and disease and also shorten life expectancy (15).
Though not all stress can be eliminated, most stressors that are causing harm are actually perceived stressors, meaning we have the majority of control.
It's up to us to make stress management an integrated part of our daily lives, manage what we take on, and question our stress provoking thoughts by becoming more mindful and present.
Stress management practices such as eco-therapy, meditation, and exercise can help promote the parasympathetic state of the body responsible for repair and regeneration and reduce stress hormones.