Longer life is becoming part of the fabric of our society. In the 20th century, thanks largely to clean water and antibiotics, the American lifespan increased by 30 years.
And, the 21st century holds more promise with how biology and technology advances are being made to understand our cells and organ systems.
I recently read compelling articles on the subject in Neo.life, a publication covering ways that technology is helping us live.
Contributor Ashton Applewhite wisely echoes what more health experts underscore: “The challenge for all of us, no matter our age, is not to frame age as an ‘anti-aging’ story. But rather a pro-aging take on healthier, happier, and longer lives — starting with life extension itself.”
A growing body of fascinating research shows attitudes toward aging have measurable effects on how our minds and bodies function. People who don’t equate aging with disability and decline walk faster, do better on memory tests, and are more likely to recover fully from severe disability.
In fact, it is why the World Health Organization has developed a global anti-ageism campaign: to extend not just lifespan but “healthspan.” Not coincidentally, people with positive feelings about getting older also live longer — and they live better.
And it’s true, aging is not something debilitating that ambushes us around midlife. Aging is living, and living means aging. It is vitally important to remember that central to age is aging well. And just as the enemy is disease, not aging, the chief goal for each of us needs to be good health, every day. Here are some important daily actions to take.
Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: Aging Well
Exercise, exercise, exercise: It is widely known and accepted that being physically active decreases our risk for a number of chronic illnesses, while increasing longevity. Additionally, people who exercise regularly experience a boost in their energy and mood, decreased stress, improved memory and sleep, toned muscles and stronger bones — all of which are associated with youth.
Scientific research has also shown that exercise may slow aging on a molecular, microscopic level, deep within our cells. At the end of our DNA strands, we have telomeres — tiny caps resembling the plastic on shoestrings — that protect and keep them stable.
As our cells divide and replicate, these telomeres shorten. This causes the cell to age and die more quickly. Having a physically active lifestyle results in longer telomeres compared to those who are sedentary.
In addition to making time to exercise (experts recommend at least 150 minutes a week), incorporate bursts of physical activity throughout your day. For example, take the staircase instead of the elevator and while watching television, do sit ups, pushups or a set of bicep curls during commercial breaks.
Consume more “healthy” fats: Fat has been ostracized, shamed and even demonized. However, not all fat is bad fat. There are fats that serve as building blocks of cells and tissues, regulate inflammation, and provide energy and insulation — they are essential to our body. And, consuming them promotes heart, brain, and skin health.
Fat intake should ideally comprise 20 to 30 percent of your daily caloric consumption — with “good” unsaturated fats making up the majority of your fat intake. Foods that are rich in mono-saturated and poly-unsaturated fats include olive and vegetable oils, avocados, nuts and fatty fish. At the same time, limit (not necessarily eliminate) foods that are high in saturated fats, such as red meat, butter, and ice cream.
Consume less added sugar: Increased sugar consumption is linked to heart disease, cancer production (along with decreased cancer survival), dementia, liver disease, weight gain and cavities. And let’s not forget that with an increase in weight, comes a myriad of chronic illnesses, such as Type-2 diabetes and osteoarthritis.
Add to that, processed sugars trigger the release of inflammatory molecules that have the ability to break down the collagen and elastin proteins in our skin that are responsible for its tautness and elasticity. This can contribute to sagging skin and wrinkles.
Being “sugar-wise” requires us to stay vigilant and read and understand nutrition labels to determine added sugar content. And, don’t forget, some of our favorite salty foods (e.g., pasta sauce, bread and ketchup) are loaded with sugar.
To subdue our sweet cravings, make sure to consume fruit, stay hydrated and inject sumptuous spices and herbs (e.g., cinnamon, vinegar, nutmeg and vanilla bean) to provide bursts of flavor to our taste buds.
Apply sunscreen: Ultraviolet radiation from the sun is not only a major risk factor for skin cancer, but is responsible for 90 percent of our skin’s aging! It contributes to fine lines, wrinkles, age spots, freckles, discolorations, scaly red patches and tough leathery skin.
The good news is that if we protect our skin with barriers (hats, protective clothing) and apply sunscreen, it is mostly preventable. When it comes to sunscreen, choose broad spectrum and an SPF (sun protection factor) greater than 30. And, let’s not forget that the sun’s ultraviolet rays are present all year long, can reflect off of snow and even penetrate clouds. So, don’t forget to apply it to exposed skin even in the cold winter months.
Maintain restful sleep: Inadequate sleep can result in puffy eyes and dark circles, decreased energy levels, increased stress and added weight, making us appear older than our age. When we get our ZZZ’s our body has the opportunity to rest and rejuvenate. So, commit to getting a good night of sleep.
You can create a healthy sleep environment by keeping sleep and wake times consistent, even on weekends; ensuring you get 7-9 hours of sleep per night: engaging in calming activities before bedtime (reading, warm baths, meditation, prayer); dimming the room lights; powering down laptops, phones, and tablets; turning off the television at least 30 minutes before bedtime; and putting away our concerns and worries.
Manage and decrease stress: Chronic stress can destabilize us mentally and physically, which is like pressing the pedal to the metal on a fast track to aging. Feeling stressed out makes us more likely to eat poorly, not exercise, imbibe more tonics and rely on medications — behaviors that drain and dry out our fountain of youth. To put the brakes on this, make active efforts to avoid unnecessary stress or alter the situation to minimize its impact, adapt to the stressor and accept that which we cannot change. And, too, engage in activities that help dissipate stress — reading, deep breathing, meditation, prayer, exercise or engaging in a hobby.
Be happy: Scientific research has shown that smiling makes us look younger — an interesting concept of how emotional expression has an effect on perceived age. Add to that, when we have a bright outlook, we tend to make healthier choices and do not rely upon substances such as alcohol, smoking, or pills or drugs to boost our mood.
Quit smoking (or don’t start): Putting a cigarette between your lips is bound to cause wrinkles in your lips and around the mouth. It also can contribute to increased wrinkling and skin damage elsewhere. The reason behind this is believed to be the chemical nicotine that narrows blood vessels in your skin and, consequently, impairs blood flow and the delivery of oxygen and nutrients.
Additionally, chemicals in cigarettes are damaging to collagen and elastin, protein fibers that keep your skin taut and youthful. And, too, years of smoking can cause your voice to become deep and hoarse. Making the most of the new longevity means ending ageism. Aging is not a disorder. In closing, the dramatic increase in average life expectancy certainly ranks as one of our greatest achievements. And while plastic surgery might be an option for those hoping to appear younger, the facts are that research underscores a primary factor for living a longer, healthy life with a youthful spark is within our control by making wise healthy choices.
And, yes, the facts will never change that you can’t live longer without getting older. But the great news is that we are living in a time when you can chose to age well. Bring on the candles! That is something to celebrate!
Dr. Nina Radcliff, of Galloway Township, is a physician anesthesiologist, television medical contributor and textbook author. Email questions for Dr. Nina to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Dr. Nina” in the subject line. This article is for general information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions and cannot substitute for advice from your medical professional.