10 Things You Should Start Doing If You Want to Age Gracefully
Many anti-aging products are all about firming skin and minimizing wrinkles. But how you age on the inside is way more important. Even if you already take a yoga class and have forced yourself to eat more kale, there are so many simple habits that can help.
Dr. Lucia Aronica, a Stanford lecturer and researcher specializes in educating others on how to understand their unique genetic makeup to live their best lifestyle. You might say she knows the secret to slowing the aging process. Or even reversing it.
The end result? You live longer and feel better while you do it. It starts by incorporating these habits into your lifestyle little by little.
1. Quit Eating Lots of Processed Food
Too much highly processed food, like processed snack foods, deli meats and anything else with a lengthy list of unpronounceable ingredients can negatively impact heart health and lifespan.
There's no need to go completely plant-based to improve your heart health. Just replace red meat with oily fish, lean cuts of meat or vegetarian meals with lots of high-protein beans and legumes, such as lentils, white beans, black beans and garbanzo beans.
The more fresh, whole foods you eat, the better. Even swapping out red meat a few times a week will help.
2. Check Labels for Added Sugar
Are you ready for this? A mocha cookie crumble frappuccino at Starbucks contains a cringe-worthy 54 grams of sugar. None of their other blended drinks are much better, and even a flavored latte can push your daily sugar intake over the recommended limit. The same goes for sodas and sweetened ice teas.
The American Heart Association recommends keeping your sugar intake under 32 grams per day for women and 36 grams per day for men. Artificial sweeteners can also increase cravings for sugar, so it's best to limit diet drinks as well.
Even if you think you're eating healthy foods, like whole grain cereals and wheat bread, so many products on U.S. shelves contain added sugar. Ketchup, salad dressing, bottled smoothies, peanut butter, dried fruit and granola bars all hide a surprising amount of added sugar.
Since elevated sugar intake contributes to weight gain, high blood pressure and chronic inflammation, knowing how much sugar you're really eating each day is a must.
Don't buy into marketing gimmicks. No matter how fit the woman on the label looks, check the list of ingredients and nutrition facts on the back. Even prepackaged soups can have added sugar.
Keep your eyes peeled, and look for products with little, if any, added sugar. It's also a good idea to avoid products with more than five ingredients on the label.
3. Eat Healthy Fats
We were once advised to avoid eating fatty foods, but an increasing body of research has proven that a diet high in healthy fats, like those found in avocados, nuts, fish and olives, can improve longevity and quality of life. In one study, mice fed a high-fat diet instead of a high-carb diet lived 13 percent longer — the equivalent of seven to 10 extra years in humans.
Another study found that participants with the highest fat intake were 23 percent less likely to die than those with only 10 percent of their daily caloric intake coming from fat. While more thorough studies are still needed, it's safe to say that fat is no longer enemy number one. In fact, foods marketed as low-fat often add sugar to make them more palatable, which is so much worse than just eating the full-fat version.
Quit buying low-fat everything, and start mixing more heart-healthy fats into your diet. Think monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. These are found in foods like nuts, nut butters, seeds, olives, avocados, soy beans, tofu and fatty fish. Still avoid a diet high in trans fat or saturated fat. These types are commonly found in fried foods, margarine, shortening, packaged snacks, lard and red meat.
For even more potential benefits, consider giving the high-fat, moderate protein, low-carb keto diet a try.
4. Add Good Stress to Your Life
Reduced-calorie diets consistently result in elevated lifespan, but how often you eat makes an impact as well. Intermittent fasting and fasting-mimicking diets can be considered a source of good stress.
For example, in one study, mice who didn't snack between meals postponed the development of age-related illnesses, and their blood glucose levels were healthier than those of mice who ate whenever they felt like it.
The findings were consistent no matter what diet the mice were fed, and fasting is just one example of a good stressor.
"Lifestyle disease can be viewed as a lack of exposure to good stress," explains Dr. Lucia. "There is good stress and bad stress, and the dose makes the poison. Low doses of stressors such as sunlight, exercise, and fasting turn on protective repair mechanisms that make our cells stronger and younger. You can think of good stress as the biological translation of Nietzsche’s quote: 'What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.'"
Even plants become stronger when exposed to stress, like drought, heat and cold. These influences cause plants to produce phytochemicals to protect themselves from stress. The polyphenols found in olive oil, turmeric, green tea, chocolate, and red wine are examples of phytochemicals, and they're all beneficial to our own health.
Start today and start small by eating "stressed plants," increasing the intensity and frequency of your exercise, and getting some sunlight every day. According to Dr. Lucia, even emotional crises can also be positive in some ways. "Getting married or breaking up with a partner, having kids, and becoming older — these life events can trigger brain changes that make us emotionally stronger."
In other words, going without a 2 p.m. granola bar or dealing with a rough patch at work isn't just OK. It's good for you.
5. Get a Good Night's Sleep on the Regs
Sleeping fewer than six hours a night has been found to increase mortality rate in adults with heart risks.
Poor sleep also contributes to the development of numerous other diseases. Pulling an all-nighter once in a while won't do any serious damage, but habitually cutting your nightly z's short comes with a price. Specifically, you're more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and weight problems.
You're also more likely to pick up colds and other viruses. No, thank you. Instead, shut off Netflix and go to sleep. Today, you might be annoyed, but tomorrow, you will thank you.
Dr. Lucia has some more details about the science of being well-rested.
"Sleep is essential to consolidating the structural, metabolic, cognitive, and immune benefits of hormesis through recovery and repair," says Dr. Lucia. "Some studies even indicate that people who sleep better respond better to vaccination and that sleep, not sleeping pills, should be prescribed for disease prevention and treatment."
In short, sleep quantity and quality are a big deal. If you still feel fatigued or wake up with a nagging headache, even after getting a full seven to eight hours, mention it to your doctor. This could be a sign you have sleep apnea, which significantly impacts the quality of your sleep.
Treatment is fairly simple, and helps you get the REM you need to feel your best.
6. Strengthen Social Connections
Living into your 90s isn't all about what you eat and how much you move. Just being happy and social helps, too. There are certain parts of the world labeled "Blue Zones," in which the average lifespan is consistently longer than it is elsewhere. The exact cause isn't known, but studies show that longevity has a strong correlation with social connections.
Those with strong social connections as they age are more likely to get outside, keep moving and engage in mentally stimulating behavior. The correlation is so strong that being socially isolated may result in a mortality risk on par with other major risk factors, like smoking.
Stay connected with friends and family, and not just on social media. Make time to spend with loved ones and participate in hobbies with friends. Engage in real, tangible connection — touch, laugh and play. You'll feel better, and you'll probably live longer too.
7. Don't Eat Alone
If we're consuming food in front of the TV or on our way to work, we're not really eating. Eating with friends and family is an enriching experience that nourishes us both physically and emotionally.
Cooking and eating as a family helps to instill healthy habits from the start, and it helps support both your physical and mental health, too.
8. Minimize Toxic Exposures
Some toxins, like air pollution, are tough to avoid. Many, however, are easy to minimize. Exposure to toxicants such as BPA in plastics can induce epigenetic changes that are passed from one generation to the next. Swap out old, plastic containers and cooking utensils with BPA-free ones. Containers made of glass or silicone are usually a safe bet.
Additionally, if you smoke, do your best to quit. Tobacco smoking can produce "sticky" epigenetic changes that have been shown to take 16 years to be undone. The sooner you kick the habit, the more you'll reduce your risk of developing cancer and other health problems linked to smoking.
9. Redefine Pleasure
Why does it seem like everything that's fun is bad for us? Probably because some types of pleasure can be addictive. Comfort food, sweets and overstimulating smartphone screens aren't inherently bad, but the instant pleasure they offer doesn't last long.
Try shifting the focus from addictive, instantly gratifying pleasures and look for those that yield long-term benefits. Exercise, meditation, mindfulness and creative work all result in long-lasting rewards, and without any of the negative side effects of a sugary ice cream sundae.
10. Be Positive
A study conducted in 2019 found that just having a positive mindset improved the likelihood of living until at least age 85. On average, positive thinkers lived 11-15 percent longer than those with a negative outlook.
Thinking positively about life, aging and your own health reduces stress, improves immune function and can help you become more resilient as the years pass.
Having a positive attitude also makes it easier to stick with other healthy habits, like getting regular exercise and eating a nutritious diet.
Living Well at 40, 50, 60 and Beyond Is a Learning Process
There are so many factors that contribute to how long we live and how we feel in every new decade. In our 20s and 30s, it's easy to feel like becoming a senior citizen is far away.
The truth is that the sooner we start replacing not-so-healthy habits with better ones, the greater the intensity of their benefits.
To learn more about improving your longevity through your eating habits, watch Dr. Lucia's video below.
FamilyMinded is partnering with Dr. Lucia Aronica for health and wellness news. To learn more about how you can take control of your health using science, check out Dr. Lucia's free webinar, her website and YouTube channel.
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